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
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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