Book vs Movie: The Black Phone

Book vs Adaptation The Black Phone

Happy Fourth of July to everyone in America celebrating with me! I hope your 4th of July weekend is spent hanging by the pool and eating some great food fresh from the grill and of course reading a good book. I’m starting off 4th of July by doing a book vs movie review. Last weekend my grandfather and I saw the movie The Black Phone based on the short story of the same name by Joe Hill. For those who don’t know who Joe Hill is, he is Stephen King’s son. The Black Phone is about a boy named John Finney who was kidnapped by the kidnapper known as The Grabber. Finney is trapped in the dank grey basement with a dirty mattress and a black phone that the Grabber claimed doesn’t work. Finney does get calls from the Grabbers other victims who tell him how to escape. These calls come from beyond the grave… . Like the previous reviews I’ll compare and contrast how the movie stuck to the book and how it differed. Is the book like most books, better than the films? Or did the film do a better job? Keep in mind this review will definitely have spoilers. So you’ve been warned.

 Compare and Contrast

The movie sticks with the basic premise but the movie does significantly adds or changes things in order to make the short story into a movie.


In the short story The Grabber named Al is an overweight man who wears a clown mask. Joe Hill mentions the fact that The Grabber is a fat man quite a bit. In the movie The Grabber is tall and lean and his mask is devilish looking. Regardless of what The Grabber looks like, we can all agree he’s a creep. He watches Finney while he sleeps just to look at him.


While this is a short story we don’t know much about Finney’s home life. The movie does get right that he has a sister. The only difference is in the short story, Finney’s sister is named Susannah and she’s older than him and his mother is alive in the short story rather than dead in the movie. In the movie Finney’s sister is named Gwen and she’s the younger sister.


Gwen/Susannah in the short story and in the movie both have dreams that can tell the future or tell her things no one else couldn’t possibly know. In the short story Susannah plays with tarot cards and the occult. Gwen talks to Jesus and she even has Jesus and Virgin Mary cards.

What is added is Finney and Gwen’s father is an abusive alcoholic but he apologizes for his behavior at the end so I guess that’s something.


In both The Black Phone story and movie, the brother of The Grabber discovers Finney and the fact that his brother is a kidnapper and a murderer. The brother goes to help him only to be killed by The Grabber.


While in the short story Finney only speaks to Bruce and I think the paper boy on the phone, in the movie he speaks to several of The Grabbers victims.


The ending is the same to an extent. In the short story Finney does escape the basement. The phone does ring and he ties the cord around The Grabbers neck he tells the Grabber “This is for you.” And puts the receiver to his ear and that’s where the story ends. We can all conclude that Finney gets out and the ghosts get their revenge. In the movie Robin, one of the Grabbers other victims gives Finney a heart to heart talk that tugs at your heart. Robin tells Finney that today is the day he stands up for himself and escapes. It tugs at your heart because Robin was one of Finney’s few friends who stood up for him and became The Grabber’s unfortunate victims.  Finney sets the trap for The Grabber. Finney does put the receiver up to The Grabbers ear saying “Its for you.” What makes this scene better is he hears the ghosts of the children he murdered taunting him saying his time has come and Finney chokes The Grabber to death. After Finney is reunited with Gwen and his father, it then goes to school where he finally has more confidence in himself, the kids at school think Finney is cool and he sits next to his crush not feeling so tongue tied and we leave off on a happy note.


What Worked and What didn’t work

Worked: The devil mask The Grabber is wearing in the movie is much scarier than the clown mask The Grabber wore in the short story we’ve seen the clown masks so much in scary films its very clichéd now. The grey devil mask gives off the scary vibe. I know myself as a 30 year old woman if I saw a man wear a mask like that I would run for the hills.


Didn’t Work: What I felt didn’t work was the name change from Susannah to Gwen and making Susannah/Gwen the younger sister instead of the older sister. I felt there was no reason to change it. Then again it didn’t drastically change the movie too much. It’s not something I was upset about.


Worked:  I like the fact that Gwen prayed to Jesus. In movies anymore you rarely see a character that is religious like that so I thought that was nice.


Didn’t Work: The dad in this movie makes no sense. He claims he is the way he is with Gwens dreams because he doesn’t want her committing suicide like her mother did when she couldn’t handle her gift. Okay dad, you could have told her that instead of being an angry alcoholic drunk towards both of your kids.


Worked: The ending worked much better than the short story. It confirmed some of what we expected Finney escapes and the ghosts get their justice. I also like that Finney emerges confident and like Robin says standing up for himself.




Was the short story better than the movie? Or was the movie better than the short story? While the short story was good, the movie was excellent. It expanded on things we needed to know more about. It gave the ending a conclusion as well. I also liked how Finney spoke to multiple ghosts rather than just the two in the short story. What is the unfortunate truth is whether it’s in the 1970s or 2022 there are bad people out there especially those who kidnap and do horrible things to children. While this story ends on a happy note not many stories like these do. Its why we must be careful about who our children are around.