In April of this year, we said a last good-bye to Lorraine Warren, the other half of the famed paranormal research investigators best known for their work that inspired the films of The Conjuring Universe. While the Warrens also investigated the haunting of the Amityville home owned by George and Kathy Lutz, a story depicted in the 1976 film The Amityville Horror, it was not until the 2013 release of The Conjuring that the Warrens figured prominently in movies based on their most notable investigations.
Ed Warren’s interest in the paranormal was rooted in the haunted house that he grew up in - and Lorraine’s interest was sparked by Ed as she followed him on visit after visit to any haunted location they could find. The Warrens were both self-taught, self-professed experts in their field: Ed, a demonologist, and Lorraine, a psychic, clairvoyant, and light-trance medium. Fifty years and more than 10,000 cases after opening the New England Society for Psychic Research, the Warrens leave behind a legacy as pioneers in modern paranormal investigation as well as the inspiration for the film that occupies my #1 slot as the scariest movie of all time. So I honor the Warrens with this review of their work through the eyes of the cinema in chronological order of the events.
1952 – The Nun (Released 2018)
First up is one three spin-offs featuring a character inspired by the Conjuring Universe. Valak, the demon nun from Conjuring 2 and Annabelle: Creation, was such a popular horror antagonist that she was awarded her own feature film. The Nun is one of the films in the Conjuring Universe that is purely fictional. The events in the film occurred, coincidentally or not, during the same year the Warrens founded the N.E.S.P.R. And for those of you who still have The Lesser Key of Solomon bookmarked after watching Hereditary, you will find Valak in there as the Grand President of Hell. In The Nun, however, Valak bears no resemblance to the angel-winged boy riding a two-headed dragon described by the infamous spell book.
I really liked The Nun and I found myself in the minority. I’m not sure if the movie got an unfairly bad reception from critics and audiences for being a lesser Conjuring film, or if I just set my expectations low based on some early reviews. If you haven’t seen it or if you want to re-think your bad review, look for a couple of Easter eggs in the film - one on the license plate of the truck and another in the school playground.
1955 – Annabelle: Creation (Released 2017)
The events in the opening scenes of Annabelle: Creation occur in 1943, but the rest of the story is circa 1955. This prequel to Annabelle is entirely fictional in its story of how the doll may have come to be haunted. For this film, the tragic loss of a child, an orphan and an outcast, and a creepy doll all set the stage for a series of paranormal events and demonic possession. I found this the weakest of the films in a movie franchise where the bar is set pretty damn high and it is better than a lot of horror films out there. I mean, who doesn’t love a creepy doll? This is one of only two films in The Conjuring Universe (as of 2019) that does not reference the Warrens in any way. Shout out to Lulu Wilson for her performance in this film as well as Ouija: Origin of Evil (probably my #2 most scary film) and the amazing Haunting of Hill House.
1967 – Annabelle (Released 2014)
The historic basis for the Annabelle doll is presented in the opening scenes of The Conjuring. The doll was a mother’s birthday gift to her daughter, a nursing student, who hired a medium after the strange events described in the film. Annabelle is a fictional prequel to The Conjuring and does not match the medium’s vision that the doll was possessed by the spirit of a girl whose body was found on the property in the late 1800s.
The couple in the film, John and Mia Form, are named for the actors who played the couple in Rosemary’s baby, a movie also themed around new parents whose forthcoming baby was a target for Satanists. A lot of viewers criticized Annabelle for being a lesser film to The Conjuring. The judgment is probably a fair comparison. Like I said, the bar was set pretty high. I enjoyed this movie, I still find it scary, and I have it on my regular horror rotation.
1971 – The Conjuring (Released 2013)
A full-on 5-skull film that holds my top slot for scariest movie of all time, The Conjuring is the first production to put the Warrens in the center stage of a major film based on historical events. While The Exorcist was ground-breaking in it’s shocking portrayal of possession involving a young girl, I find the build-up and the exorcism in The Conjuring more believable and far more terrifying. This film carries an R rating strictly for the scare it delivers; there is no nudity and very little, if any, profanity.
1973 – The Curse of La Llorona (Released 2019)
The Curse of La Llorona is a stand-alone film in the Conjuring Universe and features Father Perez, the same priest who provided the Forms with religious counsel in Annabelle. There are some reported callbacks to The Conjuring but I have no specifics since I haven’t seen the film yet. The legend of La Llorona is real, but the film is fictional. It the second of two movies in The Conjuring Universe to not reference the Warrens in any way.
1976 – The Amityville Horror (Released 1979)
The Amityville haunting is the most popular of the cases investigated by the Warrens. The highly successful 1979 movie is still one of my horror favorites. If my math is correct, this movie boasts the shortest time period between the highly controversial events and the movie’s theatrical release – three years. Critics claimed that the haunting was a hoax and that some of those involved later admitted to the fraud. The Lutz’s stood by their claims and as well, the Warrens stood by their investigation confirming the demonic presence. The Warrens were never referred to in the original film or its 2005 remake. In fact the best movie version of their investigation appears in the opening scenes of The Conjuring 2.
There are at least 23 films in the Amityville franchise. None achieved the success of the original and most went straight to video. Sort of makes all of those Friday the 13th and Chucky spin-offs seem like nothing.
1977 – The Conjuring 2 (Released 2016)
The Enfield poltergeist is the historical basis for The Conjuring 2. While the film is loosely based on the Warrens’ investigation of these events, critics claim that they were never invited and were not permitted access to the house. I couldn’t find much credible information either way and this movie remains high on my list of favorites. Patrick Wilson endears the viewer with a musical performance that is his own, providing a gentle strength that I think is more representative of the actor than the character.
1981 – The Conjuring 3 (Release date 2020)
This film is based on the Warrens’ investigation of Arne Johnson, a Brookfield, Connecticut man who murdered his landlord and plead not guilty to the crime by reason of demonic possession. The Warrens had been called to the home prior to the killing to investigate alleged demonic possession of Johnson’s fiancee’ and her younger brother. After the murders, the Warrens claimed that Johnson was also possessed. This was the first time in history that demonic possession was used as a defense earning it the title, “The Devil Made Me Do It Case.” A huge media blitz surrounded this case and the Warrens were met with the customary criticism we see in virtually all of these cases. I am looking forward to seeing what Vera and Patrick do with this one.
1986 – The Haunting in Connecticut
I think one of the most underrated movie in this collection is The Haunting in Connecticut. I first saw this film on a jeep trip to Moab. We grabbed it at a Red Box after a long day of running trails and it scared the Hell out of me. It was even scarier when I watched it again on a larger screen. And then again a few weeks ago while outlining this blog post. If this film missed your radar or if you need a refresher, you can grab it for free on Amazon Prime. You can also find the documentary special, A Haunting in Connecticut, and see for yourself how a movie “based on” a true story compares with the events reported by those who experienced them. Lorraine Warren is featured in the documentary, a rare treat, although there is no reference to the Warrens or any mention of a paranormal investigator in the movie.
1974-1989 – The Haunted (Released 1991)
This “lost Conjuring” film tells the story of the Smurl family haunting that occurred at their home in West Pittston, Pennsylvania, The couple claimed they were both tormented and assaulted by demonic spirits over a period of 15 years. The Warrens confirmed the presence of a powerful demon but were accused of being partial and non-objective. Critics were unable to offer an alternate explanation while other inhabitants of the home reported no paranormal experiences. I could not locate this film in any format – hence the description of the film as “lost.” If our friends Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are game, maybe this film can be remade.
TBA – Annabelle Comes Home (Released 2019)
This film appears on this list as the most recent simply because it is a sequel to the Annabelle series and occurs after The Conjuring. As with the other Annabelle films, it is entirely fictional. The movie welcomes welcome a second alum from Haunting of Hill House, McKenna Grace who played young Theo. Stay tuned for a review as this is the first horror film of 2019 on the movie theater watchlist.
If you’ve made it this far, then maybe you’re willing to go a little further. Open YouTube, search for “Conjuring shorts” and spend 15 minutes or so in that domain. Horror shorts are a thing. You’re welcome.
I visited the Warrens official website which is also the site of the N.E.S.P.R. as part of my research for this post. I was surprised to find it poorly designed with unimpressive content that is out of date and not very well written. It is certainly not the way I would to see the Warrens honored for their contribution, I had hoped for something more. But the worst part about the site was the announcement that the occult museum is closed and looking for a new home. That makes me sad because like a lot of fans of the Conjuring Universe, I was drawn to the knowledge that these haunted artifacts were at home with the Warren family, safely tucked away and regularly blessed so they can do no harm.
Homeless and haunted - what is next for Annabelle?