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DELIVER US FROM EVIL

A Matter of Faith
The very fact that Deliver Us From Evil was finally brought to the screen, more than 10 years after the book on which it is based was acquired for filming, represented producer Jerry Bruckheimer, director/writer Scott Derrickson and author Ralph Sarchie's unshakeable faith in the project.

"We read a proposal about 11 or 12 years ago that Ralph Sarchie brought to us," recalls Bruckheimer, "and we thought it was interesting, intriguing and scary. It excited me, and we thought we could bring it to the big screen. The story was really compelling, and it was based on fact: how a tough, blue-collar detective in a rugged part of the Bronx, becomes convinced that some of the incidents he's investigating go far beyond the norm."

Executive producer Chad Oman, president of production for Jerry Bruckheimer Films, recalls that Sarchie, then still an officer in the Bronx's 46th Precinct, had submitted the story as a six-page proposal for a book which would become "Beware the Night," which was written by Sarchie with Lisa Collier Cool. "I took it home and read it one night at about midnight after my wife and kids went to sleep," confesses Oman. "I got about three or four pages into it, and had to stop. I went into the room where my wife was to finish reading the proposal, because it was that frightening."

Bruckheimer, company president Mike Stenson, and Oman were fascinated by the possibilities of merging a classic New York police story with a tale of the paranormal based on real events which Ralph Sarchie recounted in his book. "The basic idea that I sparked to," says Oman "was taking a skeptical, meat and potatoes cop, who investigates something he can't explain. The policeman has lost his faith, yet finds himself working with a priest who has complete faith in the existence of God, and seeing how both of them grow throughout the experiences they share."

While Ralph Sarchie and Lisa Collier Cool's book might seem like an offbeat project for the producer, who has become best known for epic adventures and high octane action films, Jerry Bruckheimer has in fact from the beginning of his storied career sought out interesting stories based on fact, which have resulted in films both hugely-scaled and more intimate. Glory Road, Veronica Guerin, Black Hawk Down, Pearl Harbor, Remember the Titans and Dangerous Minds were all based or inspired by true-life stories or incidents. "We look for great stories and characters anywhere we can find them," notes the producer, "and Ralph Sarchie's extraordinary story was totally compelling."

In looking for appropriate screenwriters to tackle Sarchie's book for the screen, Bruckheimer, Stenson and Oman set their sights on young Scott Derrickson (whose only filmed writing credit at that early point in his career was the feature Urban Legends: Final Cut) and his creative partner Paul Harris Boardman. "We love to nurture young talent," notes Bruckheimer, "especially when it's clear how talented they are. Even back then, it was clear that Scott was uncommonly gifted, with a maturity and creativity beyond his years."

Derrickson, who by nature is drawn to themes which are both spiritual and "supernatural"-and sees strong links between the two-was immediately drawn by the compelling tales which Sarchie described in his book. "In the book," says Derrickson, "Ralph talks about his experiences as a cop in one of the most dangerous crime districts of New York, but also his gradual involvement in investigating cases of the paranormal, which eventually led him to become an assistant to an exorcist."

One of the challenges facing Derrickson and Boardman was how to mold the episodic nature of the book into a coherent narrative. Notes Chad Oman, "The book was a collection of stories about different paranormal incidents which Ralph Sarchie had experienced throughout his career. When Scott and Paul first tackled the project, their story was mainly focused on the spiritual-supernatural events, it wasn't weighted towards the police procedural aspects of the story. Years later, when Scott returned to the project as a writer/director, he added a pretty equal story focused on the police aspects of the story, then merged the two together."

"Jerry's idea from the very beginning," explains Derrickson, "was to blend the police and paranormal genres, which I thought was an extraordinary concept that people would want to see. Which I would want to see. The movie is not based on a true story in the full sense of the word, but rather inspired by paranormal cases in Ralph Sarchie's book, strung together in a single narrative. The storyline that ties the different pieces together is fiction, but the scary sequences that you see in the movie are all based on real things which happened to Ralph."

Although the film's protagonist, Ralph Sarchie, is quite real, Derrickson invented the character's counterpart, the unconventional priest, Joe Mendoza. Explains Derrickson, "Mendoza is an amalgam of two real people who were instrumental in Ralph Sarchie's life in helping him recover his faith and take seriously what he was experiencing and investigating," explains Derrickson, "and then ultimately train him to be an assistant in the rite of exorcism. One of them was a bishop who actually performed the majority of the exorcisms that Ralph was part of, and the other was a Catholic priest who wrote books on the subject. Rather than try to pick one of them, we blended the two into a single character, and then gave him his own fictional backstory."

Derrickson, whose The Exorcism of Emily Rose was highly regarded for its serious treatment of the phenomenon of demonic possession and exorcism, now found himself plunging even further into research for Deliver Us From Evil. "Monster movies are based on things that are not real phenomenon," he observes. "Exorcisms are real. They happen often. And no matter what you think about them, they're fascinating and they're frightening. I've read a lot of documentation of cases and seen a lot of case videotapes, and they're incredible disturbing and compelling. I think that there's an inherent interest and fascinating in the connection that these kinds of films have to a real phenomenon in the world.

"I'm not really interested in trying to propagate people's belief in the reality of demons or not," says Derrickson, "but I do think that the phenomenon of exorcism is something that people need to take seriously. Religious faith is a subject that a lot of people don't want to talk about, because it raises questions of morality, ethics, the afterlife, how we're supposed to live, all the great questions."

As often happens in the world of filmmaking, the property which would become known as Deliver Us From Evil entered a limbo stage which would extend for a decade...but with its main participants never giving up hope. The project was infused with new life in the aftermath of the huge success and critical acclaim of Derrickson's 2012 film, Sinister. "I had a meeting with Clint Culpepper, the president of Screen Gems," recalls Derrickson, "and he asked me what I would most like to do next. I told him about a project that I had written for Jerry Bruckheimer years before that I thought would make a tremendous movie. Clint read and loved the script, and said okay, let's make it. I did one more rewrite, and the rest is on film."

For Ralph Sarchie, who had kept the faith for a decade that his book and life experiences would one day be filmed, receiving a fateful e-mail from Scott Derrickson with the news still took him by surprise, if not shock. "I e-mailed back to Scott that 'I think you sent this e-mail in error,'" laughs the ex-policeman. But he wrote back, 'No, I really believe that we're going to actually make this movie.'

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