Tag Archives: Joe Hill

Call Me Maybe

The Black Phone

by Hope Madden

It can be tough to turn a short story into a feature-length film. Filmmakers wind up padding, adding needless plotlines, losing the pointed nature of the short. And Joe Hill’s story The Black Phone is short and to the point. It’s vivid and spooky, and it plays on that line between the grotesque and the entertaining that marks children’s lives.

Director Scott Derrickson (Sinister, Dr. Strange), adapting Hill’s story with longtime writing collaborator C. Robert Cargill, has his work cut out for him.

The first thing he does is change up the villain, which is generally a terrible idea. It works out well here, though, because Ethan Hawke and his terrifying assortment of masks are the stuff of nightmares.

Hawke plays The Grabber. With his top hat, black balloons and big black van, he’s managed to lure and snatch a number of young boys from a small Colorado town. Finney (Mason Thames) is his latest victim, and for most of the film Finney waits for his punishment down a locked cement basement.

Not much else down there besides a filthy mattress and an old, disconnected rotary phone.

Derrickson does stretch the tale with the kind of secondary plot you might find in one of Hill’s dad Stephen King’s books. Back at home, wearing a yellow slicker and rain boots, Finney’s little sister Gwen (Madeleine McGraw) dreams of the missing boys. Her dreams are so accurate they draw the interest of local police.

This is not the film’s strongest element, but it doesn’t play too poorly, either. Derrickson understands that a film’s hero needs some backstory, some arc to make their journey meaningful. He gets heavy-handed with Finney’s family drama, but he doesn’t overwhelm the primary creepiness with it. And he links the two storylines together smoothly with a shared bit of the supernatural.

The phone.

Time period detail sets a spooky mood and Derrickson has fun with soundtrack choices. But the film’s success—its creepy, affecting success—is Hawke. The actor weaves in and out of different postures, tones of voice, movements. He’s about eight different kinds of creepy, every one of them aided immeasurably by its variation on that mask.

Derrickson hasn’t reinvented the genre. But, with solid source material and one inspired performance, he’s crafted a gem of a horror movie.

Sympathy for the Devil


by Hope Madden

“Who’s the new girl at church?”

It’s a line brimming with innocence and temptation, filled with the possibilities of good versus evil, predator v prey. It’s a nice start to a crime drama steeped in surreal, Miltonesque imagery.

Along with a good line, Horns boasts quite a fantasy/horror pedigree. Helmed by French horror director Alexandre Aja (High Tension), written by Stephen King’s son Joe Hill, and starring Harry F. Potter (Daniel Radcliffe), it’s sure to draw the attention of – let’s be honest – nerds. Like me. The beguiling if flawed effort can’t quite become greater than the sum of its parts, though. But it is a wild ride while it lasts.

Ig Perrish (Radcliffe) is commonly believed by his community to have murdered his much-beloved girlfriend Merrin (Juno Temple). It’s a bit like Gone Girl, except that Ig’s crisis is compounded by the fact that he’s begun sprouting bony horns from his forehead. More than that, in the presence of the be-horned Ig, people compulsively confess their dark secrets.

Overripe imagery and symbolism inform a film that is comfortably over-the-top. It’s a glorious mess riddled with stiff dialog, and so tonally discordant – leaping from thriller to comedy to horror to mystery and back – that the effect is dizzying. Yet somehow Horns is utterly watchable.

Much credit for the film’s successes sits with Radcliffe, who seems utterly at home in a supernatural environment full of demons, tragedy, angst and earnestness. Temple also strikes the right innocent nymphette cord, and the young cast of the childhood flashback is especially strong.

The storyline itself carries the unmistakable odor of Stephen King, with the small town crime and flashback to the innocence of youth and the many untold dangers therein (Stand By Me, It, etc.) But King Senior never dove headlong into such blasphemous territory, while his son toys with recasting Satan, if not as hero, then as anti-hero.

Aja struggles gleefully to strike the right tone, and though his cast seems game, no one can quite overcome the symbolism gimmicks or stilted dialog.

Dense with color and texture, Horns invites you into a wild, often poorly acted and weakly written yet sumptuously filmed world of dark magic. It’s a fascinating mess.