About The Production
When the riveting opening scene of Sinister unspools on the screen, audiences
will have no
doubt that they are at the beginning of a chilling and suspense-driven ride. A
family of four stands
beneath a tree in a suburban backyard, hoods hiding their faces and nooses
around their necks. As an
unseen figure saws away a branch, the bound family members are hoisted into the
air in slow motion,
kicking and struggling for air until they finally all dangle silently. Shot on
grainy Super 8 film, the sequence
is at once completely ordinary and entirely horrific, as a commonplace setting
becomes a killing ground.
Fittingly, that opening image, which was the inspiration for the script that
became Sinister, first came to
co-writer C. Robert Cargill in a nightmare.
Cargill, best known as blogger massawyrm of the pop culture web site, Ain't It
dreamed he found a box of Super 8 films in his attic. Watching the films, he was
horrified to witness the
murder that became Sinister's opening image. He was unable to shake his
revulsion and fear even after
"The image just wouldn't let go," he says. "I remember vividly hearing the sound
of the Super 8
projector and then seeing the tree with four people lined up beneath it. I
couldn't get it out of my head.
Eventually, I realized it would be the basis for a really good movie. I kicked
the idea around for a couple of
years until it all finally came together."
A film critic for more than ten years, Cargill has seen his share of horror
films, from acclaimed
classics to little-known sleepers. One of his core beliefs about the genre is
that it is essential to establish
the menace from the beginning. "This is something nobody's ever done before," he
says. "It will scare the
crap out of people. It comes from nowhere and you will have no idea what's
coming next, but you will
know that this is not going to end well. At the very first test screening, that
shot came up and people in
the audience gasped. And I thought, good, it worked."
After Cargill worked out the details of his story, he contacted his friend Scott
and writer of the horror hit The Exorcism of Emily Rose. "Scott was a fan of my
writing on Ain't It Cool
News," he explains. "We became friends after he wrote to me to thank me for
turning him on to films that
he might have missed. We both happened to be in Las Vegas and, after a couple of
drinks, I pitched the
idea to him."
Derrickson, a longtime aficionado of the genre, says Cargill may be the only
person he knows
who has seen more horror films than he has. "I have a lot of respect for his
opinion of movies," the
director says. "He pitched me the story of Sinister, beginning, middle and end,
in about three or four
minutes. And I said, 'write it down in a page, quick.' We registered it with the
Writer's Guild and a week
later we were in producer Jason Blum's office pitching it to him."
Jason Blum of Blumhouse Productions, producer of the highly successful
trilogy, recognized the potential in Cargill and Derrickson's story and put them
to work on a full script
immediately. The company's prolific output is driven by a philosophy that puts
ideas in the forefront. "We
look for high-concept movies that can be done inexpensively," he says. "More
often than not those are
horror movies, but they don't have to be. Sinister fit our needs because it has
that high concept and it is
physically contained, which is very specifically what the company's looking for.
"Scott and Cargill walked me through the movie, and six months after that we
were shooting it,"
he continues. "In scary movies, I always like to see a great dramatic story with
scares that underpin the
horror factor. They had a great story about how a man's ambition affects his
family life folded into a solid
horror movie. It's seriously scary without being super bloody."
Blum already admired Derrickson's work, especially The Exorcism of Emily Rose.
It was that,
coupled with Derrickson's clear vision for the movie that made the producer want
to work with him. "He
had complete creative control. He's really one of the stronger directors out
there and he really loves scary
movies. I know that good ones are very hard to make and he's one of the few
people who's really able to
pull them off."
Blumhouse's reputation for respecting directors and writers made the company
Derrickson's first choice. "Jason is the only producer I've met in Hollywood who
fully grasps the idea that
creative people should be creating and that business people should be tending to
Derrickson. "He allows committed artists to do what they do well, and he
prospers from that if the movie
is good. Writers write the scripts, directors direct. I had final cut on the
movie for the first time in my
"And so far his track record is stunning, because he picks talented people who
genre that they're working in. It's so much fun for everybody involved because
it's nothing but positive
energy all the time."
As Cargill and Derrickson began writing their first script together, they
developed an unusual and
efficient method of collaborating. "It seems weird that we're in different
cities and writing together," says
Cargill. "But many writing partnerships don't happen in the same room anyway.
Scott's a day guy, a nine-to-
fiver. I'm a coffee-swilling night owl. He's getting off work when I'm getting
up, so he passed off his
stuff to me and then I worked through the night. When he woke up, my stuff was
With a 24-hour workday between them, they were able to complete the script in
only five weeks,
working from an outline that Derrickson drafted. "It included all the
fundamental scenes," he says. "And
then we just divvied it up and wrote different pieces at different times and
rewrote everything that the
other person wrote. It was such a fast, fluid process of writing and rewriting
that now it's hard to
remember who wrote what."
Both writers adhered to the idea that characters and story came first, and the
scares grew out of that. "So many horror directors don't take the dramatic
aspects of their story as
seriously as the horror aspects," says Derrickson. "They are committed to trying
to make their movie scary
and shocking, but not as committed to making the dramatic moments truthful and
real. We believe that if
your characters are realistic and your audience feels for them, everything else
is going to be scarier."
Cargill adds: "One of the things that scares people the most is the idea that
something is wrong
within the family. We all want to believe that love exists and that a single
mistake by a family member
isn't the end of everything. Here we have a father who's deliberately exposing
his family to danger. The
main character ends up endangering himself and his family, and ultimately the
family will pay the price for
More than 10 years as a film critic have convinced Cargill that horror is the
last truly pure version
of cinema. "When you break down any other genre, it is not purely about the
story. With romantic
comedy, it's about two superstars. An action film or a science fiction film is
about the special effects and
the budget. But when people watch the trailer for a horror film, you want them
to say, that sounds like a
really good idea."
Both writers cite influences that include classic horror films from the 1960s
through the 1980s,
including The Exorcist, Rosemary's Baby and The Shining, as well as films by Wes
Craven, John Carpenter
and Guillermo Del Toro. "The Shining was certainly the number one influence on
the tone," says
Derrickson. "It was an attempt to be a serious and elevated horror film about a
central character who is a
writer going down a very dark path."
The best horror films, he believes, are great not just because of their
scariness, but because of
the dramatic aspects of the story. "And for me, it's about trying to make the
best kind of horror film I can.
The Exorcist has a level of shock and awe that make it my favorite horror film.
But if you watch that film
carefully, there's not a lot of screen time committed to the possession and
exorcism scenes. There's a
tremendous amount of screen time dedicated to Father Karras' journey of faith
and the mystery of his lost
faith. All of these great horror films have dramatic aspects to them that are as
high quality as the horror
aspects of them."
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