One of the most watched and financially successful horror movies of 2022 was the unexpected hit The Black Phone. In Scott Derrickson’s cinematic adaptation of Joe Hill’s short tale of the same name, Ethan Hawke plays a child abductor/serial killer operating in the late 1970s who goes by the moniker “The Grabber.”
With the release of The Black Phone on streaming services, it has been seen by a whole new audience, as well as those repeat viewers who are left wondering how much of the film is based in truth.
People have always been horrified by serial murders. It’s not hard to picture The Grabber as a product of the late 1970s when serial killers like John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, and David Berkowitz were at the height of their notoriety and The Black Phone was set. Hill, whose narrative The Black Phone is based on, however, corrected the misunderstandings.
Is the Black Phone Based on a True Story?
Hill’s inspiration for this likely came from the notorious serial killer John Wayne Gacy. Since utilizing clowns would be an excess given the success of earlier horror films where clowns were the bad guys, Derrickson and co-writer C. Robert Cargill transformed the obese clown into The Grabber for the film version.
A few details on the methods of certain 1970s serial killers were also included. We quickly forgot whether or not the villain of The Black Phone was based on a genuine serial killer thanks to his horrifying collection of masks. Nothing forced it to. When he grabbed Finney and dragged him under a sea of sinister balloons, we were already on the verge of panic.
The film is also inspired by genuine events that occurred in the Colorado community where Derrickson grew up. You had to deal with street violence and taunting on a regular basis.
In reality, he has previously confessed that some of the most terrible moments he had to witness were omitted from the film. Derrickson had a rough upbringing, which didn’t help matters. This element was woven into the opening act so that we might get a sense of what Finney had been through prior to being a prospective victim.
The Most Prolific Serial Killers of the 1970s
The events of The Black Phone take place in 1970s America. Many fans of true crime consider this time period to be the dawn of the serial killer era. There have always been serial killers, at least to the extent that they are known to society.
It’s remarkable that so many of history’s most prominent serial killers were active when the myth of a secure America appeared unbreakable. There is also a large body of work dedicated to uncovering the root causes of this uptick in violent crime.
There is a comprehensive list of serial killers who operated in the 1970s. Ted Bundy, who is suspected in the deaths of at least 36 women, the Zodiac Killer, who killed at least five people using riddles to elude investigators, and David Berkowitz, sometimes known as “the Son of Sam,” who killed six and injured seven, are all on this list.
This barely scratches the surface of the shockingly large number of murder sprees that swept the country in the decade that followed the Manson Family killings and the apparent end of “peace and love.”
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The Black Phone: What’s It All About?
The Black Phone follows Finney Blake (Mason Thames), a 13-year-old kidnapped by The Grabber (Hawke), and is based on a short tale written by Joe Hill in 2004.
The next thing he knows, he’s being held captive in a basement with no outside noise and a broken black rotary phone. Despite the Grabber’s assurances that the phone is useless, Finney is able to utilize it to contact his past victims. So he starts communicating with their souls in an effort to break free.
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