Columns > Published on June 5th, 2023

Book vs. Film: "The Boogeyman"

Stephen King adaptations are the very definition of “hit or miss.” For every Carrie, The Shawshank Redemption, and The Shining (1980), there’s a Graveyard Shift, Dreamcatcher, and The Shining (1997). Especially worrisome are those movies that take only a sliver of King’s original work and then set out on their own, as was the case with The Lawnmower Man

So fans of the author might have clenched their jaws upon learning that “The Boogeyman,” one of King’s shortest of short stories, would become a feature length film. Is the movie—written by Scott Beck & Bryan Woods (A Quiet Place) and Mark Heyman (Black Swan) and directed by Rob Savage (Host)—yet another Lawnmower Man? The short answer is: yes and no. Now for the long answer.

The Short Story

First published in 1973 in Cavalier magazine and subsequently included in the excellent 1978 story collection, Night Shift, “The Boogeyman” is a classic quick and dirty King tale, inspired by the darkly funny EC Comics of the author’s youth (which also spawned his cinematic collaboration with George Romero, Creepshow). The story centers around Lester Billings, hands-down one of King’s most unlikable protagonists, who seeks to “confess” his guilt over the deaths of his three young children. According to Lester, while authorities shrugged off the deaths as tragic accidents, in fact they were the result of a creature his kids all believed to be the boogeyman, that catch-all term for monsters under beds, in closets, and in the shadows. ultimately has very little to do with King’s story, though... King’s DNA is very much present...

Lester describes this entity—possibly the boogeyman, possibly not—as slimy and corpse-like, humanoid save for the long, animal-like claws on its hands. He shares this description with a psychiatrist, Dr. Harper, as well as his overall experience: that one by one his children complained of the boogeyman in their rooms, but he dismissed them all in turn—that is, until he sees a sliver of the monster for himself. Lester begins to let his third and final child Andy sleep in the same bed with him (despite his fears it will turn his son into a "sissy;" more on this in a moment), but when his own terror at the boogeyman overcomes him, he leaves the boy in his crib to fend for himself, effectively giving his offspring a death sentence. Lester witnesses the creature in full murdering Andy, but instead of helping, he runs out of the house, returning hours later to find the corpse where the boogeyman left it. 

Cowardly as this act is, cowardice isn’t Lester’s most offensive character trait. He is chauvinistic, racist, homophobic (remember his “sissy” fears), and narcissistic, doting on Andy the most because he “was the only one of the litter that looked like me,” in Lester’s own words. He is also abusive toward his wife and lives by the phrase “spare the rod, spoil the child.” He is the epitome of the stern, constantly angry American father King loves to lambast in his fiction (see Beverly’s father in It, Burt in “Children of the Corn,” and even Jack Torrance at his darkest in The Shining, among many other characters). It’s only fitting, then, that Lester gets what’s coming to him, in the most EC Comics way possible: it turns out the psychiatrist was the boogeyman in disguise the whole time—Lester spots the creature holding his Dr. Harper mask after briefly leaving the offices. The story ends with Lester peeing himself and a suggestion the boogeyman is about to gobble him up. 

A terrible man coming to a terrible fate. That’s really all there is to “The Boogeyman.”

The Film

So how does one turn this simple and oh so short story into an hour and a half movie? In the case of the 2023 adaptation, the filmmakers decide to turn Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian) into a side character and upgrade Dr. Harper (Chris Messina) and his family to the stars (no, Harper isn’t actually boogie-ing it up in a flesh suit here). The audience first meets Harper and his two daughters, teenager Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) and ten year-old Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair), all of whom are (not) dealing with the loss of their wife/mother in a car accident. 

Yes, much like The Babadook, Hereditary, and Smile before it, the real boogeyman behind The Boogeyman is grief and trauma. However, despite this being well worn territory, the story told here is effective and engaging. Similar to the aforementioned Lawnmower Man, it ultimately has very little to do with King’s story, though unlike that previous film, King’s DNA is very much present here. Lester still shows up to tell his tale to Dr. Harper, though his bigotry doesn’t come along with him. He introduces the concept of the monster—“it’s the thing that comes for your kids when you’re not paying attention”—before encountering the boogeyman in a closet and meeting his grisly demise, which is initially believed to be a suicide. 

From here, the film tells an original story that ultimately belongs to Sadie, as she becomes more and more suspicious of Lester’s death and the strange occurrences inside her home. She comes to believe the monster her sister has been seeing around the house is real, and seeks the help of Lester’s widow Rita (Marin Ireland), who has become a sort of doomsday prepper for boogeymen and explains to Sadie her theory that the monster preys on broken, desperate people. It then falls onto Sadie to try and heal her grieving family before the creature gets them all, one by one. 

So where does this adaptation rank among the other King movies out there? It certainly isn’t a bad film by any means, so it has several legs up on The Lawnmower Man and Graveyard Shift. At the same time, it isn’t a masterpiece on the level of Carrie or The Shining. It’s somewhere in the middle, really, an enjoyable watch with solid performances and a fantastic creature design, but it’s nothing that truly gets under your skin and sticks with you long after. 

Then again, the same can be said of King’s original narrative, which is fun in its own way, but certainly isn’t the most stellar entry in the Night Shift collection. In this way, both story and film are on equal footing, and they’re worth checking out for their own merits. 

Get Night Shift at Bookshop or Amazon

About the author

Christopher Shultz writes plays and fiction. His works have appeared at The Inkwell Theatre's Playwrights' Night, and in Pseudopod, Unnerving Magazine, Apex Magazine, freeze frame flash fiction and Grievous Angel, among other places. He has also contributed columns on books and film at LitReactor, The Cinematropolis, and Christopher currently lives in Oklahoma City. More info at

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