Stephen King Saw The Black Phone And Called It 'Stand By Me In Hell'

"The Black Phone" might be the darkest crowd-pleaser set to hit theaters this summer. The movie's harrowing plot follows a kidnapped boy named Finney (Mason Thames) as he attempts to break free from the clutches of a creepy captor named The Grabber (Ethan Hawke) with the help of the ghosts of the killer's past victims. It's a pitch-black premise, yet the movie — which is based on a story by Joe Hill — also has moments of triumph, and follows classic coming-of-age beats.

It's no wonder, then, that ahead of its release, "The Black Phone" is garnering comparisons to one of the most beloved adolescent stories out there. In an interview with director Scott Derrickson, /Film's Jacob Hall asked the filmmaker about the common ground the film shares with coming-of-age movies. Derrickson revealed that Stephen King, father of "The Black Phone" author Hill and modern master of horror, came up with an apt comparison for the tonally complex story.

"I know that [author Joe Hill] showed it to his dad," Derrickson told /Film, "And Stephen King's comment... He saw it and apparently loved it. And his comment to Joe was, "It's 'Stand By Me' in hell," which I thought was great." Derrickson says that the succinct King quote should be on the movie's poster, and credits the story's realistic depiction of trauma as part of what makes it resonate as a cross-genre story.

A horror and coming-of-age hybrid

"I think that it's all about the truthfulness of those young kids," Derrickson continues. Along with resilient and clever Finney, the film also stars Gwen (Madeleine McGraw), his kid sister who has dreams that seem to be rooted in truth. Derrickson says the core of the movie comes from the bond between these two traumatized kids, who already have to face "their own monsters" even before The Grabber comes along. Here's more from him:

"I felt that the heart and soul and emotion of the movie would be reliant upon how well I could establish, not just their individual characters, but the bond between the two of them, and make the audience really root for their connection, and that would sustain the emotion of the movie."

King's assertion that "The Black Phone" is like a hellish take on "Stand By Me" isn't that far off. Aside from Gwen and Finney's relationship, "The Black Phone" is also about the bond across time between Finney and the five past victims of The Grabber. "Stand By Me," in turn, is about four 12-year-old boys whose adventure in search of a dead body bonds them for life. Like Finney and Gwen, the kids in "Stand By Me" are also dealing with tough home lives.

Derrickson, who co-wrote "The Black Phone" adaptation with C. Robert Cargill, says he took some of the memories he'd been grappling with from his own childhood and merged them with Hill's story to create something powerful. Although the filmmaker acknowledges that "The Black Phone" is definitely a horror film, he says it's also a coming-of-age film based around "childhood trauma and the resilience of children."

"The Black Phone" will hit theaters June 24, 2022.