The Black Phone Author Joe Hill On Why Scott Derrickson Reminds Him Of William Friedkin [Interview]

What was your reaction to that? Because that’s one of the big changes. The Grabber is more theatrical in the movie. He seems to be really enjoying putting on a show, as compared to the more low-key version of The Grabber in your story.

So there’s only one difference between the short story and the film. There’s only one major creative change, which is in the film, the Ethan Hawke character introduces himself to Finney by saying, “I’m a part-time magician,” but in the story, he says, “I’m a part-time magician.” time clown.” So as a kid, I read “It” when I was 12, 13. It blew my f****** mind. I just absolutely loved It, and I loved the TV movie. But when I wrote “The Black Phone,” I never thought about “It.” That was 20 years in the rearview mirror, do you know? I was thinking about a certain kind of child killer, and the child killer that came to mind was John Wayne Gacy, who was in fact a part-time clown. And so that’s kind of what I modeled the serial killer on in the story.

Flash forward to now, and Scott and Cargill were talking about making the film, and one of the things we all talked about was what are we going to do about this aspect of it? Because “It Chapter One” just came out, and America has only so much space in its heart for evil clowns. And so we hit upon him being a part-time magician instead. We looked to the history of magicians fighting devils. So that was a whole thing in like 1920s, 1930s stage magic, was the magician himself would appear as a devil and do some sinister sorcery, and then he’d slip behind the curtain and come back out with his mask off and do heroic magic , and that was a whole thing.

So we thought, “He’s a part-time magician and he’s got this devil mask, and the devil mask could be scary,” although I think only Scott could have anticipated ahead of time just how scary the mask would be. So that’s the big creative change. Just as a postscript of that, I would say I never consciously thought about “It” when I was writing the short story, but short stories don’t come from the conscious mind. They come from the unconscious mind, and the unconscious mind is as big a space as that cellar, that basement in the house I grew up in. It’s a vast, dark space with a lot of unmapped corridors, twisting tunnels and little low rooms.

And I think in 2004 when I wrote “The Black Phone,” I probably was wrestling with the influence of Stephen King and “It.” I probably was trying to figure out what that meant to me, and what are my own stories going to look like? How will they reflect on my father’s stories? And so I didn’t see that then, but I can see that now, and I do think that’s there. That’s not imaginary, the echoes of, the big influence of Pennywise and Derry.

The /Film writer who reviewed “The Black Phone” said it was the best Joe Hill adaptation he has seen yet. And so it got me thinking, what defines a Joe Hill project? What defines a Joe Hill story for us to be able to quantify what we look for in a Joe Hill adaptation?

Oh boy, I don’t know. I don’t know. That’s a tougher one. I’ve been very lucky in terms of the adaptations in that I think everyone has approached them with good faith and love and energy, and that all of them have been pretty good. I’m especially grateful, I’ll always be grateful to Daniel Radcliffe and Alexandre Aja for making “Horns.” I think if they didn’t make that film, probably none of these other films and TV shows happen, this tremendous leap of faith. And it meant so much to me at the time, because I was a fairly depressed guy when I wrote “Horns.” I had written “Heart-Shaped Box.” It turned out I had a novel in me after all. I wrote “Heart-Shaped Box” and then it became this big hit. You know, it was a big best seller and the whole media storm around it, and it was more successful than I ever thought I’d be in my whole life.

And afterwards, I got very depressed. And I mean, it’s so corny. It’s like, isn’t it a big cliche, right? It’s a cliche for a reason though. I mean, I couldn’t write anything. I couldn’t think of any good ideas, and I didn’t know how to do another novel, and my marriage broke up, and I was in this depressive tailspin and everything. And then I got the idea for “Horns,” and every page was hard. Everything about it was difficult. It was not fun at all. And my editor, Jennifer Brehl, and I made that a good book, but I didn’t really know it was good and it didn’t feel good. It came out, and people liked it and stuff, and it sold pretty well, but in my heart, I thought, “Ah, my second book is terrible.”

And then Daniel Radcliffe and Alexandre Aja wanted to make a movie out of it. I started to think, “Wait a minute, maybe it actually is a good book.” And gradually, I’ve come to feel that “Horns” is a good novel. The novel was good, I just wasn’t happy when I wrote it. The two things are totally disconnected from one another. How you feel when you write a book doesn’t necessarily have any basis on its quality at all.

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