Exclusive Interview: Scott Derrickson On Deliver Us From Evil And Another Exorcism Movie
I got to represent The Horror Honeys when I interviewed Scott Derrickson, the director of Deliver Us From Evil. Our own horror channel editor, Kat Morris, is one of the Horror Honeys so I was happy to bring Derrickson her love. He’s made quite a name for himself with The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Sinister and even the straight to video Hellraiser: Inferno.
Deliver Us From Evil is based on the real accounts of Bronx policeman Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana). Sarchie became a paranormal investigator 20 years ago, but the film presents his origin story as a modern day tale. While investigating some horrific crimes, Sarchie meets a priest (Edgar Ramirez) who teaches him where the evil really comes from.
Of course, Derrickson can’t say anything about his next movie, Doctor Strange. Marvel is too tight-lipped for that, but we were able to discuss how it fits into the big picture of his career. After Strange, Derrickson and Sinister writer C. Robert Cargill will make the Outer Limits episode Demon with a Glass Hand into a movie. Don’t worry, Derrickson assured us horror will always be in his heart, and had some pretty interesting ideas about where the genre was going in the near future.
Did you ever think you would do another exorcism movie?
I really didn’t. I really didn’t. I thought that I was absolutely done. That’s such a smart initial question because I’m surprised people didn’t ask that. No, I didn’t think that I would do another exorcism movie and I didn’t think I would want to do another exorcism movie. And I didn’t particularly think we needed another exorcism movie. Then, after I had done Sinister and I talked to Screen Gems about this movie and I went back and read it and talked to Jerry about it, I did really start to have a feeling that it was twofold. Number one, it was what had happened to horror since Emily Rose and since 2005, that opened the door for possession films but primarily Paranormal Activity kind of possession films. Movies got so small and Sinister is a $3 million movie. So I liked the idea of being able to make a horror film on a bigger canvas. It’s not an expensive movie. Our movie was only $18 million below the line, but to shoot The Bronx, have evil in the streets. So what I started to realize was that I wasn’t making a possession movie. There’s an exorcism in it but it’s not really a possession movie because you don’t follow “here’s the girl and she gets possessed and she starts doing these freaky things.” Instead, the guy who gets possessed is this cryptic ex-soldier that they’re chasing through the city. He’s kind of tactical and then when you meet him there’s a very explosive exorcism, but it’s with policemen in an interrogation room. So I just felt like that’s all an original enough twist that it merits it. I think it merited my interest.
Ralph’s been doing this for 20 years. Was an early ‘90s period piece ever on the table?
That’s a good question too. No, because just for the simple reason that that didn’t add a lot to it. It would’ve added the authenticity of the time that he was actually doing it, that he was actually working there, because that’s when he was in his sort of heyday in The Bronx, and that was when the crime in The Bronx was the highest. That was before a lot of the police reforms in New York City. Creating period within a genre film sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. It always felt to me like it should be current, modern day. Maybe we should’ve though. I swear to God, you’re making me think, “Yeah, why didn’t we do that?”
Was Ralph open to doing a warts and all interpretation of him? Did he really beat a perp to death?
No, no, in fact, he teases me about that. He never did that. Has he ever killed anybody? Not that I know of.
Not even in the line of duty?
He’s definitely done plenty of damage in the line of duty, and when we had to change the title from Beware the Night, which was the name of his book, to Deliver Us From Evil, he calls me up. He’s like, “Scott, you made me a murderer. Can’t you at least keep my f***in’ book title?” But no, he didn’t mind that at all and he understood the importance of that in terms of the drama of the backstory, but I do think that his volatility, his anger, his violence, that has been the ghost that’s haunted him in his life because I think he’s even a more hardcore cop than what you see in the movie. You see these streets and when you know what they were at that period in the ‘90s, he was going into buildings. Even the stories in his book of the things he would see, it’s horrific. And so he did not mind at all representing that warts and all quality and knowing that he’s made real mistakes and he’s had to get past a lot of that.
How do you pace a scene like the climactic exorcism?
That’s one of the great tricks of filmmaking, one of the great challenges of filmmaking. The technical answer is you break it into specific beats. There was an already built-in set of beats in that there were the six stages. But we also couldn’t shoot it in just those six stages of the exorcism because within each stage, sometimes there were makeup adjustments from people getting cut, stunts, people getting thrown, windows, glass breaking, all that kind of stuff. What I did was I broke it into the exact beats that we would shoot. We would shoot from this moment to this moment and I would get all the actors prepared. We would block that moment and we’d get the energy up at the point where I liked it, and then I would just have to really be attuned to how it’s moving and then be able to, throughout the two and a half days that we shot that, escalate it. So that when it’s all put together, it has a nice build and nice momentum.
Did you ever worry that rights to The Doors music would be an issue?
No, because I kind of forced that issue before I agreed to make the movie. It was in the script. It was a part of the narrative which I thought was interesting. And so I knew that they would be expensive, but I got a commitment from Sony. They were just like, “Well, if you make the movie, we’ll include this in the budget of the film.”
And it was always the three songs you use in the film? Did they ever ask, “Can we just do two?”
No, they were actually really cool about it. I think they would have liked that because they were so expensive, but they really liked the movie. Once they saw the film, they didn’t want to change anything.
When you acquired those songs, did they give you a useful tool as a director and editor to pace certain sequences?
Yes, for sure. During the scene of them walking down the hallway, I had “People Are Strange” playing in my earphone. I would play it as I was shooting so I could just feel the rhythm of that music. The end credits also not so much for those, but also “Soul Kitchen,” the song that’s playing in Jimmy’s apartment, is an X cover of The Doors. So there’s actually four Doors songs in the movie.
I’m representing The Horror Honeys today and Kat Morris.
I love those girls! I love them! I almost wore my Horror Honeys shirt today. I should’ve done that.
I will still tell them that you almost wore it.
Yeah, I picked it out and I was like, “I don’t know what kind of press this is. I’ll go a little more mainstream.”
We’re all so happy for your success. When you decided not to direct Sinister 2 and let Ciaran Foy direct that, did you already know you had all these other big jobs lined up?
No, I think that there would’ve been time to do Sinister 2 because if I had made the decision to make it, I would be well out of production by now. The script was finished I think before Christmas. No, my reasons were that I love the script. The writing of it was so difficult and I just could feel that if I was on set trying to shoot it, I’d be struggling. I’d be making a movie without the proper kind of fresh enthusiasm and just feeling that a different director could take the same scenes that I wrote and that I envisioned and breathe more life into them than I would. It’s a funny thing when it comes to creativity, the things that you become compulsive about needing to do and the things that you don’t. Sometimes they don’t make practical sense. It would’ve made practical sense for me to make the movie, but it just wasn’t in me.
You are a writer/director, but are you entering a phase where you’re taking more directing only gigs?
Not necessarily. Obviously it’s been announced there’s a writer on Doctor Strange but in that situation it’s maybe my favorite screenwriter in town. I’d read four of his scripts before ever meeting him. I think that the opportunity to work with great talent and people who can supersede my abilities in various areas is extremely exciting to me. Like, Jon Spaihts is a genius.
Is Demon with a Glass Hand on you’re writing?
Yes. That was one that Cargill and I had gone after for quite a while and I love The Outer Limits. I always loved The Outer Limits more than Twilight Zone. It was always my show. They’d approached us and I got very excited about it. We watched all the episodes and even though Demon with a Glass Hand is probably the most famous Outer Limits episode, it is the best I think. It is the one that makes the most sense and I was surprised, seeing it again after all these years, how fresh Harlan Ellison’s story still is. It’s amazing how much hasn’t been stolen from it. I thought that there would be a lot from it that people had taken, but you really can’t take much without taking the whole thing. So it feels like this beautiful narrative that was created a long time ago and is still intact. It was still ready to be brought to the big screen.
Is that a big studio movie compared to Deliver Us From Evil and Sinister?
We’ve only had moderate conversations about budget. I don’t think Demon with a Glass Hand cries out to be a gigantic summer $200 million tentpole movie, but it’s not going to be the TV episode either.
Now that you’ve worked for Jason Blum, do you know little tricks and shortcuts to help keep things on budget?
Yeah, I definitely learned some things from Jason. He’s been around that block so many times, but I think in the end it’s just extreme preparation. Extreme preparation, know the movie that you want to make, don’t require too much coverage. If you have done your proper work and you’re in control of the pacing of your movie, you can shoot a great movie at that budget level. It certainly can be done.
Do you think after your next two films, you’ll be ready for another horror movie?
I think that’s pretty likely. I think so. It’s certainly not a genre I ever want to abandon. I won’t mind taking a break from it. Right now, I think the timing for that is probably very good, but I also think it’s an exciting time in that the next couple of years, I think we’re going to see some real expansion in the horror genre and some ways that it can break out and be fresh and new again. The fact that Guillermo del Toro’s making a big, expensive horror film, it’s been a long time since somebody’s done that.
Do you think the next development in horror is more on the studio side?
I think that the independent side has been pretty in control for the last six, seven years, certainly since Paranormal Activity, and I think that’s a good thing. But, I think that is a kind of film that maybe audiences need to move past. They need something bigger. They need something maybe more original, bigger scale, more complex stories, more complex characters. We’ll see.
Do you have anything on your back burner or in your files that you still want to attend to?
Yeah, I do have some things and I also have my horror TV show, The Breathing Method based on the Stephen King story that I’m doing with Jason. That’s something I really hope gets off the ground because I think that will be an amazing show.
How far along is that?
We’re writing the pilot and the bible right now, but we broke the story in terms of we know what the 10 episode arc of it is if we do bring it to television.
That’s one of King’s novellas, but his novellas are so long is it still enough for 10 episodes?
It’s not a movie, the way it’s written, but the writer, Scott Teems, who’s a friend of mine, he had a take on it that I thought was ingenious. So he’s in the process of writing that pilot and so far it’s pretty amazing.