A new movie and another real-life horror story: The truth behind The Conjuring Universe

With cinemas reopening right on time for The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It to scare up a storm on May 26, K! celebrates the work of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren.

There’s an otherworldly magic about experiencing horror movies on the silver screen.

The spine-chilling tension and stomach-lurching dread feel somehow more concentrated in that darkened auditorium, a shared experience amongst dozens of fellow fright fans white-knuckling their armrests, afraid to exhale. There’s no light switch to flick on, no curtain to hide behind, no option but to follow our heroes through misty woods and into cobwebbed basements. And, when those jump-scares finally arrive, the catharsis of clutching your popcorn while flying a few inches off your seat feels all the sweeter (or saltier) for catching someone beside you doing the same.

The bigger the screen, the bigger the scream.

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It – the third core entry, and seventh overall, in the now-iconic franchise – is an essential slice of pure cinema that feels custom-tooled for movie houses’ grand reopening, having lain dark and dormant for months. Charting the role of legendary paranormal pioneers Ed and Lorraine Warren in Brookfield, Connecticut’s infamous Demon Murder Trial, director Michael Chaves masterfully delivers classic horror quality and contemporary edge to tell a story where not just lives, but eternal souls are at stake.

Blood-soaked slaughter? Check. Supernatural intrigue? Check. A knife-edge battle between good and evil? You better believe it.

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That same cinematic magic was surely at play when the real Ed and Lorraine met, aged just 16, at Bridgeport, Connecticut’s Colonial Theatre in 1944. He was an usher who’d grown up in a haunted house; she, a frequent patron still coming to terms with her clairvoyant talents. Both were avid fans of horror and all things paranormal. Little did they know their story would be the nail-biting, nerve-wracking focus for new generations of moviegoers three-quarters-of-a-century down the line.

Modern audiences first met the couple in James Wan’s 2013 series-starting masterpiece, The Conjuring. Plagued by late-night encounters, goosebump-inducing cold spots and the stench of death in their 14-room farmhouse, the Perron family of Harrisville, Rhode Island – Roger, Carolyn and their five daughters – reached out for help. Already veterans by the early-1970s, the Warrens answered, taking on an increasingly malevolent spirit known as Bathsheba. Where the movie climaxes on a triumphant exorcism, though, there would be no real-life happy ending, with Carolyn left on the verge of mental collapse after an attempted séance and the family doomed to the property for almost a decade without the financial means to move on.

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Ed and Lorraine’s real-world legacy stretches even further back, though. Following Ed’s service in WWII, they sought to forge a path as artists in post-war America, but found themselves inexorably drawn – through newspaper clippings and word-of-mouth – to the country’s many haunted houses. Sketches of the properties would often be swapped for homeowners’ stories and a catalogue of strange tales was compiled. Ed was self-educated in demonology, while Lorraine embraced her psychic skills to become a powerful trance medium, and in 1952 they founded the New England Society For Psychic Research (NESPR).

Committed to helping the vulnerable free of charge, storytelling – and education – would become integral to the NESPR’s survival. As guest lecturers, the Warrens took their cautionary message to the college kids most at risk from the 1960s boom in occult interest. Movies and television adaptations of their most intriguing tales helped spread awareness further still. Of the 10,000-plus cases they investigated over a 50-year career, many would become irrevocably woven into late 20th/early 21st century pop culture.

The pulse-quickening return to (para)normality we’ve all been waiting for”

Everyone knows Annabelle. The 1968 investigation – where two student nurses in Hartford claimed that their mischievous second-hand Raggedy Ann doll was possessed by the spirit of a seven-year-old girl called Annabelle Higgins – ended with the Warrens’ determination that said doll was possessed by a far darker, demonic presence and needed to be moved to their Occult Museum for safe keeping. Annabelle – reimagined in stained porcelain – would appear in the opening scene of the Warrens’ 2013 Conjuring debut, and become the crux of her own (fictionalised) trilogy – Annabelle (2014), Annabelle: Creation (2017) and the excellent, underrated Annabelle Comes Home (2019), where she leads the collected spirits of said museum in terrorising Ed and Lorraine’s daughter Judy.

On this side of the Atlantic, the Warrens’ impromptu visit to the 1977 Enfield poltergeist haunting – where a destructive presence terrorised a young family in the North London borough – was fleshed out into 2016’s smash hit sequel, The Conjuring 2. Their investigation of Essex’s Borley Rectory, and the apparitional nun who walks its grounds, was melded with Eastern European folklore for 2018’s skin-crawling gothic spin-off The Nun.

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No case had more real-world significance than that which informed new instalment, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, where, in 1981, a young man killed his landlord and triggered the first murder trial in the 193-year history of Brookfield, CT, before claiming it was Lucifer that forced his hand. Consequently, the Warrens were called to the witness stand to aid in the first-ever the devil made me do it” defence in United States history.

Forty years on, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It revisits the living nightmare that tore a community apart and forced America to acknowledge the old evils brewing at its heart. It’s a story deserving of the cinema, and seeing it unfold with snacks in hand and friends by our sides is sure to be the pulse-quickening return to (para)normality we’ve all been waiting for.

The court accepts the existence of God every time a witness swears to tell the truth,” emphasises Ed (paraphrasing actual defence attorney Martin Minnella) in one of the movie’s most powerful scenes. I think it’s about time they accept the existence of the devil.”

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is in cinemas from May 26book your tickets now.

© 2021 Warner Bros. Ent. All Rights Reserved.

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