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How The Black Phone Was Inspired By The Director's Real-Life Trauma

When "The Black Phone" starring Ethan Hawke was officially released on-demand in 2022, Universal Pictures teased the occasion with a Twitter post saying, "the nightmare comes home." But for director Scott Derrickson, the nightmare that's based on a true story has been "home" with him for decades. "... that's really what the movie is," Derrickson revealed in a June 2022 interview with IGN. "It's a combination of my own memories, from my own past, with [Joe Hill's] short story."

Full of terrifying moments, "The Black Phone" is a harrowing cinematic tale about a 13-year-old boy named Finney (Mason Thames) who gets kidnapped by a serial killer known as The Grabber, played by Hawke. Finney is able to communicate with the Grabber's previous victims through a supernatural telephone that's hanging on the wall in the basement where he's being held. While the film makes sure to hit all the basic horror notes, it also does a great job of portraying teenage life and bullying in the 1970s, along with depicting the brutal realities of parental abuse. According to Derrickson, it was through these unorthodox themes that he was able to use his real-life experiences while growing up in North Denver as inspiration for the movie.

Violence from Scott Derrickson's childhood helped inspire The Black Phone

Speaking to IGN, Scott Derrickson described how his traumatic upbringing in Colorado during the 1970s inspired much of what viewers saw in "The Black Phone." He referred to the project as a "coming-of-age film that is interrupted by this horror story." 

"I always thought [Joe Hill's short story] would be a great feature film, but I didn't know how to expand it," Derrickson explained. "The answer came after a couple years of therapy, dealing with my own childhood and really the violence in my childhood, and some of the traumatic events in my childhood." According to the former Marvel director, it was those traumatic events in addition to key plot points from Hill's short story of the same name that he chose to use as the foundation of his adaptation.

Derrickson is no stranger to making films that are geared towards his own personal experiences. Speaking to The Wrap in June 2022, he described how 2016's "Doctor Strange" also had many elements and themes related to his life, but it still pales in comparison to how introspective "The Black Phone" is. "I don't think anybody but me would have made ['Doctor Strange'] the way I made it," Derrickson said. "But ['The Black Phone'] is a whole other level of personal. This is the most personal film I've ever made by far."