Lorraine and (the late) Ed Warren are infamous in the field of paranormal research, and thanks to their high-profile cases in the media, many of their investigations have provided source material for popular horror films throughout the years.
James Wan’s supernatural chiller The Conjuring (2013) was the latest to delve into the tales discovered in their terrifying findings, though other famous horror films to incorporate them include: The Amityville Horror (1979), A Haunting in Connecticut (2009), Annabelle (2014), and of course, the upcoming sequel to The Conjuring, based on The Enfield Poltergeist case which made headlines in the UK in the late 1970s.
Often dismissed as hacks by critics, notably due to the couple’s courting of media attention, it is understandable why some would be skeptical of their line of work. However, whether you believe in the validity of their research or not, there’s no denying that it makes for effective horror storytelling.
Below are some of their most famous cases, which will undoubtedly haunt your dreams – and get you in the mood for Wan’s new movie. Enjoy. And keep telling yourself: It’s only a movie… Oh, wait.
Haunted dolls are a staple of horror cinema. There is just something so inherently creepy about dolls, it makes perfect sense for filmmakers to use them to induce nightmares in the context of a chiller movie. When you walk into a room and meet the gaze of a doll, it feels like its eyes are penetrating your inner fears. There have been countless horror films featuring the spooky bastards, including the 2014 Conjuring spin-off Annabelle based on the real life case of the same name.
According to the Warrens, the real Annabelle case dates all the way back to 1970, when a Raggedy Ann doll was purchased from an antique store by a woman for her daughter. Upon arriving home that day, the doll was tossed on a bed and not given a second thought – at least not until it started to make itself more comfortable by changing positions. Alarmed, but choosing to not let superstitions cloud their logic, they attributed the doll’s shifting positions to the bed being nudged. Their opinion changed when it started making itself at home.
The doll was also a deft hand with the quill, leaving notes around the house which contained the messages “Help Me’’ and “Help Lou.’’ Then, one night they would return home and find the doll covered in blood. Thus, an expert was called in, who put them into contact with the spirit inhabiting the doll. Her name was Annabelle, a seven-year-old girl who was murdered years before and left to rot in a field. During the séance with the expert medium, Annabelle told them she felt comfortable living with them and wanted to stay and be loved. Feeling sympathetic, the mother and daughter agreed to let the doll stay with them as part of their little family. However, it was telling fibs. This was no little girl; Annabelle was a demon with behavioral problems.
The Warrens were brought in to investigate, and their results concluded that the doll was possessed. It now resides in their Occult Museum in Connecticut, living the dream in a display case for paying customers to goggle at.
The Perron Family Haunting
By now, some of you will be aware of the “true story” behind The Conjuring. It’s been well documented following the monumental success of James Wan’s film. However, if you haven’t read up on it, here’s what happened:
Seeking the tranquillity of the country, Roger and Carolyn Perron – along with their children – decided to move to Harrisville, Rhode Island. in 1970 for a seemingly perfect life. To the naked eye, the Old Arnold Estate looked like the perfect home for family life. Unbeknownst to the family, it was a property burdened by generations of disturbing suicides and murder.
At firsts, the spirits were harmless – friendly, even. They would help with the chores, play with the children, and make themselves a welcome presence in the home. However, later, they would discover the not-so-nice spirits – the upstarts who would bang doors, make furniture levitate, and assault members of the family. Though it hasn’t been disclosed, it’s been suggested that one of the spirits even molested one of the children.
However, the worst of all the spirits was Bathsheba Sherman – a witch and Satanist back in the day – who hanged herself on a tree on the property when she lived there sometime in the 19th century. She was also an unsociable old wench and wanted the Perrons out. One night, Mrs. Perron awoke to find the witch sitting by her bed, warning her to “Get out. Get out. I’ll drive you out with death and gloom.’’ Needless to say, she wasn’t welcoming them with a casserole.
From then on out, the hauntings worsened until the family were forced to leave. Unlike in the film, the Warrens were unable to dispel the vicious spirits, forcing the family to vacate their home when finances allowed them to. The following owners also reported the occurrence of paranormal activity.
The Amityville Horror
Perhaps the most famous Warren case, due in no small part to The Amityville Horror film franchise and best-selling book of the same name. It’s a case beleaguered by controversy, resulting in lawsuits. However, read about it before bed with the lights off, and it might send chills up your spine.
On November 13, 1974, Ronald DeFeo, Jr., shot and killed six members of his family, including his parents and siblings, in a house situated in a quiet suburban neighborhood in Amityville, Long Island. George and Kathy Lutz and their three children moved into the house. After 28 days, the Lutzes left the house, claiming to have been terrorized by spooks while living there.
Criticisms surrounding this case have accused it of being sensationalized, inaccurate, or just flat-out false. Regardless, George and Kathy both believed the events to be true and even took a polygraph test to appease the naysayers, which they passed. Perhaps the most upsetting facet about this case is that it spawned a series which included The Amityville Dollhouse.
The Enfield Poltergeist
James Wan’s The Conjuring 2 is based on this case, which dates all the way back to 1977. Unfortunately, it doesn’t stray too far from the events which transpired during the other supposed hauntings. Ghosts like to shift furniture, bang on walls, and make objects float. Not to be insensitive to the people who have supposedly experienced hauntings, but their lack of creativity is to blame for the formulaic tropes that make stale supernatural films seem like a dime-a-dozen. Rant over. However, solace can be taken in knowing that Wan’s craftsmanship will make this movie one of the better ones.
This case took place within a council house in Brimsdown, England, when mother Peggy Hodgson claimed that her children witnessed toys being thrown and furniture shifting. When police were called, one of the constables was sure he witnessed a chair move by itself, though he wasn’t sure as to whether it was ghostly or mundane jostling. As time went on, the children were raised into the air and demonic voices tormented the family.
The Enfield Poltergeist story attracted substantial UK press coverage between the years 1977 and 1979. As such with cases of this ilk, it’s had its supporters and detractors; freelance writer Guy Lyon Playfair was adamant the house was haunted, even chronicling his findings in his 1980 book This House Is Haunted. Other investigations have dismissed it as a hoax.
Trial of Arne Cheyenne Johnson
The trial of Arne Cheyenne Johnson in 1981 is the first known court case in the United States to use the “Devil Made Me Do It” defense. As such, that was the moniker given to the case by the media, during a time when America’s “Satanic Panic” epidemic was first gaining traction following supposed ritual abuse. Even though this had nothing to do with cults, the Devil was in the headlines, and people were scared.
The story involves the murder of landlord Alan Bono at the hands of Arne Cheyenne Johnson, while the latter’s fiancée watched in horror. Johnson claimed that he was possessed when he murdered his landlord, but this wasn’t the first time the involved parties had encountered demonic activity.
Prior to the murder, the 11-year-old brother of Johnson’s fiancée, Debbie Glatzel, played host to demons. When the Warrens were called in to dispel the demons from the child’s body, Johnson apparently invited them into his, and they obliged.
The defense didn’t stand up in court, and Johnson was convicted on the charge of manslaughter, serving a four-year sentence. A full account of the experience can be read in Gerald Brittle’s book The Devil in Connecticut.
A Haunting in Connecticut
In 1986 Carmen and Al Snedeker moved to Southington, Connecticut, to be closer to the hospital treating their ailing son. Renting a nearby house which used to be a funeral home with the remnants of a mortuary still in the basement – as well as a graveyard outside – it was already synonymous with death.
The supernatural occurrences reportedly consisted of water turning red, lights flickering, dishes moving on their own, and the appearance of the dead. Some of the events shown in the film – such as the kid being spun around by invisible forces and the discovery of the toe tags – also occurred, so say the Snedekers.
According to the Warrens, the spirits were pissed because the morticians used to have sex with their dead bodies. This case has been disputed as a hoax, with author Ray Garton – who was hired by the Warrens to write a book about it – even criticizing it for not adding up. Previous and future residents also dismissed the case as being fabricated for the sake of Hollywood hype.
The Smurl Haunting
Another case, another poltergeist causing the same type of mayhem we’ve come to expect from these supernatural miscreants by now. This time, the story revolves around Jack and Janet Smurl, who experienced a well-documented haunting from 1974 to 1987. The hauntings were chronicled in a book in 1986 and adapted for a film in 1991, both of which were aptly titled The Haunted.
The family claimed that a television burst into flames, water pipes leaked, markings appeared on walls, and toilets flushed by themselves. Or perhaps it raises the age-old question of: Do poltergeists poop? Nevertheless, it’s a rather chilling tale that would serve as powerful source material for a future James Wan project.
So now we’ve established that the miscreant spectre didn’t like television and had a penchant for vandalism. However, once the Warrens arrived, their findings discovered three demonic entities were responsible for the misdemeanors; therefore, a priest had to be called in to perform an exorcism.
The investigation was dismissed as a hoax by The American Society for Psychical Research. Paul Kurtz – then chairman of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal – stated the Warrens weren’t credible investigators, while dismissing the Smurls’ story as either a hoax or a manifestation brought on by delusion. Either way, their story still received enough national media attention to warrant them a book deal.
The Demonic Werewolf in London
Finally, something to break the monotony of ghosts and their furniture-throwing hissy fits. This time we have a werewolf – or at least a hybrid of demon and werewolf. This account is based on the story of Bill Ramsey, a real werewolf in London.
Ramsey first demonstrated demonically possessed lycanthrope behavior at the age of nine. Apparently, he displayed superhuman strength, even managing to rip out a post from its concrete dwellings. He would also try to bite at his family and relatives before having seizures. In 1983 – now a grown man – he admitted himself to an institution after the cravings for blood returned, but when in hospital, he attacked a nurse and barked like a dog.
In 1987, while displaying a wolfish demeanor, he attacked a police officer with superhuman force. It took six more officers altogether to restrain the beast. The fiasco led to mass news coverage, and the Warrens were on point to wrestle the raging mongrel from his wicked soul.
After being flown to Connecticut, the wolf demon was exorcised successfully; and Ramsey has been a good dog ever since.
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