'The Black Phone' is a ghost story with one great twist

Ethan Hawke plays a serial kidnapper of young boys in The Black Phone, a spooky story set in 1978.

File The Black Phone under ghost stories, but not the kind you might expect.

Given the horror-movie résumé of filmmaker Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister, Deliver Us From Evil), what you’d expect is a touch of the supernatural — subcategory: malevolent. And believe me, you’ll get some phantasms here. But the boogeyman in this 1978-set, fiendishly shivery thriller — which Derrickson directed and co-wrote, with C. Robert Cargill, from a short story by Joe Hill, the son of Stephen King — is 100 percent flesh and blood. And the poltergeist activity? Well, a preview audience erupted in applause (yes, applause) at the contributions of this stylish, thoroughly satisfying B-movie’s spectral supporting cast.

The bad guy here is known simply as the Grabber, a child-snatching psychopath of the sort found in urban legend and, unfortunately, on the front pages of newspapers. He drives a black van filled with black balloons, calls himself a part-time magician, and entices young boys into chatting with him on the sidewalk with the offer of a magic trick — before knocking them out with some sort of aerosol spray and spiriting them away. As the movie gets underway, he’s been in business for a while. There are posters of missing children all over this Denver suburb, and everyone knows their names.

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