Scott Derrickson has been a fixture in the horror genre for years, having made his feature directorial debut with HELLRAISER: INFERNO in 2000. Since then, he's made such notable titles as THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL and 2012's unexpectedly splendid SINISTER. Now Derrickson is serving up his biggest effort yet, the Jerry Bruckheimer-produced DELIVER US FROM EVIL, starring Eric Bana as Ralph Sarchie, a Bronx cop who squares off against true evil. The film, based on the real-life terror tales of Sarchie (who consulted on the film), is ready to explode this Fourth of July weekend.
I met Derrickson on the set of the film last year (click here to read one of my reports), but was lucky enough to get to chat with him once again. In the below interview, Derrickson and I talk the film's title change, his experience working with Bruckheimer, the prime summer release date, church groups and more - including a few words about his next film, Marvel's DOCTOR STRANGE.
It's been quite some time since we last spoke on the set, a crazy year eh?
[Laughs] It certainly has been.
Did the film turn out the way you expected when you first started working on it?
Pretty much, exactly. It was a very good experience, a hard experience, but ultimately a positive one. I got to make the movie I wanted to make.
Was it tough shooting on location in the Bronx?
It was grueling. The weather, the grittiness of the location, how many times we had to move on our tight schedule - it made it a difficult shoot, physically. It was totally worth it though, because the Bronx is a character in the movie. Especially in this genre, I think audiences are ready for a movie that doesn't take place inside one home. It's sort of nice to see it be opened up and explore different parts of the city, especially a city as visually interesting as the Bronx, there's no place in the world like the Bronx.
I remember when we were on the set, the saying going around was, "It's not a horror movie, it's just really scary."
[Laughs] Yeah, my production designer made shirts that say that. It turned out to be true. At the test screenings - it's the highest-testing movie that I've made - the thing everybody liked most about it was that it was scary, but when they were asked if they'd call it a horror film or a supernatural thriller, everyone called it a thriller. I took that as a compliment given what I was trying to accomplish with the movie, you know?
It was originally called Beware the Night, the title of Ralph Sarchie's book. How did the name change come about?
I always expected there would be a name change, for no other reason than people were always calling it Beware OF the Night. And "We Own the Night" is a police phrase, and there's already a movie with that title. Just the marketing people were looking for a better title. I'm not very precious about titles; I want them to work and for people to go see the movie. Screen Gems came up with this idea, and as soon as I heard it, I liked it. I think it represents the movie very well, and obviously any movie title taken directly from the Bible can't be bad.
It certainly sells the religious aspect of the movie.
[Laughs] There's a priest in the movie, in case your readers don't know. The title has some applicability here.
There's this recent phenomenon of religious-themed movies doing well at the box office; obviously, this isn't necessarily in the same category as SON OF GOD, but do you think that aspect of DELIVER US FROM EVIL will appeal to that segment of the box office?
I don't think that was a serious consideration when they greenlit the movie. Our movie is a hard R, there are a thousand "f*cks" in there and some really grisly images, it's not the kind of thing that'll cater to the Sunday morning church crowd.
So they won't be taking the church groups on buses to see it?
I hope they do, that would be great. Certainly some of them will leave traumatized, but you never know who's a horror fan. Any little old lady could surprise you and have seen every HELLRAISER film.
What was your reaction when Sony gave it this prime July 4th release date?
I was elated, obviously. They made that decision really quickly. It was originally supposed to be released in January, but they made the move right after they saw the film. They believed in it, they didn't make the move based on test screenings, they just thought it was a hit. I think there's an attitude that summer horror doesn't do well, and it there were plenty of attempts that didn't work, but the attempts that didn't do well turned out to be not so great horror films. The ones that do well are good movies.
Well it'll probably hit Blu-ray in October, so it's the best of both worlds.
Will the Blu-ray be an unrated or director's cut?
The movie in the theater is my director's cut. I didn't have to make a single edit of the movie that I didn't want to make, it's exactly the movie I wanted. Nobody ever even tried to force me to do anything differently. I spent a lot of time in the editing room with Jerry Bruckheimer, who is very good in the editing room, and so I finished my cut then brought him in and he helped me polish it, and he made it better for sure. I probably took nine out of ten of his suggestions, because they were good ones. And if I didn't agree with one of his ideas, he didn't make me change it. It was a collaborative experience.
Did you have any issues with the MPAA?
There were a few moments that I thought we'd get in trouble in trouble with, but no. I knew the whole time we were shooting it was going to be an R, I didn't think we were pushing into NC-17 territory. There are a few things in there - some of the people who have seen it have asked me if I had to trim to get the R, because there are some grisly things in there, but we got an R.
Well even the trailers are pretty intense.
The movie is intense. From the test screenings, that was the most repeated word. There's an unrelenting quality to the combination of tension and drama and action. They are all pushing forward the entire time. I've really enjoyed the experience of watching audiences watch it, and I usually feel so uncomfortable watching audiences sit through the movies I make, but this one was fun.
Is this a world you'll like to continue playing in? Obviously there are several more Ralph stories to tell.
Yeah, that'll depend on how well the film does financially, but if it does well enough, there will be more. I think all of us involved in it love these characters, and would like to make more of them.
So now I assume you're knee deep in Dr Strange. Has your life changed since the announcement?
The only thing that's changed is my number of Twitter followers. [Laughs] Otherwise everything is pretty much the same.
What's your relationship to the comics? Have you always been a fan?
I think when you consider the work that I've done it makes sense that he'd be my favorite comic book character, at least in the Marvel universe. Probably the only comic character in that mainstream world that I'm suited to. I feel such an affinity for the character and the story and the ambition of those comics, especially the original Stan Lee and Steve Ditko "Strange Tales" - I think those are my favorite of all of them. The entire history of the comics is extraordinary.
Is this something you were really passionate about going after?
I wanted it really bad. More than any other project that I've gone after, I felt compelled to do everything in my power to get on that project. Genuinely felt like I was the right guy to do it.
Are you writing the script or is there a pre-existing one?
You know, I'm not even going to answer that, because I'm not going to give out any information that isn't already public. Marvel is pretty tight-lipped about things, and I haven't had any conversations with them about what I should and shouldn't say.
What has the fan reaction been like?
I think the nicest surprise for me, the most unexpected surprise, is the positive reaction. Both to me getting the film - I guess I expected the detractors, and they just haven't been there, it's all been quite positive. More than that, it's just the general enthusiasm for Doctor Strange. I think people who know the comic world and the Marvel universe, they all feel the same way I do, which is, "This is the Marvel movie we're all ready to see now." This movie needs to exist. The outpouring of excitement that people have shown is the thing I've been most pleasantly surprised.
Do you have an actor in mind?
Again, I can't talk about that. But I don't blame you for asking. [Laughs]
How is Sinister 2 progressing? Will you be involved in that on a day-to-day basis?
We start shooting in August, I'm going to go down to the set. I'm producing the movie, I wrote the script with [C. Robert] Cargill. It was a laborious process, we took a long time to write it. We threw out a lot of pages, because we didn't want to settle for a predictable script, we wanted it to feel like a SINISTER sequel, the kind of sequel we would want to see because we're such fans of the genre. We both know horror franchises so well, and we're both pretty sensitive to how they can go awry, what you don't want to see. I think we found just the right angle for it, it's fresh and unpredictable yet provides the kind of stuff you want to see from a SINISTER sequel.
Will that be coming out in 2015?
I don't know what the release date is. I'm sure the financiers have something in mind, but I don't know.
Thank you very much for your time, Scott, appreciate it
DELIVER US FROM EVIL theatrical trailer