If everything that happened in Las Vegas really did stay in Las Vegas, then horror fans might never have gotten to see 2012’s Ethan Hawke-starring low budget sleeper hit Sinister, nor its sequel, Sinister 2, which comes out Friday. For it was in Sin City that director Scott Derrickson was first pitched the idea for the original movie by writer C. Robert Cargill.
“It was at the Mandalay Bay, like, three in the morning,” says Derrickson, over the phone from the U.K. where he is currently prepping Marvel’s Doctor Strange. “Cargill had had five White Russians — he was like the Dude in The Big Lebowski — and he pitched me an idea he had come up with years before, right after seeing The Ring. He had a nightmare about a guy going up into his own attic and finding a box of super 8 films that had murders on them. I thought, this is an amazing idea for a horror film.”
Derrickson and Cargill developed that pitch into the script for the Jason Blum-produced Sinister, about a true crime-writer (Hawke) who moves his into a house where a family was previously murdered and where he discovers a box of homemade snuff films. The film also introduced a new horror film villain in the malevolent shape of an ancient supernatural being named Bughuul.
Derrickson and Cargill reteamed to write the script for Sinister 2, which is directed by Irish filmmaker Ciarán Foy (Citadel) and stars Shannyn Sossamon and Sinister survivor James Ransome. That writing process inevitably involved the pair coming up with more ideas for what Derrickson refers to as “kill-films.”
“It’s sick — but it is fun,” says Derrickson, whose other directing credits include 2005’s The Exorcism of Emily Rose, the 2008 remake The Day the Earth Stood Still, and last year’s horror-thriller Deliver Us from Evil. “It’s fun, in particular, to think of creative ways to contaminate domestic environments. I think that’s part of what makes those kill-films scary — that domestic, home-like quality, feeling like the evil has seeped into such normal life.”
Below, Derrickson talks more about Sinister 2, why he is so fascinated by the macabre, and seeing Doctor Strange star Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance as Hamlet.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you approach writing Sinister 2?
I knew it had to include Bughuul and the kill films. I think that’s what makes a Sinister movie a Sinister movie. I don’t think anybody who was going to pay for a sequel would have been satisfied if it didn’t include those two things. But I didn’t want to write the same movie again. A big part of it was finding a new creative point of view, which ended up being the children, seeing more of the movie through their points of view. And, of course, we brought James Ransome back in to the movie also. Audiences seemed to really respond to him and like him in the first movie.
And his character is still alive!
Well, it was that too. There’s no one else to bring back, right?
You were on set?
I was there for the first week and then I was there for some reshoots.
Still, having directed the first film, what it was like being present but not directing?
It was a relief! When I was there, I was really happy I didn’t have to do so much work! But it was great. I’d watch Ciarán do a take and my first instinct was to run in and tell him all the things he should adjust and all the things he should do differently. And, during that first week, I just watched him over and over again make all the right adjustments without me having to say much of anything. By the time I left, I knew he would do a good job.
The original Sinister was the first film you made following the release of The Day the Earth Stood Still, which did not perform at the box office. Were you aware that you were going to have to be responsible for digging yourself out of a hole and back into a career?
Oh yeah, absolutely. I mean, the only movies that I had been offered after The Day the Earth Stood Still were movies that I knew would end my career. You know, bad sequels that I knew wouldn’t be good and things like that. And I waited and was looking for an idea and a way of making a movie where I had confidence in the system behind me and control over the material. And Jason Blum gave me a lot of confidence that he would do what he said he would do, which was give me the budget, and give me final cut, and let me make the movie that I wanted to.
The idea was really strong. I wasn’t so much trying to dig myself out of a hole — my attitude was, I’m going to do this movie the way I know it should be done, and when it’s over it’s going to be the best movie that I can make, and it’s going to be my movie. I felt on The Day the Earth Stood Still that I had really died on somebody else’s sword. It was like, Well, if I die on this movie, if I die on another sword, it’s going to be my sword.
Yeah, yeah, exactly. And it gave me a certain fearless feeling. I had a great time making it and knew that when I was finished with it I was going to think it was great, I was going to be proud of it, and I was going to be proud to show it. And how it would do is not in my hands. It never is.
You clearly have an interest in the macabre. From where does that spring?
Part of it is obviously my nature. You’re sort of bent that way or not, I suppose. But I’ve also always been really interested in the macabre as a way into meaning. I’m not interested in gothic storytelling or the horrific for its own sake. I’m always interested in it as a way of getting at larger ideas or important meaning. And you don’t see that as much as you’d think in the history of horror cinema. A lot of times, it’s scariness for scariness’ own sake.
I really love horror novels, horror films, that are pointing at deeper ideas and thematic meaning. It’s a way of thinking about films differently, that’s what I think I like the most about it. I love the fact that’s it’s pointing at a more mysterious world — that the world is more of a mysterious place than we tend to let ourselves believe. That’s always compelling to me. And horror is almost always in some form a study in human nature and the duality of human nature, the good and the evil that lies within. That’s always compelling to me.
Do you have any thoughts about a Sinister 3?
We’ll see how this second one goes. People would always ask me about that on the first Sinister. My answer was always, “We’ll see how well this movie does.” If it does well enough, there will be another one.
I was just wondering if you have had any discussions with your cowriter about how the mythology might progress.
We haven’t gone that far yet. It was more challenging than I expected to write the screenplay for this one. It was a lot harder than anticipated because all the mystery behind Bughuul and the kill films is revealed in the first movie. You had to find a way to make it compelling enough without so much hidden information.
That was so challenging and so difficult that [thinking about] how to make a clever and satisfying Sinister 3 already sounds daunting to me. So, I don’t know what my involvement would be in that. I certainly will stay on as a producer and I hope it happens because I do love the franchise and want it to be a franchise. But I don’t know what Sinister 3 would be, yet.
Well, you have been rather busy with Doctor Strange. How is that going?
I have no comment for you on Doctor Strange, I’m sorry.
Let me ask just this: How is that nice Benedict Cumberbatch?
Well, I’ll tell you this much: I saw him play Hamlet last week and it was absolutely extraordinary. He is amazing in it.
You can see the trailer for Sinister 2 below.
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