Deliver Us From Evil- Interview With Director Scott Derrickson
Like many Catholics, Ralph Sarchie keeps a rosary in his pocket. But this is no ordinary rosary—just as Sarchie is no ordinary Catholic.
“They call it a combat rosary. It was developed in World War I for priests,” he explains. “With all the equipment a soldier had to carry, anything delicate would be destroyed. So they made them very tough and sturdy and compact. It’s in my pocket during the day after I pray it and when I sleep at night.”
That rosary—tough, indelicate and built for combat—is very much like Sarchie himself: He’s the 52-year-old former New York City cop and current demonologist on whose experiences the film Deliver Us From Evil—opening today in theaters nationwide—is based.
The film, directed by Scott Derrickson (The Exorcism of Emily Rose, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Sinister) is an adaptation of the 2001 book Beware the Night by Sarchie and Lisa Collier Cool (St. Martin’s Press). Derrickson and his cowriter Paul Harris Boardman deftly wove a screenplay out Sarchie’s real cases and some fictional elements.
The result is one heck of a scary movie that frankly discusses the nature of good and evil, the process of exorcism and the power of God.
“There’s a misconception people have—that people only believe in the supernatural because they have a religious dogma that says it exists,” says Derrickson. “Actually, the opposite is true—people believe in the supernatural because of what they’ve seen and experienced. It’s people with the hard skeptical belief that there’s only the material world that have the dogma. They hear all these stories and dismiss every single one of them based on their beliefs.”
The film follows the journey of Sarchie (played by Eric Bana), a total skeptic who has seen too many horrible things on the streets of the 46th Precinct in the South Bronx—but none which can’t be explained by human nature. That changes when a trio of Marines who have stumbled into a portal of Hell return to New York from the Middle East. Sarchie receives an education in exorcism—and forgiveness— from a Jesuit priest (played to perfection by Edgar Ramirez) as he investigates a string of bizarre crimes that defy simple explanations.
Though Derrickson has been making a name for himself as the director of some of the scariest horror films in recent memory, he actually has Sarchie to thank for that in some ways: Derrickson had just one screenwriting credit to his name in 2003 when megaproducer Jerry Bruckheimer’s group approached him about writing the screenplay that would eventually become Deliver Us From Evil. So he flew to New York City, went on ride-alongs with Sarchie—who was still active in the NYPD, working undercover and doing special operations at the time—and got a crash course in demonology. Sarchie gave him an out-of-print book called The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel (Resource Publications, 1981)—a nonfiction, very well-documented case study.
“I read it and optioned it and eventually made The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” Derrickson says. “So my own movie got in the way (of making this one). After Sinister, they asked me what else I wanted to do, and I told them it was this. So I rewrote the whole movie to make it work for 2014.”
Bana and Ramirez didn’t have an easy time researching their roles for the film.
“I saw some of the recordings and videos (of exorcisms Sarchie has been involved with) in 2003. It’s all pretty harrowing stuff, I have to say,” Derrickson says. “I showed some of the footage to Eric Bana early on. With Edgar, I gave him a book called Hostage to the Devil (Reader’s Digest Press, 1976), which is an account of five of the scariest stories I’ve ever read. I told him, ‘Don’t do any research, just read two of these cases.’ He read one and had to put it away.
“It’s not to be trifled with,” he adds. “I’ve never recommended any of those things to anyone for amusement. But it’s for an important purpose, and it had a huge impact on the movie. One of the reasons the performances are so good is that they know it’s about something that really goes on.”
What is it that draws a self-professed Christian like Derrickson to horror stories about exorcism?
“I need to be able to integrate my view of the world into what I do,” he says. “I’m not a skeptical materialist. I am a person of some faith and belief, and I need to be able to tell stories that draw upon that and invite that. Some of the direct dialogue in Deliver Us From Evil is about good and evil. You can do that in a horror film in a way you can’t do in other films. It invites it, it needs it. It’s an interest in mystery more than an interest in horror.”
In the film, Sarchie has the gift of discernment of spirits: He sees and hears things that the people around him don’t, something his police partner (played brilliantly by Joel McHale) refers to as his “radar.”
“I don’t have that gift,” the real Sarchie says frankly. “It just makes for a good story is all. The Holy Ghost tells me a lot because I pray on it when I get a case, and I ask. If I’m having a rough time, I usually get my answer in a few days. I have to rely on prayer.”
Despite the nature of his work—or perhaps, because of it—Sarchie would really rather spend his time talking about God than the devil. His personality is a curious mix of influences, like 32-grit sandpaper wrapped around a tender heart. He’s a straight shooter who doesn’t care what anyone thinks of him except God; talk to him long enough, and you might get entire passages of the NSBV (the New South Bronx Version) of the Bible quoted at you.
“I totally believe that every time someone in the world suffers, it opens the way for God to do something better,” he says. “We have the opportunity every day to give all of ourselves and our experiences to God, and let Him apply it to someone who needs that grace. The most important thing is to love God with all your heart and to show that love by helping other people. If you can do that, you have eternal life in the bag, because those are the two greatest things God wants of us.”
In his book, Sarchie warns against dwelling on evil forces, saying it can draw them toward you. Does turning his experiences first into a film make him worry that some viewers will do that?
“There’s always the possibility that that will happen,” he says. “But am I responsible for what people think? If everybody felt that, then half the books in the world would never have been written. People need to take responsibility for their own lives. Dwelling on the demonic is not dwelling on God. I make it very clear how to battle these things and how they operate. It’s incumbent on you, now that you have this information, to utilize it.
“I don’t believe God would make it hard for us to find Him,” he adds thoughtfully. “You just go to church and there He is. The road of God is hard to travel because of the obstacles that are on it, and it’s narrow in that you can be knocked off it by unseen forces. But I don’t believe for a second it’s hard to find. What father would hide from his children, if he loved them?
“A father will always let his children know where he’s at.”
Guest Post by: T. Ferguson who is a freelance writer in Los Angeles