In the winter of 1987, just a few months after turning 10 years old, I got the chicken pox. It was, as you may know if you’ve had it, incredibly uncomfortable and itchy, and I was off school for a week or so. During that time, to keep me busy, my mom went to the local variety store and picked up a book for me to read. I don’t know why, maybe I asked for it, but she brought home Stephen King’s first short story collection, Night Shift.
Maybe I was asking for it.
Published in 1978, Night Shift contains some of King’s most well-known shorts; “Children of the Corn,” “The Mangler,” “Quitters, Inc.,” “The Ledge,” and “Trucks,” to name just a few. But the one that got me, the one that scared the absolute shit out of me when I was 10 years old, was “The Boogeyman.”
That original story is the tale of Lester Billings, who visits a psychiatrist and details his belief that it’s a monster hiding inside the closest that has killed his three children. The story gave me nightmares when I was 10, but stuck with me for years, no, decades longer. It wasn’t until my thirties that I could sleep with a closet door even slightly open thanks to that fucking story.
All these years later, The Boogeyman remains the scariest short story I’ve ever read.
And now they’ve made a movie out of it.
Written by Scott Beck, Bryan Woods, and Mark Heyman, and directed by Rob Savage, the brains behind the outstanding DASHCAM, the big screen adaptation of The Boogeyman is more inspired by King’s story than an actual adaptation. The character of Lester Billings is only in the film for a brief moment, expertly played by David Dastmalchian. Instead, the movie focuses on psychiatrist Will Harper (Chris Messina) and his two daughters, Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) and Sawyer (Vivek Lyra Blair), who are grieving the loss of their wife and mother, respectively. When Lester visit Will for help, he brings with him the creature that has been killing his children.
The Boogeyman is drastically different from its literary origins, which it had to be, considering the short only ran for a few pages. To be fair, the writers have a done a good job jumping off from King’s original and creating something new. Meanwhile, all of the performances in The Boogeyman are fantastic, especially Sophie Thatcher and Vivien Lyra Blair as the grieving daughters looking for love and help from their father.
The creature design for the titular character is well-done, though it mainly keeps to the shadows for the duration of the film. Much of the horror, in fact, is in the ambience that director Rob Savage creates throughout the film. While there are some decent jump scares in The Boogeyman, there’s little blood or gore or surprises to be had, since this is a PG-13 film. And therein lays my main issue with The Boogeyman, which is more about personal bias than anything else.
Rob Savage made DASHCAM, the scariest film I saw in 2021, and that was me watching it at home during the pandemic. It was literally balls-to-the-wall insanity from the get-go, and it constantly had me jumping, cringing, covering my eyes, and wondering what the hell I was seeing. I was excited to see what Savage would do next, and having him direct The Boogeyman was a guarantee I’d be watching, even if it was an adaptation of a story that haunts me. However, while the film is more than capably made, it’s a far more conventional effort than I want from a director like Rob Savage, who has the talent to be anything but average, which is what the movie wound up being for me. It wasn’t bad at all; instead, it was just fine.
While The Boogeyman has strong acting and an aura of disquiet, for me it didn’t deliver enough of the horror that I was hoping for, especially considering its source material. It didn’t keep me awake at night; it didn’t even scare me enough to close my closet. What it did demonstrate, though, was that Rob Savage is a director can make decidedly mainstream horror. I just hope whatever he does next will allow him to bring his talent for the extreme back to the fore, and maybe freak out the unsuspecting masses.