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"Conjuring" up an enterprise--paranormal scares on the big screen

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The film The Conjuring, premiering in the summer of 2013 and recently released to DVD, fulfills its original intent—to scare you! It certainly does a good job of doing just that…also giving you a subject to meditate upon long after the film has ended. It’s a movie enveloped around a good story involving an all-American family suddenly in the tight grasp of turmoil: elements of suspense wrapped in long meandering over-the-shoulder camera views as the hapless victims move about the haunted interior of their just acquired home. And most certainly that sense of building dread, all leading to a shocking climax that puts everything into perspective. The best part…the film is “based” on a true story!

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The key word here is “based.” Anything after that is open for interpretation.

Director James Wan rose to fame with his movie Saw (2004) and relatively stayed in the background for the next few years. Wan, an admirer of writer and director David Lynch (as far as I’m concerned—a genius, whose cinematic and television efforts have unfortunately gone over most people’s heads), came into his own with the truly terrifying Insidious in 2010 and consequently the follow-up Insidious: Chapter 2 in 2013, with alumni actors Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne. 2013 also saw the July premiere of The Conjuring which extended the trend of Wan movies seeped in the circumstance of good folk suddenly encased in a dark cloud of paranormal occurrences beyond their control. And, all without the excessive gorefests that seems so prevalent in most of today’s hack-em-up movies.

James Wan is currently in production of Fast & Furious 7, the seventh installment of the action film franchise. Actor Paul Walker’s sudden death has devastated him, and one can only wonder how this turn of events will play out for the film.

Wan’s film was originally entitled The Warren Files, later retiled The Conjuring for release. The haunted farmhouse tale is based upon the case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren, the self proclaimed American demonologists. The couple founded the New England Society for Psychic Research back in 1952 and cited they had investigated more than 10,000 cases of paranormal activity. The author of numerous books about ghosts and hauntings, the Warrens seemed to always be in the right place at the right time.

The Warrens have held the role of the nation’s top psychic researchers for decades. Some call them the ghost hunter’s ghost hunter. Others call them frauds.

Ed Warren died from complications of a stroke in 2006. Lorraine, now 86 years of age, carries on the legacy that she and her husband started before spirits, the paranormal, and television exposure became a household name.

The Perron families’ event that is depicted in Wan’s film began in 1971 when Roger, Carolyn, and their five children moved into an 18th century colonial home in rural Harrisville, Rhode Island. Immediately, it would seem, they began a paranormal journey with a dark presence…resulting in their plea for the Warrens to investigate. The rest…they would say…is history!

Wan brought in his trusty actor, Patrick Wilson, to play Ed Warren. Vera Farmiga had the role as Lorraine Warren. The real Lorraine Warren became a consultant for the film…even appearing briefly in a cameo during a scene in which the movie Warrens lecture to a student classroom. (How strange that must have been for Lorraine!) She insists that “many” of the movie’s harrowing moments actually happened. Well, there you go….

Does paranormal truth also transfer to film? In a July 23rd, 2013 USA Today article Steven Novella, president of the New England Skeptical Society, and well familiar with the Warrens, stated: “ The Warrens are good at telling ghost stories. You could do a lot of movies based on the stories they have spun. But there’s absolutely no reason to believe there is any legitimacy to them.”

A paranormal blog reader commented: “Many people who tell ‘stories’ for long enough come to believe those stories themselves.”

Lorraine Warren—answering a question regarding the films depiction of the Perron family—replied: “…in the Perron case, the family at that time did not have any religion. I don’t know how it is now. There were six children (I believe that number is five, Lorraine) and a mother. The father worked in New York and he came home on the weekends. So [my husband]…would command the demons in the name of Jesus Christ to go back to where they came from. He always did it in God’s name.”

Well now….These events happened in the early 1970s, and it is now 2013. Memories can and do dim as the years roll on.

Andrea Perron, the oldest of the five daughters and now in her mid-fifties, states The Conjuring is “a fair reflection of the chaos and danger we faced on the farm.” She is the author of a three part self-published book on the families’ story, House of Darkness, House of Light. She admits: “There are liberties taken and a few discrepancies, but overall, it is what it claims to be—based on a true story, believe it or not.”

“The film is a beautiful tapestry with many elements of truth to it, and some moments of fiction.”

The investigation of the Perron home by the Warrens occurred between the years 1973 to 1974. The movie centers, not around the material in Andrea Perron’s book, but rather the Warren’s recollections. Andrea seems to be fine with that.

“There is no conceivable way to condense what we as a family endured in the farmhouse into a two hour motion picture, but James (Wan) captures the essence of it.”

“Eight generations of one extended family lived and died in that house prior to our arrival,” states Andrea. “Some of them never left.”

Public records reveal the property played host to three suicides—two by hanging and one from poison, two drownings, the rape and murder of eleven year old Prudence Arnold by a farmhand, and four men who froze to death on the property. If any place should be ripe for a haunting, it would be here!

The farmhouse—known as the Old Arnold Estate—is still standing and inhabited. The movie house was built on a sound stage in Wilmington, North Carolina and doesn’t even resemble the house the Perrons moved into. Dramatic license, I would suppose. The movie portrays a rather quick, intense haunting that starts immediately upon the families arrival. Actually, the Perrons lived there for ten years, purchasing it in the winter of 1970 and moving out in June of 1980.

A witch plays a pivotal part in the film. The “suspected” witch points to one Bathsheba Sherman, a woman who lived in the area. There is no hard evidence of her dabbling in the dark arts, only local folklore. The suggestion that the Perron haunting was attributed to this witch originated with the Warrens and from this they would not budge. Lorraine Warren referred to this “demonic” presence from then on as Bathsheba.

Bathsheba Sherman raised a son, preceded her husband in death, and passed away an old woman on May 25, 1885. She is buried in the downtown Harrisville Cemetery.

The Perron family felt that the majority of the spirits in their home were relatively harmless, with the exception of Warrens declared instigator—Bathsheba. Andrea states: “Whoever the spirit was, she perceived herself to be mistress of the house and resented the competition my mother posed for that position.”

The exorcism in the movie’s climax…never happened, but what’s a little poetic license in a suspenseful movie. Lorraine Warren insists she and her husband would never try an exorcism, which could only be conducted by a Catholic priest. However, Andrea claims she was a witness to a séance that caused her mother Carolyn to be temporarily possessed. Must not have been time in the film for that.

The Annabelle doll in the movie had nothing to do with the Perron investigation, but factored into the story none the less. The “real” Annabelle was a Raggedy-Ann doll…simple and unassuming. The doll depicted in the movie was a creepy creation that would send most kids screaming with years of therapy following. Acquired from a past case, the doll became a presence in the Warrens personal lives, housed in their home museum in Brookfield, Connecticut along with other artifacts of a haunted nature. The Warrens were the original “Haunted Collector”, passing the tradition down to nephew John Zaffis. This leads to the Warren’s daughter…and the possible effects that her parent’s pursuits might have had on her. The Warrens rigidly kept details of their family life very private. The film’s depiction of their daughter’s encounter likely never happened, but inserts a dramatic sub-plot into the story.

Demons…demons…demons. It would seem that during their career whenever the Warrens would step into a situation involving a seemingly benevolent spirit or mild poltergeist activity, it would suddenly be revealed to be of a demonic nature. They were, after all, demonologists and this was their territory. I remember Lorraine Warren’s appearances on Paranormal State as a guest investigator: the kindly grandmother of the paranormal, shuffling slowly along, admonishing everyone with “honey”, and a frown soon playing across her face as she sensed something of a dark nature. And to this day, she has remained an investigator of the paranormal, in honor of her husband Ed who she feels wants her to carry on the battle. She’s only moving a little slower these days.

The Warrens were no strangers to the occasional television appearances and their investigations being made into movies. In 1991 there was The Haunted, a made for TV movie based on the Smurl haunting from their case files. 2009 brought about The Haunting in Connecticut, loosely based on the 1986 Snedeker haunting. What brought them into instant recognition was the 1977 Amityville Horror.

When asked on how the Perron haunting compared to that of the Lutz family in Amityville, Lorraine doesn’t hesitate: “Amityville was horrible, honey. It was absolutely horrible. It followed us straight across the country. I don’t even like to talk about it. I will never go in the Amityville house ever again. You don’t know how long my career is; that’s the only one!”

The Amityville Horror has pretty much been established to have been a hoax. The perpetrators have even declared it so. Yet, there are those that still believe, and Lorraine Warren is one of those. Doubtful News states regarding her proclamation of genuine dark forces involved at Amityville: “Lorraine still is respected in the paranormal community as an icon, but the skeptical community finds the Warren’s investigation skills, conclusions and reputation sorely lacking, especially after such a silly comment as this—still clinging to the idea the Amityville was an actual demon-haunted house,”

Lorraine stands firm on the subject: “The case (Amityville) has affected our personal lives more than any other case we’ve ever worked on in fifty-four years of research.”

Either the Warrens were completely bamboozled in Amityville, or they did their own bamboozling. You be the judge.

Lorraine states regarding The Conjuring movie: “I think they did a pretty good job.” Back to our original premise—based on a true story? There are pieces of the truth sprinkled throughout. It’s in the interest of a producer to sell a movie, and if taking certain liberties gets the job done, well…there are tickets to sell. And James Wan is a talented director, with his own idea of what will sell. So far he’s been right.

Ed and Lorraine Warren, along with Hans Holzer, are veterans who brought the paranormal into the mainstream, consequently jogging folks into the realization that there just might be something else just beyond our reach. Yet, human nature would seem to dictate that we put more of a dramatic emphasis now in the present to things that have happened in the past…sometimes creating entirely new scenarios. Just saying….Continue to rock on, Lorraine Warren and fight the good fight!

Andrea Perron comments: “I think we were supposed to have this experience and share it with the world. Both my mother and I would just as soon swallow our tongue than tell a lie. People are free to believe whatever they want to believe. But I know what we experienced.”

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