• Festivals

CinemaCon 2022: Jason Blum Hopes Audiences Answer “The Black Phone”

In a little more than a decade, Jason Blum’s Blumhouse Productions, a company specializing in low-budget psychological and supernatural horror films, has put out 30 movies that have grossed roughly $5 billion in the combined worldwide box office — all with a combined production cost of just over $130 million.

It’s a jaw-dropping rate of return on investment that would leave even casino owners steaming with jealousy. So, in that respect, it seems appropriate that Blumhouse’s latest unnerving offering, The Black Phone, was offered up as a special screening on Tuesday, April 26, by distributor Universal Pictures as part of this year’s CinemaCon, an annual gathering of exhibition owners and operators held at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Taking the stage to introduce the film, a boyish Blum, in jeans, a black T-shirt and black zippered jacket, first reflected on his path toward genre filmmaking. “I did collect my fingernails as a young child, so that was a telltale sign that I would be a horror moviemaker,” he said. “My now-wife, then-girlfriend, and this is true, actually found them under my sink in my apartment that I lived in when I was a single guy. And she still married me, so God bless her.”



After extolling the virtues of theatrical exhibition, Blum then turned his remarks more specifically toward The Black Phone, which re-teams him with director Scott Derrickson (Doctor Strange), and releases theatrically in the United States on June 24. “I’ve seen my share of horror films but to this day I contend that the scariest film Blumhouse has ever made is Sinister,” Blum said. “And in fact, there was actually this funny experiment where they tested people’s heartbeats, and out of all the scary movies that they tested, the heartbeats went fastest on Sinister, so what I say is based in fact!”

“Scott has the ability to create stories, images and characters that crawl under your skin. He doesn’t go for the cheap scares, but for the sense of dread that only a true artist like Scott can manufacture,” he said.

“When he called us, I was especially excited he was going to come back to his horror roots and do The Black Phone, and when he sent us the script, I think it was the quickest ‘yes’ I ever made. I might have said yes before I read the script — don’t tell him that.”

Adapted by C. Robert Cargill from Joe Hill’s short story of the same name, the movie is set in 1978 in the suburban outskirts of Denver, where Finney and Gwen Shaw (Mason Thames and Madeleine McGraw) live with their single father (Jeremy Davies), a haunted man whose sometimes violent outbursts leave them on edge. When Finney is kidnapped and thrown into a dingy, soundproofed basement by a man known locally as “the Grabber” (Ethan Hawke), he feels helpless and swallowed by despair.


Then a strange thing happens — a disconnected old rotary phone on the wall begins to intermittently ring, connecting Finney to the killer’s previous victims. Using details and clues from their experience as a type of guide map, Finney works to try to figure out an escape plan — while his sister, who is gifted with sometimes clairvoyant dreams, does the same from the outside. The resultant story, a well-made and well-acted but potentially grim horror movie, ends up being something almost entirely unexpected: a quite creepy but affecting tale of adolescent resilience and sibling connection.

For Blum, The Black Phone isn’t merely a worthwhile reconnection with Derrickson — he also sees it as roundly emblematic of the type of movie that was meant to be experienced communally. “We planned to release this film back in January, but we didn’t because not enough people were going to the theater, and this movie needs to be seen in a theater,” he said. “So, we held it until now. We actually started showing the movie last fall, and to date it has sustained a perfect 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. I hope you agree that there’s room between the superheroes of later summer for a really, really special film like this one, which is scary as hell!”