by Scott Derrickson The black phone hits theaters today, co-written by C. Robert Cargill and adapted from Joe Hill’s short story of the same name. The film follows young Finney (Mason Thames) who becomes the latest victim of child predator, The Grabber (Ethan Hawke). In 1978, Finney is aided by the Grabber’s previous victims who offer cryptic clues via an old wall phone in the Grabber’s horror fortress.
FANGORIA has reunited Derrickson, Cargill and Hill for our issue #14, but what the hell are you doesn’t seeing is the part of the conversation in which they discuss the formative horrors that scarred them for life. Read on for the top horror titles from the trio’s memory and some thoughts on the importance of keeping empathy at heart and using horror movies to arm ourselves against the true horrors of the world at large. .
Scott Derrickson: Although I didn’t take the time of a novelist to develop these characters, I still felt a huge empathy towards the main character of this short story, in the structure, in the very simple structure of the story. At the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the story you tell, I felt that there was something noble in it. And if you do that and allow people to emotionally connect like that, that’s when horror has its strongest inoculating effect against real evil in the real world.
It is the opposite of sadism. It gives the audience an opportunity to feel that indirect fear, to feel that empathy for the other characters, and to come out of it a little more capable of dealing with real-world fear. That’s why after the scene you mentioned, the scene where Finney is watching The Tinglerthe next scene turns into one of the most heartbreaking moments in the film.
And I really like the relationship between those two scenes because that’s the role that horror has played in my life. I always liked him. I built haunted houses in my basement when I was a kid. I was that child watching The Tingler. I was younger. I think I was six or seven when I came across it on TV, but I’ve never forgotten it. And I think the fascination and the calculation of these things, and the innate need of children to take it into account, hence the love for Halloween, hence the love for gothic which is just innate for the most part children, I think it’s an instinctive calculation with how scary it is to be a human being and with the trauma of being a child. It’s a way of taking some of this live vaccine, you know, this live virus in your system as a vaccine against the real thing that’s out there that can actually kill you.
Joe Hill: Has been The Tingler your first horror movie?
SOUTH DAKOTA: The Tingler was the first film I remember stumbling upon, on my own. Yeah. It was the first movie I can remember, sitting alone on the bottom floor of our house in North Denver, seeing it and really being captivated by the whole movie. But in that scene, when all the blood comes out, and it’s all red – it’s a black and white movie – and suddenly – bright red blood – it burned something into my brain that I never let go. And not a week goes by that I don’t think of the images from this film.
JH: I haven’t seen it, but I know a little about it. It was a picture of William Castle. Was not it?
SOUTH DAKOTA: It was. It was. It was great too. When they made the movie, they featured it in Tingle Vision. They had wiring in the seats. So whenever the Tingler, which was this kind of centipede-like spinal creature, appeared in the movie, the seats actually tingled. This was back when this thing was putting asses in seats.
JH: I wonder if the creature in The Tingler was the inspiration for the little worm in Thrill, the Cronenberg table. Or in fact, maybe it’s too big a leap. Cargil, and you? What was your first horror movie?
C.Robert Cargill: I have to think… I have to say that my first horror movie was probably Fighting spirit. Fighting spirit came out at that time. I may have seen a few of the older blacks and whites, but none of them really connected me that way.
However, the one that stuck with me the most was when I was three years old, my mother got tickets on the radio to see an early screening of a new horror movie called Halloween. And my mom was like, “Oh, I’m going to go see this new movie. And I can see it early.” My mom is a big reason I’m a movie fan and a horror fan. My mom loved movies, so we were constantly watching movies. We always went to the movies as a family. We had family movie nights on Saturday nights where we made homemade pizza and rented a video from the video store. The whole family was able to turn to find out who chose a film of the week. So they took me to see a lot of things, but they didn’t take me Halloween. But I remember my mother came back, and for a week all the doors in the house were locked by two by four at night [laughter], and this is one of my earliest memories. I remember as a kid telling my parents about it, saying, “Why don’t we kick out two-by-fours anymore?” And my dad used to make fun of my mom and say, “Let me tell you the story of the time your mom won tickets to Halloween.” [laughter]
SOUTH DAKOTA: The first real horror movie I chose to show for my children was Halloween, and they were 12, 13, something like that. I knew there was nudity in it, I wasn’t too worried about it. My children were very mature viewers even at that age. But it was my first time showing them a straight-up horror movie, and they loved it. They still love this movie, and that told me I chose wisely. Interestingly enough, it was probably two years later that I projected The sixth sense for them, it’s the only time I’ve screened a horror movie for my children where I’ve crossed the line because my youngest… it scared him. The scenes of the hanged ghosts and the dead girl. The tone was too upsetting for him. Whereas Halloween, there was still something about the tone of this film that was captivating and not horrifying in a bad way for them. So Joe, what movie did you choose as an introduction to the genre for your children and at what age?
JH: Well, when it comes to my first horror movie, I only watched Disney movies until my eldest son made me watch Claim at 44 years old. [laughter] And after that, I never saw any more photos because I was so upset. Since then, I have been in therapy and it has broken me deeply as a human being.
SOUTH DAKOTA: I actually knew a guy who was raised in a very, very strict fundamentalist home. And he had only seen three movies by the time he got to college. And the three films in order were Bambi, Bonnie and Clydeand Deep Throat. [laughter]
JH: Well, that really runs the gamut.
SOUTH DAKOTA: It runs the gamut of all movies.
JH: So the first horror images I saw are sort of fringe horror images. I claim them for the genre, but I think a lot of other people would say, “No, no, these aren’t horror movies.” But the two I would choose would be those of Spielberg Duel and Jaws. My father had a video disc player, which was the precursor to DVD. And the videodisc player came with these giant silver platters, these huge Frisbees. They just looked like the future.
We have had Sugarland Express, Close Encounters, Dueland Jaws, and we just watch them again and again. There were only about 20 minutes of video on each side of the discs. And so you were sort of watching for 20 minutes and then you had to flip the record. Eventually, the records got mixed up. And so you would look like 40 minutes of Jaws then 40 minutes of Sugarland Express, but we don’t really care. And we didn’t know there were rules, like if you had to watch a movie from cover to cover.
At the time, the idea of seeing a movie at home was completely new. This was even before video libraries. So the idea that you could just watch a movie over and over was amazing to us.
The first horror movie that I really knew and loved and was obsessed with was dawn of the dead, which I saw far too young and couldn’t recommend other people see at that age. But, for some reason, I completely embraced it. I wasn’t scared of it. I loved the adventure and those heroes fighting the zombies and claiming the mall. I was really into it.
And then the other thing – of course my dad is who he is, and so really the first horror movie I saw was the miniseries of ‘Salem bundle. And that fucked me up.
SOUTH DAKOTA: Yeah. [laughter]
JH: It was the little boy outside the window, scraping the glass and saying, “Let me in.” Let me enter.
CRC: It bothered me a lot too. We are the same age. And I remember when it was on TV, it was horrible.
JH: I didn’t sleep for six months after that. I watched it with my parents because it was based on my dad’s book, and they were excited, and it felt like a family thing to share. So, of course, I saw him at a very, very young age. There was a dilapidated old church near our house that looked a lot like Mike Flanagan’s church. Midnight Mass – peeling paint and dusty windows and all. Every time I walked past with my dad, I would shake his hand really hard and whisper to him, “Salem’s lot is here. You would have to cross the street to get away from this creepy church.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. You can read more about this roundtable in FANGORIA Volume 2, Issue #14. The black phone is now in theaters.