'A Place Where Beauty and Terror Merge'

Scott Derrickson, director of 'The Exorcism of Emily Rose,' discusses faith, art, evil, and making horror films

Scott Derrickson co-wrote and directed the horror films "The Exorcism of Emily Rose," and "Hellraiser: Inferno," and his artistic vision is largely guided by his faith. Derrickson was once a fundamentalist Christian, which is where he said he experienced the fear that he now instills in his films. In this interview he talks about breaking free of fundamentalism, the confluence of faith and art, demons, the significance of blood, and the reason he thinks American Christians don't want to talk about evil.

How did you become interested in the horror genre? Isn't this an unlikely focus for a Christian filmmaker?

When I was in film school and thinking about how I was going to break into the industry and actually get to make films, I pondered that. I knew I needed to find a commercial genre to work in, and have a commercial sensibility if I wanted to make films for a living. I also wanted to have some integration of my faith to the creative process because it's so important to me. It's not really in the cards for me to not involve that in the creative process. I was looking instinctively for a place where my spiritual interests and the marketplace could meet.

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The revelation I had came when I reread "The Screwtape Letters" [by Christian author C.S. Lewis]. When I reread it and watched the reaction of some of my peers as they were reading it, what struck me was that the book was as didactic a book of moral instruction as anything you could ever read, and yet here it was speaking to these jaded film students at USC. I realized there was something in that. By approaching spiritual issues and religious questions through the window of the horrific or the dark side of life, you suddenly had free reign to deal with spirituality in a way that was not going to be preachy or come off as propaganda.

I think I saw within the horror genre the potential to create things that would be of great personal interest to me, and yet would have commercial value and marketability as well. And by combining those two things, I felt if I could combine them well, that I also might make something that was original and had great artistic merit. I think that's what happened with "Emily Rose," because that film is very much what I had set out to try to do from the beginning. I really hit the target with ["The Exorcism of Emily Rose"] in terms of the ambition I had and what I had hoped to do with the genre.

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