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SYFY WIRE doctor sleep

Doctor Sleep director hopes streaming success could reignite his prequel project

By Matthew Jackson
Carl Lumbly Doctor Sleep Hallorann

For many horror fans, Doctor Sleep was one of the most exciting films of 2019, a chance to revisit one of the most iconic locations in the genre through the eyes of an acclaimed filmmaker and an all-star cast. Sadly, that excitement did not translate as well to a wider audience as Warner Bros. Pictures hoped. The sequel to The Shining underwhelmed at the box office despite various champions for it, but that wasn't the end of Doctor Sleep's life. Its subsequent home video release, and recent arrival on HBO Max, has meant that a whole new audience is discovering the film and falling in love with it. For writer/director Mike Flanagan, that means both a chance to celebrate his cast and crew all over again and, perhaps, a chance to dust off his spinoff movie idea.

Late last year it was reported that Flanagan — who adapted Doctor Sleep for the screen as a blending of Stephen King's novel and Stanley Kubrick's version of The Shining — was mulling a return to the Overlook Hotel universe in the form of Hallorann, a prequel spinoff film that would center on Dick Hallorann, the kindly chef at the Overlook who serves as Danny Torrance's guide to his strange supernatural abililites. Played by Scatman Crothers in Kubrick's film and Carl Lumbly in Flanagan's, Hallorann has a key role to play in both The Shining and Doctor Sleep, but both stories offer only hints of his past, including how he learned about the shining from his own grandmother, who also had the gift.

Development on Hallorann stalled after Doctor Sleep underperformed, but on a new episode of the ReelBlend podcast, Flanagan shed a little light on where that story might have gone. 

"We actually had quite a bit worked out for that one," Flanagan explained. "And that was meant to be kind of the thing I went right into off of Doctor Sleep. … It was very much its own thing

"Hallorann was always more about Dick as a younger man learning about the shining," he continued. "And the Doctor Sleep novel tees up a prologue for it perfectly with the story of his grandmother and his grandfather, which he tells a little bit of in this. But the idea was to open with him as Carl Lumbly, and then to find a way to go back into the past and kind of tell this other story that inevitably would, very much in the way Doctor Sleep did, inevitably bring us back to a familiar hotel. But I don’t know. I don’t know what we'd do with it. I love it, though, and it was something we were real excited about. So I hope there’s a new life for it out there somewhere."

Of course, Doctor Sleep's theatrical performance doesn't necessarily mean there's no appetite for more Overlook Hotel stories. In the same interview, Flanagan noted that Stephen King himself pointed out to him that other now-classic adaptations of his stories, including The Shawshank Redemption and the original Shining, were considered flops upon their initial release. Sometimes these things just need time, and Warner Bros. is clearly still interested in the legendary haunted hotel and the characters who populate it. Earlier this year, J.J. Abrams' Bad Robot revealed plans for an Overlook series over on HBO Max, and of course we've seen in recent weeks how Doctor Sleep is growing its audience in its home release. For Flanagan, that's a sign that the energy might still be there, and that studios might not be shifting their expectations in light of a changing film market fast enough.

"A lot of the plans and the enthusiasm that we had for Hallorann, and for other things as well kind of coming off of this, cooled off very understandably with the studio after [Doctor Sleep] was released. But I think we're learning [about] that paradigm shift between theatrical and streaming that everyone has seen coming in the industry," he said. "I think people thought they had another five years to really adjust the studio model to change with those times. I think it’s already happened. And I would expect, you'll hear a lot of people at Warners say the same. A movie that would potentially have performed theatrically even five years ago, it won't anymore, and streaming has changed everything. So I think, as more people find this film and as it hopefully continues to perform well on HBO Max, in particular, where it's really kind of popping, that, I think, opens up a number of avenues for other stories we could tell. And Hallorann is absolutely something that I would love to put energy back into."

For now, Flanagan's energy is already very much occupied elsewhere. He's hard at work on the second season of his Netflix Haunting anthology, The Haunting of Bly Manor, and he's also already diving back into Stephen King's bibliography with an adaptation of Revival. Still, Dick Hallorann could live again someday.