Dissecting Director Scott Derrickson

“Scott Derrickson”


Sometimes a horror movie comes along and it f*cks a lot of people up, and according to Arrow in the Head’s own John "The Arrow" Fallon and Eric Walkuski, that’s exactly what the new theatrical horror flick SINISTER does. While I haven’t seen it yet, just knowing that a new, original horror movie is on the horizon that promises to deliver a scary good time makes my horror-filled heart happy. To prepare for the release, I got to thinking about how director Scott Derrickson is an unsung member of the modern-day collection of top-notch horror movie directors and now would be the perfect time to take a look at what the man has provided over the years and what he has looming on the horizon.



SINISTER is getting all sorts of praise and rave reviews and will likely be noted as one of his best movies ever, but a little movie Derrickson made before SINISTER was THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, a flick that’s pretty damn good in its own right. Based on a “true story” about a girl (played by Jennifer Carpenter pre-DEXTER) who is possessed by the devil, the priest who tries to exorcise her, and the trial that took place after her untimely death, EMILY ROSE plays like part horror movie, part courtroom drama, and it f*cking works on both levels. My first viewing of this flick, the story and the courtroom really sucked me in as it was extremely powerful and compelling, and made me forget about all the horror it was about to unleash on me, and when that happened… holy shitballs. This movie scared the bejesus outta me. What also helped in the all-out terror that ensued upon watching this flick for the first time was, as the final exorcism scene was about to start, the film’s projector room lost power and the film completely stopped and everything went black for about a minute, then the power was miraculously turned back on and the movie resumed from where it left off. WTF?



For a director who hasn’t really done a whole helluva lot, it pains me to say that he has a lot of movies that fall into a “bad” category, including his first real directing effort (of which he also served as a co-writer), HELLRAISER: INFERNO (which ironically, The Arrow loved). The film plays more or less like a film noir type flick, with a real p.o.s. detective who stumbles across “the box” upon an investigation of a gruesome murder. Weird hallucinations involving the cenobites and nothing more than a cameo appearance by Pinhead ensues after that. I don’t think it’s the worst of the HELLRAISER sequels, but it’s pretty bad. Maybe because the main dude is such a douchebag or because the whole HELLRAISER world doesn’t do much for me, but I sure as hell didn’t enjoy this movie. Is this Derrickon’s fault? Directing wise, I suppose it’s just mediocre and not horrendous, but I’m sure the studios demanded this was cranked out as fast as possible so I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt and say studio interference, while didn’t make it a crappy movie, sure as shit didn’t help.

Speaking of studio interference, maybe his biggest movie to date is also one of his worst: THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL. Back in 2008 I hit up the set to this movie, saw Keanu Reeves, Jennifer Connelly, Jon Hamm, and Derrickson at work while filming in Vancouver, B.C., and I thought for sure we were in for a good time. But once the film came out and I saw it for what it was, turned out DTESS was just a lame if slightly below mediocre sci-fi remake. As a follow-up to EMILY ROSE, this was certainly a let-down in terms of quality, but… in terms of budget and scale, it was a move-up for Derrickson. If the end result was astounding and the film was a commercial hit, he could have been the next big thing in big-budget sci-fi, but alas… it wasn’t.



For a dude that only has a select few flicks under his belt, it’s hard to nail down exactly what Derrickson’ trademarks would be, but I think it’s safe to say the guy has a knack for directing real human drama, and it’s because of the way he’s able to direct the dramatic scenes so well is what makes the horror all the more the hard-hitting. He also likes to work with darker lenses for the horror stuff while keeping the lighting of the drama more bright, but otherwise, it may be too premature to really call out the man’s trademarks this early in his career.



I never really liked URBAN LEGENDS: FINAL CUT, a film we can thank Derrickson for writing, but it's not necessarily because the story wasn’t decent, I just felt like the execution of it all was pretty goddamn weaksauce. Plus, what the hell is Anthony Anderson doing there? But strictly from the writer’s perspective, it’s actually a pretty cool concept: kids in film school making films on urban legends slowly but surely start getting killed off by a maniac by real-life urban legends. Sure, it’s not as solid of a concept as URBAN LEGEND, but it does allow for some fun gags in the making-of the student films (the best one is the mile high club when the plane is “going down”).



Derrickson has a few projects lined-up post-SINISTER, including writing and directing BEWARE THE NIGHT and TWO EYES STARING, both of which sound promising and right up the dude’s alley in terms of delivering genre goodness. Those are both scheduled for sometime in the way future (2013 and beyond) so who knows if they’ll come to light or if something else will before them. He’s also attached to write the remake of one of the greatest haunted house movies ever made, POLTERGEIST. I can’t say I want this to happen, and I’m sure as hell not happy about it, but if someone is being tapped to write this thing, it might as well be the dude who wrote SINISTER. I guess.



Where Derrickson is at now with SINISTER is far from where he came from with HELLRAISER: INFERNO and URBAN LEGENDS: FINAL CUT. It’s a little early in the man’s career to say if he’s a solid writer/director or not as he’s had 2 quality hits in my eyes (EMILY ROSE and the upcoming SINISTER, which I haven’t seen yet but have heard nothing but good things) and 2 steaming turds (HELLRAISER: INFERNO and DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL… 3, if you count URBAN LEGENDS). As it’s half and half, he could easily come back with a vengeance and knock every project out of the park from here on out, making him one of the highlighted genre directors working today. Or he’ll be the guy that did a couple of good movies admist a bunch of garbage. Regardless of how it all fares out in the end, SINISTER is one of the very few straight-up original horror movies coming out during this year’s Halloween season so do the genre a favor and check this sucker out in theaters. I hear it’s gonna f*ck a lot of people up.

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