Skip to main content

The Boogeyman might prove Stephen King movies are better if they’re based on his short stories

The Boogeyman is the latest movie based on the oeuvre of Stephen King. Arguably the most important writer of the 20th century, King is a source of never-ending material for Hollywood, and the notoriously gluttonous town keeps churning movies out of every piece of writing King has ever done. But with most of his major novels and novellas already adapted and remade, Hollywood is turning to his short stories for inspiration.

For The Boogeyman, director Rob Savage uses King’s 1973 short story as inspiration. The source material is brief but effective, presenting a well-told and chilling tale of parental doubt and fear disguised as a classic monster story. The adaptation seems to have changed several key aspects — including the protagonist, the setting, and the core themes. However, it’s understandable, especially because the source material is less than 10 pages long and revolves only around two characters. So, changing things to better fit the film medium is likely for the best. And King, master of horror as he may be, is also guilty of going overboard with his premises, especially if given the space to do so, potentially making his short stories better source material for the big-screen treatment than his books.

Note: This article contains spoilers for the Stephen King short story The Boogeyman.

Man and monster

A girl puts her hand on the ground with a light in front of her face in The Boogeyman.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

A King story is all King, beginning to end; there is no middle ground. Adapting a King novel involves either staying true to the source material, thus delivering an over-the-top movie where everything is kicked up to an 11, or toning down things and risking veering too far from his intentions. It’s no wonder the best movies based on King’s works are the ones that change a lot from the novels that inspired them. Because while King works excellently on paper, his imagery wouldn’t necessarily translate to the big screen.

A key to appreciating King and his vibe is understanding his sensibilities. King loves horror’s inherent camp. Where others see schlock, King sees value; where others see trash, he sees gold. His novels embrace and celebrate the cheaper aspects of horror, something not all film adaptations do. It’s easy for King to explore this sensibility in 800 pages or more, but a short story finds him at his most concise and restrained, operating under a set of defined and somewhat restrictive rules that prevent him from going overboard.

A man looks worried in Stephen King's The Boogeyman.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

The Boogeyman is a great example. King’s narrative revolves around two characters — Lester Billings, a tortured man recalling the “accidental” deaths of his three children, and Dr. Harper, the therapist listening to his tale. The titular monster also plays a prominent part, but only through Lester’s words. Much like in real life, the Boogeyman is an idea in Lester’s head, the monster in the closet that haunts his memories and dreams. Operating under the short story’s format, King lets the reader’s mind do all the heavy lifting; he plants the seeds, but the reader grows the plant.

Compared to, say, It or Christine, where the monsters have plenty of time to wreak havoc on the protagonists, The Boogeyman and most of King’s short stories are all about the horrors we inflict upon ourselves. King famously said, “Monsters are real. They live inside us, and sometimes they win.” That’s the premise behind The Boogeyman, 1408, Cat’s Eye, and Sometimes They Come Back. Short stories are where King presents a condensed version of himself, a palatable alternative for people who wouldn’t stand him as his full power. And because they’re basically a premise rather than a full-fledged story, they also tend to make for the best King adaptations.

King’s short stories allow more room to explore … and terrify

A man looking at a noose in 1408.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

What is a short story but a teaser of something bigger? A short story always leaves audiences wanting more. It’s not necessarily a promise — part of what makes them fascinating is the idea that there’s more about them that readers will never know. Short stories can present a complete narrative with a clear beginning and end, but there’s always something lurking after the final dot.

King’s short stories are as striking as his novels and novellas, albeit much less brutal. However, the tension is arguably better, and the stakes higher. Take The Boogeyman, which ends with Lester expressing regret over his children’s deaths. Leaving Dr. Harper’s office, he returns only to discover that the Boogeyman is real and has been posing as the psychologist all along. The conclusion is chilling and abrupt, which only increases its impact on the reader.

An illustration of Stephen King's Boogeyman.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Yet, there’s no payoff to the story; we don’t know if the Boogeyman kills Lester or lets him live, content with the psychological torture the man already endures. Like the Boogeyman, who leaves the closet door ajar after each kill to vaguely hint at its presence, King leaves his short stories with an apparent ending that’s less of a full stop and more of a pause. The closet door is still open, although barely.

Short stories’ inconclusive state allows film adaptations to be more experimental. Take 1408, with John Cusack and Samuel L. Jackson, for example. It is an excellent adaptation of King’s creepy tale. Utilizing its premise to the fullest, the film fully explores the themes King only hints at in his limited writing, presenting a disquieting exploration into people’s minds and the memories that haunt them.

The same is true for Sometimes They Come Back, the 1991 TV movie based on King’s 1974 short story. It ends with a decidedly happier ending that probably made King cringe, but the film is still faithful to the short story, respecting its main themes, if not its bleak resolution.

In Stephen King’s world, less is more

The Boogeyman | Official Trailer | In Theaters June 2

The best Stephen King adaptations in film and TV are the ones that successfully translate his words into the cinematic medium without sacrificing their intent or essence. Nearly every King short story adapted into film does that, gaining something that wasn’t on paper, thus enriching the original narrative. Whether it’s more insight into the character’s tortured psyche or simply more time spent with them in their chaotic, dreadful world, these films provide things readers didn’t necessarily know they needed before watching the movies. King’s short stories become good and even great films, which is impressive considering how hard it is to adapt his novels and novellas into satisfying projects.

Time will tell if The Boogeyman has what it takes to join the upper tier of King movie adaptations. The genre is better than ever, and 2023 is stacked with promising horror flicks. However, there’s always a market for a good horror film, especially if Stephen King’s name is attached. The Boogeyman has everything it needs to succeed, and considering how successful horror movies have been in the last couple of years, it probably will.

Editors' Recommendations

David Caballero
David is a Mexican freelance writer with a deep appreciation for words. After three years in the cold world of Marketing…
How to watch the 2024 French Open: dates, times, and live stream
Rafael Nadal stands with his racket and prepares to hit a tennis ball.

The best tennis players in the world head to Paris for the 2024 French Open. The year's second major championship will be played on the clay courts at Stade Roland Garros, which will also host the 2024 Summer Olympics. Novak Djokovic and Iga Świątek are the defending champions and enter this year's tournament as the top seeds.

All eyes will be on Rafael Nadal, who may be playing in this tournament for the last time. Nadal is a 14-time French Open champion, with his most recent championship coming in 2022. Nadal enters the tournament unseeded with a protected ranking. If Nadal is going to reach the finals, he will need to go on a magical run with multiple wins over the top seeds.
Watch the 2024 French Open live stream on NBC

Read more
Lyon vs PSG live stream: Can you watch for free?
A soccer field.

French juggernauts Paris Saint-Germain look to end a two-year drought at the Coupe de France when they take on Lyon in the final today at Stade Pierre-Mauroy. A win for PSG would extend their record to 15 French Cup titles, while Lyon--who haven't won since 2012--are seeking their sixth title in club history.

The match is starting very soon, at 3:00 p.m. ET. If you're in the United States and want to watch, it will be televised on Fox Soccer Plus and Fox Deportes, but we've also found some different ways you can watch a live stream of the match for free.
Watch the Lyon vs PSG Live Stream on Fubo

Read more
From Mad Max to Furiosa: Every George Miller movie, ranked
Lord Humungous in Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior

Anya Taylor-Joy in Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga Warner Bros.
Australian director George Miller is one of the great cinematic visionaries of his generation. Once a medical student taking film classes on the side, Miller turned his morbid fascination with car accidents into a cult-classic action film, which in turn gave birth to one of cinema’s most exciting and intriguing worlds.
Not content to make bombastic postapocalyptic chase movies forever, Miller then tried his hand at raunchy comedy, dour adult drama, and wholesome family entertainment in both live action and animation. When he returned to his chrome-plated world of gas-guzzling road warriors, he delivered one of the greatest action films of all time.
He is a unique and thrilling visual stylist, a technological innovator, and just as importantly, a wise and thoughtful storyteller who proves that style and substance need never be mutually exclusive. But has he ever made a clunker? Your mileage may vary, but here's how we think his filmography stacks up.

10. Happy Feet Two (2011)
Like its Oscar-winning predecessor, Happy Feet Two endeavors to tell a whimsical tale about Antarctic wildlife that's packed with both familiar pop songs and ambitious existentialist and environmentalist themes. This time around, however, the style and the stakes simply don't line up, and the result is a George Miller's one and only forgettable movie.

Read more