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The Real Reason The Black Phone Changes This Key Villain Detail

The long-anticipated horror film "The Black Phone" has finally arrived in theaters and is promptly raising neck hairs and scaring the daylights out of those watching it on the big screen. The movie is based on a short story of the same name in the anthology book "20th Century Ghosts" by best-selling author Joe Hill. Hill, the son of beloved author Stephen King, is the mastermind behind such terrifying and adventurous tales as "N0S4A2" and "The Fireman." The Universal Pictures scarefest also reunites screenwriter C. Robert Cargill, director Scott Derrickson, and actor Ethan Hawke, who previously teamed to terrify the masses with the 2012 film "Sinister." 

A common occurrence when adapting stories from books into television shows or movies is changing key story elements so they work well onscreen while still serving the plot. Storyline adjustments and additions aren't uncommon during the creative process. Even Hill has encountered it with the Netflix adaptation of "Locke & Key," which had some major changes, and "The Black Phone" is no different. Going from a short story to full-length horror flick can be a challenging process, though not all changes are done to the storyline. In the case of the Hawke-led feature, a seemingly subtle change made by the short story author himself had a significant impact on the movie.

The Grabber's new look stems from a desire to avoid Stephen King comparisons

One very important adjustment was made while figuring out how to translate Ethan Hawke's character, The Grabber, from the page to the screen. In Hill's original story, the character of "The Grabber" (Hawke) wears a clown mask, while in the film adaptation, he wears a pale-colored devil mask. This change was set in motion by Hill himself for a very specific reason that Cargill detailed in a recent interview with The Hollywood Reporter.

"In the short story, the character is a clown, and after he'd read the first draft, Joe Hill came to us with a hat-in-hand mea culpa. He was like, 'This is a hard ask, but when I wrote this story, it was 20 years after [Stephen King's] 'It' had come out. Nobody was thinking about clowns, and I was thinking of John Wayne Gacy. So there was no real comparison at the time, but now that 2017's 'It' is a big hit, people are going to feel like I'm aping my dad with another clown." It's understandable that Hill wanted to ensure the adaptation of his work stood on its own and avoided falling into the trap of being easily compared to his father's work.

Hill already had a backup plan in mind for replacing the clown mask. According to Cargill, "Joe said, 'I have this great idea of this whole magic show act from the '30s and '40s where magicians would dress up as a magician for half the time, and then for the other half, they would dress up as the devil and do other tricks as the devil." Not only does The Grabber's new get-up look cool — it's genuinely frightening to behold. Fans should give big props to Hill for having the foresight to suggest the change.