In “Deliver Us From Evil,” New York police officer Ralph Sarchie (Eric Bana), struggling with his own personal issues, begins investigating a series of disturbing and inexplicable crimes. He joins forces with an unconventional priest (Edgar Ramírez), schooled in the rituals of exorcism, to combat the frightening and demonic possessions that are terrorizing their city. The film is inspired by the book, which details Sarchie’s bone-chilling real-life cases.
Released by Screen Gems’ and Jerry Bruckheimer Films, Scott Derrickson (“The Exorcism of Emily Rose,” “Sinister”)directed the film and co-wrote the screenplay.
At a recent press junket, Derrickson and the real Ralph Sarchie spoke to journalists about the film and Sarchie’s experiences with demon possession and exorcisms.
Q: I understand that the movie is a compilation of events you’ve experienced—both working as a policeman and as a “demon hunter”—are tied together in the storyline?
Ralph Sarchie: Yeah. I would say there is a lot of license that Scott took with it to make it entertaining.
Scott Derrickson: He was doing the two things at the same time. He was a cop while this [the exorcisms] was happening. He just wasn’t doing it during police hours.
Q: You continue to do this?
Ralph Sarchie: In 2006, I divorced my wife; unfortunately. When the divorce happened, I took a break from “the Work.” I retired because I didn’t feel I was holy enough, being that I was divorced.
I was in error, as far as that was concerned. But I did need a break; I did need to get away from “the Work.” God let me have a couple of years of freedom and fun before He put me back on the horse. He used him [indicating Scott] to put me back on the horse.
Once Scott told me that we were going to make this movie, I knew where I was headed. I knew I was going to get cases and I knew I was going to have to investigate them. So, I knew it was time to get back where I’m supposed to be.
Q: Who do you work with on your cases? I understand that Father Mendoza in the movie is a composite character.
Ralph Sarchie: Bishop McKenna unfortunately is very old and he’s very ill. I am in the process of waiting for God to send me another exorcist. I had a bishop I’m familiar with out in Mexico; but that’s not Connecticut. [laughs] I might be flying a lot.
For now, I have to rely on God to get me what I need.
Q: Scott, you created a story out of many different instances that weren’t necessarily connected?
Scott Derrickson: In the book, “Deliver Us From Evil” there were significant episodes of cases that Ralph had that were very dramatic and powerful; but they were short and contained.
I met Ralph, especially when I spent time with him in Four Six, when he was working there. That precinct the FBI calls, “The Most Dangerous Square Mile in America.” It is the highest crime precinct in the country.
I saw the respect the other officers had for him. He was an undercover cop working Special Ops, meaning he was trying to get involved with active street crimes as they were happening. The fact that this guy ends up investigating the paranormal, then he ends up working with an exorcist, I already was in. I thought, “That’s an amazing story.”
In the book, it was these individual stories. Like the testimonials of the family in the Alberghetti house; that’s right out of the book. Seeing the actual videos of the family that it was based on; I head their fear. I mean, these people weren’t lying. They were normal, decent people—getting no attention for it—horrified. Something was happening to them.
There were these different things and the trick that I had was how do I turn all of this into a movie? That was the over-arching fictional story of Santino, this guy coming back from Iraq. That was all fictional. It was a thread to tie these individual things from the book together.
Q: The storyline about what happened at the Sarchie house; did that actually happen?
Scott Derrickson: A lot of that was from his real stories. The details—I made up the owl. But there were things that happened with his family.
Q: We heard that some of the other actors watched videos of a real exorcism. Eric Bana said he couldn’t sleep for three weeks after that because it was so violent and gruesome. Are all exorcisms that devastating? How do you keep the faith and keep yourself whole when you go through that for years like you’ve been doing?
Ralph Sarchie: Not all exorcisms are like that. I don’t think that anybody can go through that constantly, including the exorcist.
There are different types of demons, like there are different types of angels. That’s where demons originated from; they were angelic spirits at one point. Some are powerful, some we consider devils. Devils can manipulate objects, they can withstand more prayers. The phenomenon is a lot worse because of the power they have.
That particular case [in the video] happened to be a curse. That’s what we were dealing with.
Scott Derrickson: I was the one who showed those videos to Eric. It was funny; I wasn’t trying to shake him—or any of the actors—up. The same is true with Edgar Ramirez. I had him read “Hostage to the Devil,” which is the scariest book I’ve ever read. It’s a story of five American exorcisms. I even told Edgar, “Don’t read the whole book; it’ll freak you out. Read two chapters. Pick any two you want and I guarantee you, it will tell you pretty much anything you need to know.”
He read one and, as I understand, it kept him up for the rest of the shoot.
I wasn’t trying to freak the actors out. I think I had gotten so familiar with it. Ralph was the one who gave me the book, “The Exorcism of Anneliese Michel,” which I turned into “The Exorcism of Emily Rose.” So, I had gone through this process of seeing all this stuff and wrestling with what is it and the mystery of it and do I believe it. You don’t get numb to it, but you do get to where you can stomach it.
Q: Ralph, when they made the film, “The Exorcist,” it was considered an incredibly rare occurrence to have an exorcism. Since you’ve seen more than one, what do you think accounts for the increase in the number of exorcist cases in recent decades?
Ralph Sarchie: Pushing God out of society. It has been going on for quite some time. I don’t think I’ve had an actual case of diabolic activity in someone’s life, where they hadn’t turned toward God afterwards. In fact; that’s where you’re going to want to be.
“Deliver Us From Evil” opens in theaters on July 2. It is rated R for bloody violence, grisly images, terror throughout and language.