One can’t talk about The Boogeyman without addressing the Stephen King of it all. Perhaps one of his lesser-known works, The Boogeyman first appeared in Cavalier magazine in 1973, and was later republished in his 1978 collection of short stories titled Night Shift.
It’s not just audiences that might be more familiar with the lore of the monster itself rather than Stephen King’s iteration — Chris Messina himself, star of the new adaptation, hadn’t even heard of The Boogeyman short story before signing on to the horror movie.
Thankfully, when he did pick it up, he was drawn to what it could do.
“[King]’s such a great writer,” he confirms to the Digital Fix when we sit down to talk about the 2023 movie. “I thought it was scary. And the vibe of it was really, you know, so King-like. I was digging it, and then I read the screenplay which is entirely different. There are a lot of ways you could make a feature film out of that short and I was really impressed with where they took the movie.”
In adapting the short story to a feature-length monster movie, the world is expanded to that of the Harper family, who have just suffered a tremendous loss. Sadie, the teenager of the family, is struggling to deal with her grief after losing her mother and yearns for someone to talk to. Her therapist father, Will, on the other hand, cannot even begin to discuss the loss. Her younger sister Sawyer is dealing with her own problems — notably, a crippling fear of the dark.
The Boogeyman is a tale fraught with classic Stephen King partialities, holding a magnifying glass over characters impacted by parental anxieties and trauma, and is darkened with the threat of harm to children. And when King’s tales have a reputation for showcasing the talent of some of the best actors of our time, has working on an adaptation of the literary legend’s work always been a goal for Messina?
“I was a big fan of his, not only his horror stuff — you know, Shawshank Redemption, or The Green Mile,” he says. “The Dead Zone, I loved Chris Walken’s performance in that, or Kathy Bates in Misery. So yeah, it definitely was on a list because he writes such incredible characters. But it was a surprise when it came, like all these things. They just come hurtling through the universe and land on your lap and you’re happy, shocked, and thrilled that it came to you.”
The biggest link between the new feature and the original story hangs on one scene between Messina and co-star David Dastmalchian, who plays the important role of Lester Billings. In the King version, Lester Billings comes to Will Harper, desperate for someone to listen to him. After his children were mercilessly slaughtered by the Boogeyman, Lester is left hopeless and utterly broken.
This scene is a platform for some genuinely unsettling tension and haunting capability from both actors. It’s no doubt one of the most important scenes in the film, forming the backbone of everything that comes after.
For Messina, it also happened to be one of his favorite moments to work on.
“I loved working with my [on-screen] daughters, and loved our stuff together,” he explains. “But I would say the scene with David was, you know, really a favorite. I think there was a little bit of pressure on that scene because it was the short story for the most part. But David came in and he was just remarkable. And, speaking of The Dead Zone, he reminded me of Chris Walken in his haunted approach to it.”
This artful portrayal of what could have been a predictable character in the wrong hands was integral to the authenticity of the story, which Messina recalls being a priority for director Rob Savage.
“Something Rob talked about is you can’t have jumpscares without humanity and without people you care about,” he says. “And I remember when we started rehearsing it and David walked in, he was immediately not playing it scary. He was troubled. He was heartbroken. He was lost. And I could have shot that scene all week long. I really loved acting with him and I kind of like the pressure of trying to live up to Stephen King’s world there.”
The bulk of the new movie’s scares come from the Boogeyman itself, a dark force that stalks the characters like a parasitic shadow. One of the final scenes in the film sees Will coming face-to-face with the Boogeyman. A challenge for the character, but for Messina as well, since the experience involving elaborate blocking and imagining monsters wasn’t something he’d done before, and left him with a new outlook on the genre.
“It made me really respect all the actors and filmmakers that do that kind of filmmaking because I had never done it before,” he admitted. “It definitely is hard but really fun to work that way, to use your imagination in that way. It was very very new to me.”
And perhaps a little scary, too?
“I think it was more scary like: am I gonna look like an asshole doing this?” he considers. “You know, because you’re punching nothing. And you’re working from nothing. So you’re wondering – at least I was – should I be more scared or less scared? Is this gonna match what’s on the other side of this, you know? But no, I don’t think I was scared of the Boogeyman. I was just scared of my ego and vanity.”