Joe Hill knows the power of a single word. That is the main difference between the new film adaptation of The black phone and his disturbing 2004 short story that inspired it. Otherwise, both tell the story of a young boy named Finney, who is kidnapped and imprisoned in a basement where he can hear the voices (and potentially life-saving guidance) of the serial killer’s previous victims using a mysterious old telephone.
Hill has already had several novels and comic books adapted, including those from Netflix Lock & Keythe Daniel Radcliffe movie hornsand the AMC series NOS4A2, so he knows that change is inevitable. As for loyalty, he was lucky. “I think most of the stuff that was made stayed true to the characters and the situations,” he tells Vanity Fair. “If I particularly like The black phoneI think it’s because everything in the story is in the movie.”
The black phone director Scott Derrickson and screenwriter C. Robert Cargill expand Hill’s original story and add more victims to the mysterious calls to fill the story, but they are really alone altered one thing from his original lyric: One Thing About the Crazy, known as The Grabber, played by Ethan Hawke†
“He’s quite the same character. He has all the same lines and all the same things,” says Hill. “The big change is that in the movie he says, ‘I’m a part-time magician.’ But in the short story, he says, ‘I’m a part-time clown.’”
Hill lets that hang for a while. “It’s not that hard to understand why we made that change.”
For those who can’t guess, the answer is also one word: It†
“I read it as a kid and loved it,” Hill says. “It just completely electrified me. And I watched the TV movie, just like a lot of other kids my age.
“When I Wrote” The black phoneit had been 20 years since i read the book and 15 years since i saw the tv movie and i never thought about it It not at all. It never occurred to me,” he adds. “What I was thinking about were the more infamous child murderers of American history. And the first one that comes to mind, the one that’s inescapable, is John Wayne Gacy, who is a part-time clown used to be.”
A decade and a half after the story was published, Derrickson and Cargill signed to make The black phone their next film after their collaboration on 2018’s Doctor Strange† Suddenly the word “clown” seemed like a big shadow looming over the project.
“When We Talked About” The black phone like a movie, by then It: Chapter One was on the radar,” Hill says. “And I think the feeling among us was that it would be a mistake to let the bad guy be a clown, that America is to fill of angry clowns. There’s Pennywise and there’s no room for another. So we have to reconsider. And I knew it by reading about the history of magic and the famous Carter defeats the devil routine in which the magician plays both the devil and himself, that there was a history where Lucifer was part of ancient magical acts. So we were talking about a devil mask, we were talking about a magician. And I think we also thought it was interesting that Scott Derrickson was leaving Doctor Strange, about the world’s most heroic wizard, to the reverse of that coin, to the sinister illusionist. That was the big change. And I think we made the right choice.”