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Just before the world went into lockdown a little over two years ago, director Scott Derrickson shocked the Marvel community with news of his exit from Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness (the film, which was ultimately directed by Spider-Man and horror vet Sam Raimi, is now playing in theaters).
Looking back on it during an interview with Empire Magazine, Derrickson called his choice to part ways with the Marvel Cinematic Universe as "the hardest decision of my career" before posing a heavy rhetorical question: "Who walks off a Marvel movie?"
At the time, it was reported that the filmmaker had reached a juncture of irreconcilable "creative differences" with the studio, which, as we know, is a catch-all term for all kinds of Hollywood drama taking place behind-the-scenes. Naturally, rumors began to swirl as they always do, with many claiming Derrickson wanted to make a genuine horror movie — a vision that didn't purportedly sit well with the family-friendly Disney brand.
The real reason the writer-director stepped down from the Doctor Strange sequel (he remained on board as an executive producer), however, was to take care of his own mental well-being. "I'd been in therapy for a number of years dealing with early childhood trauma," Derrickson revealed to Empire. "I grew up in a violent neighborhood and in a violent household. Everybody got beat with a belt — or worse. There was a lot of bleeding and fights, to and from school. Ever-present violence was the nature of that blue-collar neighborhood."
And it wasn't just the future filmmaker who suffered. One day, a friend knocked on the door of the Derrickson household to inform them that "his mother had been abducted, raped, wrapped in phone cord, and thrown in the local lake." The director came of age in the mid-1970s, a rather gruesome period between the capture of the Manson family and the rise of Ted Bunny. "Serial killers were all kids could talk about."
Derrickson would go on to harness that profound childhood trauma in his "most personal film yet," The Black Phone. Co-written by Derrickson and his usual collaborator, C. Robert Cargill, the Universal project adapts the short story of the same name by author Joe Hill. It picks up in the 1970s when a young boy (Mason Thames) is abducted by a serial killer known as The Grabber (Ethan Hawke). Locked in the psychopath's sparsely-furnished basement, the boy mounts a daring plan to escape, helped along by the killer's previous victims, who make contact via the titular black phone.
"I used to build haunted houses for the kids in my neighborhood with things that would jump out at you," said Derrickson, who made a name for himself with horror flicks like The Exorcism of Emily Rose and Sinister. "Playing with the macabre and the horrible and the horrific became an outlet."
Despite the movie's dark and borderline nihilistic premise, the director insisted that it "has got more inspiration power than anything I've made."
As for his working relationship with Marvel Studios, he promised there is no bad blood between them. "Contrary to gossip, it was all really amicable [when I left] and I'd work there again," Derrickson said. "I'm going to the premiere [of Multiverse of Madness] and I'm really looking forward to it, but I feel like I made the right decision. I've made the movie I was meant to make, at the time I was meant to make it."
Based on the early Twitter reactions from audience members who got to check out The Black Phone at CinemaCon late last month, we'd say the man isn't just whistling dixie. The rest of us will have to wait until Friday, June 24 to answer the call from beyond the grave.