Few directors have had the consistently strong track record of Scott Derrickson, particularly in such a short period of time.
Getting his start with 2000’s Hellraiser: Inferno (one of the better direct to video sequels of that franchise), he hit it big with the trifecta that was The Exorcism and Emily Rose, Sinister, and Deliver Us from Evil, one after another (with a remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still thrown in there).
This would eventually lead him to helming Doctor Strange for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. But the secret to his success has always been his subversion of horror, by blending it with other genres.
The Courtroom Drama
Before 2005, if you told someone that there would be a movie that blended The Exorcist with Law and Order, they’d probably laugh and think it’s a parody. Previous to this, we always thought of exorcisms as being performed in the shadows, on the very fringes of society.
But Derrickson’s 2nd feature film takes the archaic and highly superstitious practice, and puts it on the forefront of legal scrutiny. At the start of the film, the titular exorcism has already happened, and the narrative we follow really is more of a legal drama, with the details of the case coming out via flashback.
In addition to being incredibly creepy, it forces us all to think about things like possession and religion itself, as they’re debated by lawyers in court. Ultimately, the reason this movie is so fondly remembered by fans, is because it was just as though-provoking as it was scary.
The “True Crime” Mystery
Society seems to have an unhealthy obsession with serial killers and unsolved murders. For evidence of this, look no further than the countless TV shows and podcasts devoted to this very grim subject. Most interestingly however, is the fact that many fans of these aren’t necessarily horror fans. They see it as almost a separate genre of intrigue and fascination.
And that’s very much how Sinister starts off as. We see a true crime writer (Ethan Hawke) move his family into a murder scene, without telling them of course. The story behind it, as well as Hawke’s relationship with law enforcement feels very much like something you would get a from a true crime podcast.
It really lures you in with a sense of grit and realism (especially with those incredibly disturbing home movies), and doesn’t get too “supernatural” until towards the end. It’s a movie that relies very heavily on its tense mood, and was even recently “scientifically proven” to be the scariest movie ever made (granted it’s a completely subjective idea, but still fun to see nevertheless_.
The Gritty Detective Thriller
Only two years after terrifying audiences with Sinister, Derrickson went with another “inspired by a true story” demonic tale with Deliver Us From Evil. It’s a truly fascinating story based around a real life NYPD Sergeant, Ralph Sarchie, who moonlights as a paranormal investigator (he had even worked with Ed and Lorraine Warren on several cases over the years).
Given Sarchie’s occupation, this film is able to style itself like a crime thriller in the vein of Se7en or Zodiac, but rather than a human serial killer, it’s a demon they’re chasing after. This subgenre is already coupled with a dark and gritty tone, thus adding the demonic element really just enhances the tension that was already there. Deliver Us From Evil may not be as well remembered as Emily Rose or Sinister, but it’s every bit as brilliant in how Derrickson blends subgenres.
After his massive horror success, Marvel tapped him to direct the 2016 cinematic debut of Doctor Strange, which turned out to be a visually fascinating dark fantasy dealing with sorcerers and other realms.
Fans rejoiced when it was announced that the upcoming sequel would take a full dive into cosmic horror, something Derrickson would have been perfect at portraying. Sadly, he left the project due to “creative differences”, with many theorizing that Marvel and Disney didn’t like how dark the project was getting (despite asking him to make a horror movie for them).
We’ll see how the project goes with Sam Raimi attached. But it might be a blessing in disguise for Derrickson, who’s now free to pursue his own original projects in the horror genre.
Which Scott Derrickson movie is your favorite? What other genres would you like to see him blend horror with? Let us know in the comments!