Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Black Phone Short Story Writer Joe Hill Explains Where The Seeds Of The Dark Tale Were Planted - Exclusive

Artistic inspiration can come from anywhere, but it's hard to imagine where Joe Hill got the idea for his short story "The Black Phone." The tale, which has been faithfully adapted and expanded for the big screen by writer and director Scott Derrickson and his co-writer C. Robert Cargill, follows the plight of Finney (Mason Thames), a 13-year-old boy who's abducted by the Grabber (Ethan Hawke), a mask-wearing child killer who stashes Finney in his large, empty basement. 

One of the few items there is a disconnected black phone hanging on the wall, so when the phone rings, Finney is understandably shaken. But when he picks up the phone, he finds it's the ghosts of Grabber's previous victims on the other end of the line, and their collective advice helps him find the strength and courage to attempt to save himself.

The movie and the short story of "The Black Phone" are both nail-biting tales of a child's journey of self-discovery in the midst of horrifying circumstances. Just as "The Black Phone" will scare readers and viewers alike, in an interview with Looper, Hill revealed that the story is rooted in something that scared him as a child.

Hill's short story has its origins in his childhood

Joe Hill wrote the short story for "The Black Phone" 15 years ago, so he's understandably tentative when asked how he came up with the idea. Still, memories from his childhood point to its origins. 

"I was struggling to remember the genesis of the story, and it did strike me about six months ago," Hill shared. "I grew up in Bangor, Maine, and I lived in an old, renovated Victorian, a big 19th-century house, and it had one of these crazy horror movie basements, where some of the floor's cement [and] some of the floor's dirt ... There was a phone down there. There was a phone in one of the rooms, a disconnected phone attached to one of the walls, and I remember even as a child thinking if that phone ever rang, I'd run screaming."

Hill believes his childhood contemplations about that disconnected phone must have stuck with him and somehow led him to write the short story, although he can't specifically remember if he was thinking about the real-life phone when he penned "The Black Phone" so many years ago.

"That has to be the genesis of the story," Hill mused. "Did I remember that when I wrote the short story? Was that ever on my mind? I don't know if it was. It was so long ago that I can no longer [remember]. And you have to remember that I probably spent less than a month working on the story. I'm sure I wrote the first draft in 10 days."

Whether it was in the front of Hill's mind or not, centering his dark tale around a disconnected phone led to a compelling and singular story that, on both the page and the screen, is equal parts intriguing and unnerving.

"The Black Phone" is now available on digital, Blu-ray, and DVD.