ByFred Topel, writer at
Fred Topel

Whenever a horror movie says it’s based on a true story, you have to be a little bit skeptical. I mean, I respect if you’re a believer, but I think The Amityville Horror and The Conjuring take artistic license. I’m not so sure about Deliver Us From Evil though. It’s based on the accounts of real Bronx police officer Ralph Sarchie, and the cast described some things that go a bit deeper than publicity hype.

Eric Bana plays Sarchie and Olivia Munn plays his wife. They described for reporters a video Sarchie showed them that kept them up for weeks and made them believers in the evil Sarchie is fighting. I had an interview with Bana later so I could delve deeper into his take on Sarchie.

Scott Derrickson wrote and directed Deliver Us From Evil as an adaptation of Sarchie’s first case of primary evil. Joel McHale plays Sarchie’s partner, Butler, as the two grizzled cops investigate a series of crimes committed by a military veteran, and it’s not PTSD. Bana and I talked about the real Sarchie and some of the film’s scariest moments.

Eric Bana and Ralph Sarchie
Eric Bana and Ralph Sarchie

If there had not been a real Ralph Sarchie, would you have still found this story interesting?

Oh, for sure. It was just a bonus being able to meet Ralph but the character was so well detailed in the script that yeah, I definitely would have played him regardless. It was just a bonus that he was actually a real person and I got to know him.

It’s the making of great drama either way, right?

Yeah, exactly. Scott had plotted a really interesting arc for the character. He’s just a fascinating character who happens to be on a horror film.

What was your take on Sarchie’s radar?

I respected it. I do believe that some people are more attuned to things than others. Some people have zero radar and some people have a strong instinct or predisposition to pick up on things. I do believe in that. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we have a random person enter our mind moments before we run into them. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. I think that some people are more attuned to things than others.

My favorite part of spiritual horror movies is the early attempts to find practical explanations. I love in The Exorcist when she’s seeing doctors because you know they’re not going to find anything, but that’s what you would do. Did you enjoy the part of the film where Ralph was just investigating these as crimes?

Yeah, and I thought it was a great device in the story because it allows the audience to latch onto his skepticism and allows them to progress at the same rate as him. Because he’s no different to any other skeptic in the audience. Rather than start the journey with someone who’s a believer, I think it’s more interesting to go the other way. It was certainly more interesting for me as an actor. So yeah, I think that helps.

Ralph has been doing this for 20 years. Do you think it was harder for him to explain this to people in the ‘90s than it is now when there’s so much written about online and videos posted?

I think people who choose to be skeptical are going to be skeptical no matter what time we’re in. So I don’t know if it’s any easier or harder now. I’d say it’s probably about the same because I think largely it’s cultural as well. I think if you’re in other countries, Christian based countries or Africa or somewhere like that, this is not an unusual subject. This is very normal, so I don’t know that time changes that too much.

When you saw Ralph’s video that kept you awake for three weeks, how did you ultimately get over it three weeks later?

Three weeks might be an exaggeration of Olivia Munn’s. It definitely affected my sleep for a good week I’d say. Eventually, it just kind of blurred away. I think getting into the actual physical production helped because I had something to take my mind off it. I’d certainly choose not to view it if I had the chance.

Did you go through it frame by frame to see if you could explain it and figure it out?

No, it wasn’t that sort of thing. It was a very quiet docile thing that I was watching. It wasn’t anything like what we have in our movie, and it’s very hard to explain.

Olivia described one where someone’s forehead split open.

Yes, I won’t go into detail like her.

But that might be something you would wonder, “Wait a minute, is that a special effect? Can I see where there’s a hidden cut?”

No, it’s very hard to explain but it was very disturbing.

As partners, do you think Sarchie is actually funnier than Butler because he’s so dry about it?

The real Ralph can be hilarious. There’s no doubt about it. I had to leave some room for Joel in the film, there’s no doubt, and I like the dynamic of Ralph just being really dour and not finding Joel’s character funny at all.I like that kind of dynamic just comically.

And that made me laugh, your reactions to Joel.


How technical was staging the exorcism scene?

It was pretty technical. We knew we were in for it. It was hanging over our heads. It was the last sequence in the film. Scott was very anxious about it. We knew that he had not a lot of days to get a lot shot. So we knew we were in for hell and it was pretty full on, but the carrot at the end was wrapping the movie and going home. In some ways it would’ve been nice to do it in the middle of the film and get it over with, but instead it was hanging over us quite literally as an exorcism.

Was it as specific as you have to be here, Edgar has to be here, Sean has to be here?

Yeah, it was very particular. It was intricately mapped out. Scott had a very particular shot list. It was all very well thought out. It all worked pretty much to plan. We had a few issues with a couple of props and things but basically it looks pretty much how Scott envisioned it.

Was shooting in the Bronx Zoo equally technical?

No, outside less so. The exorcism towards the end was the most technical and particular, because the rest of the time we were just dealing with real locations and being limited by spaces. Because the exorcism was the only thing we shot in the studio, the limitations are removed. You can pull a wall, you’ve got no ceiling, you’ve got more at your disposal. When you’re working in real spaces, it’s like there’s a wall, that’s it. There’s a ceiling, it’s two inches above your head, that’s it. In some ways, having those limitations expedites things.

Was it creepy being in the zoo after hours?

No, I found the basements a lot creepier than the zoo. The zoo was a very nice relief actually.

It probably looked darker in the movie than it was when you were actually there.

Yeah, yeah, and we were very respectful. You had to be nice and quiet, and there were areas that we couldn’t go in.

You’ve been able to be in huge movies like Hulk, Troy and Star Trek and also do a lot of character work in movies like this, Hanna and Time Traveler’s Wife. Has that been by design?

I guess so, consciously or subconsciously. I’m always responding to material that’s in front of me. I never know what I’m going to do next. It becomes painfully obvious once I’ve read that piece of material what I want to do next, but I don’t have a hard and fast rule. I don’t believe in bouncing from big to small, one for them, one for you. I don’t believe in any of that sort of stuff. There’s been a lot of smaller stuff in the last three or four years with movies like Deadfall and Hannah I guess, but there’s no hard and fast rule there.

Has doing some of those big movies made you more precise in films like Deliver Us From Evil, where maybe the special effect is the tone rather than something on a green stick?

Oh yeah, look, I much prefer doing stuff for real. There’s no doubt. I guess it gives you a greater appreciation. These sort of movies are not a dime a dozen. Movies like Deadfall or movies like this are in that sort of range where they’re not making them every day. I’m just very appreciative to be able to be a part of it. Yeah, I guess the longer you’re around the more you appreciate those opportunities.

You’ve never gone back to Australian cinema, have you?

I’ve done a couple over the years, yeah, but I haven’t done one for quite a while. I’d say the last one, Romulus, My Father, that was probably a good six years ago now. It’s been a while.

Do you miss it?

We don’t make a lot of films so I don’t miss it because if I’ve read something that I wanted to do, I’d do it, no problem. Nothing’s come across in the last five years that’s been temping. Again, I don’t have a hard and fast rule about that. If I read something that I loved, I’d do it in a heartbeat. It hasn’t happened recently so I have no qualms about it. I wouldn’t do one just for the sake of it. I don’t feel that level of obligation.

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