Stephen King Saved The Boogeyman From A Direct-To-Streaming Release

"The Boogeyman," 20th Century Studios' upcoming horror film based on the short story from Stephen King, almost didn't make it to theaters. The studio had originally planned on debuting the feature exclusively on Hulu (or Disney+ in territories without the service), but the legendary horror writer saw a personal early screening and pushed for a theatrical release. In a move that's indicative of the return of the theatrical experience in a post-pandemic world, "The Boogeyman" will now enjoy a wide release later this year on June 2.

King initially published "The Boogeyman" in 1973 before it appeared in the 1978 short story collection "Night Shift." The tale revolves around a session between the psychiatrist Dr. Harper and his patient Lester Billings as the former recounts the death of his children. The story relies on the pervasiveness of dread as Lester tragically recalls how all of his kids shouted the name of "the Boogeyman!" before their demise. It's a psychological horror story about the effects of grief while also providing a shock twist ending evocative of a campfire jump scare. The film adaptation seems to be slightly different than the story, scrapping the frame narrative and focusing on the kids, who in this version are still alive. That seems to be no problem for King, however, as the Master of Horror gave the film his approval and reached out to director Rob Savage in support.

Stephen King, savior of horror

As the most adapted author of all time, Stephen King has always been deeply involved in film and television and his stamp of approval has often been met with reverence from horror fans. This isn't the first time the author's public opinion has helped a horror film get to theaters, either. Sam Raimi credits King's rave review of "The Evil Dead" as the reason why his barebones budgeted movie ever even picked up a distributor. "The Boogeyman," however, is an adaptation of King's own work — which, as we know, doesn't necessarily mean it will land in the author's good graces. King famously denounced Stanley Kubrick's "The Shining" for its radically different interpretations of the story's characters and underlying message.

That doesn't mean that the Master of Horror automatically shuns unfaithful adaptations. He admires, for instance, the way Mike Flanagan blended Kubrick's work with his own in "Doctor Sleep," and "The Boogeyman" significantly changes the short story in order to fit a full feature-length runtime. The script shifts Lester to a possibly villainous role, who seems to pass his torment on to his therapist, who is more directly involved in the story this time around. What may have won the support of King was the film's way of capturing the story's original psychological dread. Savage's summary of "The Boogeyman" adaptation, as told to Empire Magazine, seems to capture the core of what made the source material so hauntingly memorable:

"...this creature seems to infect the household of the therapist, including his two children. They're still grieving the loss of their mother, and they're a prime target for this creature, which seems to feed on human misery and discord and live in the shadows of your subconscious."

Savage's switch to theaters

"The Boogeyman" was in pre-production before Disney's acquisition of Fox in 2019 with a script written by "A Quiet Place" and "65" scribes Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (Akela Cooper of "Malignant" is also an uncredited contributor). However, plans for the film were canceled until 2021, when word came out that Rob Savage would direct a screenplay revised by Mark Heyman ("Black Swan," "The Skeleton Twins"). Savage told Empire that he didn't attend King's screening of his finished movie because he "was terrified that he was going to do a 'Shining' on it and absolutely hate it."

The exact opposite happened, however, according to Savage, who reported that King e-mailed him, telling him: "Robert, I'm still thinking about your movie the next morning." Savage explained King "was pushing for it because he saw it on the big screen and said he couldn't imagine it on a tablet." Ironically, Savage's previous works have been a product of the pandemic's impact on virtual communication. 2020's "Host" takes place entirely through a Zoom video call, and 2021's "Dashcam" was told through a live stream. The director doesn't seem to be struggling in the transition to the theatrical space; he says he had to add 45 seconds during the reveal of the monster because the audience was screaming so loud it hindered the pacing.

The distribution change for "The Boogeyman" came on the heels of "Smile," which Paramount originally planned to drop directly on Paramount+. However, warmly received test screenings convinced the studio to release that film in theaters, where it became a $217 million box office success. "The Boogeyman" has a higher cost of around $42 million compared to $17 million for "Smile," but both releases foretell a positive future for mid-budget horror movies — even if they're both about bad omens.

"The Boogeyman" opens in theaters on June 2, 2023.