‘The Boogeyman’ Short Story And 2023 Film Differences, Explained

Rob Savage’s The Boogeyman terrified King himself who even labelled it “extraordinary”. While the original story has been reimagined many times, often in undelightful manners, Rob’s version seems to be taking the world by storm. In the first 5-10 minutes of the film, it feels like we’re following Stephen’s story pretty accurately but then the tables take a very distinct turn. Of course, if the film had to be based solely on the source material, it would’ve been a really short one! The popcorn horror has a significant amount of psychological elements that make it more emotionally effective. This is definitely a big step forward for Rob, who began his impressive career with a found footage horror called Host. With a massive expansion of the original story, writers Scott Beck, Bryan Woods, and Mark Heyman along with Rob switch the lens to the psychiatrist Will Harper and his little family that has just been through an extremely traumatic incident. If you haven’t read the short story, this is your complete spoiler warning. 


Spoilers Ahead

Lester Vs Sadie 

Let’s shut the closet door on the biggest difference between the two stories- the protagonist. Stephen’s protagonist is the frightful and conservative Lester Billings who came to meet psychiatrist Dr. Harper and tell him about his experience of losing three of his children. In the story, we follow Lester’s life from when he got married to his wife Rita, how their children were born and how they eventually died. In the film, Lester’s story is interrupted by Will who feels threatened by it. As we know, the Boogeyman is masking himself as Dr. Harper, until the end when we can assume he finally kills Lester too. King’s story ends ambiguously with the Boogeyman still holding Dr Harper’s “mask” in his clawed hand. In the film, Harper is a human and has two adorable daughters, Sadie and Sawyer. We follow Sadie’s point of view for the most part, where she navigates her new life trying to talk to her father and also take care of her sister so that they can become a happy family again. It’s quite emotionally charged and the relationship between Sadie and Sawyer is a highlight in the film because so often we only see siblings who fight and never support each other (we saw where that gets you in “Evil Dead Rise”). Sadie is obviously a more fleshed-out character than Lester and a smart young girl’s perspective is a 100 times better than that of an old conservative man from the 60s. Sadie is protective of her family and Lester is a coward because he gave into his fear of the Boogeyman and left his third son to die. Sadie is able to face the Boogeyman and eventually kill him, whereas we can presume Lester gets killed himself. 


Since the story isn’t set in the late 60s-70s, it is also more modern. In the short story, Rita is just a name, but in the movie she has a larger role, trying to kill the Boogeyman herself. We can also speculate that she and Lester had a better relationship than the one in the story (movie Lester just feels like a better person, you know?). 

The Boogeyman Latches On To Pain 

In the short story we can assume that the Boogeyman is a realisation of our fears, the monster behind the closet door is real. The one under your bed will get you if you’re not behaving, but in the film, the Boogeyman requires a catalyst to latch onto a family. It is distress, pain and grief that help the Boogeyman hurt a family. Typically like a basic haunting plotline, the family is afraid and whatever demon is around gets off on fear, but in this case, it’s grief, like in last year’s Smile, the Boogeyman can be transferred from one grieving family to the next. The most vulnerable member of the family is a child and so the Boogeyman gets the child first always, which remains the same in both the source material and the adaptation. 


The Boogeyman Is Not A Shapeshifter 

The great twist in King’s story is that the Boogeyman himself is Dr. Harper because he can mask himself and shapeshift to look human. In the film, the Boogeyman manipulates people through sound and voice. He can imitate voices rather than change his appearance entirely, luring people into the dark and showing his true self. The first time the Boogeyman does this in the film is when he uses Sadie’s voice to lure Sawyer into the dark and tear her precious moon-light. Sawyer thinks it’s Sadie who’s pulling a prank. Taking what’s most precious from Sawyer who is afraid of the dark, the Boogeyman is able to push her further into her fear, making it easier for him to get her. Additionally, the soul-sucking design of the Boogeyman is definitely not what King had in mind when he wrote the short story. We think that he might’ve just been a werewolf man with claws and a hideous face. 

How To End The Boogeyman? 

Since the short story has an open ending, it gives the impression that the Boogeyman cannot be defeated. The movie seamlessly uses the idea that Lester is telling his story to Will so that he can transfer the Boogeyman to their family because he knows that Will has lost his wife. What Lester hasn’t learnt is how to defeat the Boogeyman himself.  Transferring isn’t the way out, it only strengthens the monster. Sadie and Sawyer invoke their mother’s memories and use the strength of light through fire to “kill” the Boogeyman, but we know that he can return. What we also know is that the Boogeyman won’t come back for the Harpers because they’re not grieving anymore. It’s the act of letting go of your loved ones that shields them from the Boogeyman. Whereas in the short story, he feels undefeatable. 


Special Guest – The Closet 

This is not a difference in the book and film, in fact it’s more of a similarity, but it’s something that is worth mentioning. In the short story, Lester is vulnerable because of the open closet door in Dr. Harper’s office. He wants it shut immediately. Similarly in the film, Harper is asked to shut his closet door. In fitting form, Lester is killed inside a closet which can be compared to the Boogeyman revealing his true self in the closet at the end of the short story. The movie also ends with Sadie herself shutting the closet door in her own therapist’s office, making a nice easter egg for fans of the OG. 

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Ruchika Bhat
Ruchika Bhat
Ruchika, or "Ru," is a fashion designer and stylist by day and a serial binge-watcher by night. She dabbles in writing when she has the chance and loves to entertain herself with reading, K-pop dancing, and the occasional hangout with friends.

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