“It Freaks Me Out, And I Made It!” – Rob Savage Talks The Boogeyman

Following the viral success of his two COVID screen-time scare fests, Host and DASHCAM, director Rob Savage has made the leap to Hollywood with his adaptation of Stephen King’s 1972 short story The Boogeyman.

For the filmmaker, this was a dream come true, as adapting one of King’s classics had long been one of his main ambitions.

He told Zavvi: “Every horror filmmaker has a Stephen King movie on their bucket list, and for mine to be one that really f****d me up as a kid was huge for me. I remember first reading it when I was 12, and there’s something about it that just latches on to you and rattles around your mind for days after.

Rob Savage on set – 20th Century Studios

“My challenge was: how do I make the audience feel as terrified as I was as a kid reading that short story? It’s both a gift and a big responsibility to take on the Boogeyman, a word that’s a cipher for anything and everything that first scared us as children – when we realised there was danger out in the world, the Boogeyman was the name we put to that feeling.

“So to design a creature who would shoulder that responsibility was huge, but I think where we go in the third act, where it becomes a Lovecraftian creature feature within a haunted house story, nails it. It freaks me out when I watch it back, and I made it!”

Screenwriters Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (A Quiet Place) worked on the initial drafts of the film prior to Savage boarding the project. They opened up the short story – which consists entirely of an unsettling conversation between a man named Lester Billings and his therapist – to make it the inciting incident for the titular monster coming to invade this family’s home, feeding on their grief following the recent death of their mother.

20th Century Studios

It may have not been a complicated technical challenge on the same level as his previous work, but Savage claims that he’s “never worked harder” than making this movie, telling us that he didn’t sleep for “about a year and a half” as the film was in production.

He explained: “The film is 97 minutes long, and I wanted to make sure every single one of those minutes was as good as it possibly could be. People’s time is precious, and I want to make sure that the movie is concise and boils down the idea as much as possible.

“Next time, that might mean I make a two-hour movie, but this one needed a propulsion to it. This needed to chew you up and spit you out on the other side; it has dark subject matter and some intense scares, but it ultimately needed to be a fun rollercoaster ride.”

20th Century Studios

In other interviews about the movie, the director has spoken about the need to “redeem” the idea of the Boogeyman. When people have asked him what he’s been working on next, they’ve rolled their eyes at the idea of a movie about the childhood monster, and so he felt a responsibility to make the audience “feel like they’re back in their childhood bedrooms, staring off into a dark corner.”

He explained: “It feels like there’s been 600 movies called The Boogeyman, but I bullishly want to do the one that takes ownership of that name, puts all the silly connotations to bed and states the true meaning of this character. This is about your very first notion of fear, going from a younger character terrified of her closet to a father dealing with grief and repressed emotion – I wanted to take the very idea of the Boogeyman and apply it to the way fear manifests throughout this family.”

His gambit seems to have worked, as Stephen King was terrified after seeing an early cut of the film, sending Savage a letter telling him he had a sleepless night because of it (“I can retire off the back of that!”). With viewers already describing the movie as intense, I was curious about the process of making such a frightening movie with a young actress at the centre – in this case, Obi-Wan Kenobi star Vivien Lyra Blair as the family’s youngest daughter Sawyer.

20th Century Studios

“We didn’t have any finished Boogeyman effects for her to react against on set; we had a 3D print of the monster’s head covered in KY jelly for the actors to react to, which isn’t particularly scary.

“But when she came back to record her ADR, we had fully finished VFX, and she got so scared seeing the creature that she had to look away from the screen and I had to describe what was happening – it was the only way we could get her lines recorded.

“I still have that 3D printed Boogeyman head we used on set though, I was allowed to keep it as a memento and it’s been in my living room ever since.”

20th Century Studios

It didn’t take much to persuade Savage to show me the monster’s head over Zoom, and it’s safe to say the movie version of the monster is much scarier: since taking it home, he’d put sunglasses and a sombrero on his Boogeyman.

With the film finally about to arrive in cinemas, it represents a full circle moment for Savage, as King’s short stories were what influenced him to become a horror storyteller as a kid, long before he even knew what a film director was.

“As I started to get into making films myself, it was the adaptations of his books I’d gravitate towards. I hid those VHS tapes under my bed and watch them after my parents had gone to bed – they were a forbidden fruit.

20th Century Studios

“If it had Stephen King’s name on it, you knew that it might be too much to handle, but I was always chasing that thrill of watching a movie that could get under my skin in a way that I couldn’t shake off for days afterwards. The Shining did that for me in a big way, but movies like Pet Sematary and Cujo were also huge for me – and later in life, when I started to read his original books, it only influenced me further.

“One of the most fun parts of making this movie was diving back into his work, reading his stories and watching those movies again. Stephen King needed to be baked into the DNA of this movie; it may only be loosely based on his short story, but it had to feel like it belonged to him – and I think it does.”

He may have ticked off making a King adaptation from his bucket list, but now he’s got the seal of approval from the author himself, Savage may be returning to his dark literary world for a future project.

20th Century Studios

“I think every horror filmmaker wants to make Pet Semetary; it’s the novel of his that disturbed me the most, and I think there’s material to be mined there. As good as the adaptations are, they haven’t unsettled me quite as much as that book did.

“And then there’s another one which is a short story, but I can’t say it out loud as there might be an avenue to getting it made, and if I say it this early it’ll be automatically crumbled to pieces!

“What I can say is that King has been very generous with his time and his feedback, and as surreal as it is to say out loud, there are other projects we’ve been discussing and circling to make next…”

The Boogeyman is released in UK cinemas on Friday, 2nd June.

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Alistair Ryder

Alistair Ryder


Alistair is a culture journalist and lover of bad puns from Leeds. Subject yourself to his bad tweets by following him on Twitter @YesItsAlistair.