“When Fantasy Meets Reality: The Conjuring”
Another old-school horror movie hit the theatres last month called The Conjuring, and it’s doing remarkably well as far as the horror genre goes; but unlike many flicks that are cookie-cutter yarns using the same tired formula, this one is- at least in part- based on a actual events involving real people and two iconic pioneers in paranormal research- Edward and Lorraine Warren.
Half marketing ploy, half respectful homage, the producers of The Conjuring hype the “based on a true story” aspect, but the names Ed and Lorraine Warren have been well known long before this movie’s release to those who’ve made a career of the serious study of psychical research. They were ghost hunters before ghost hunting was cool, back when it was serious science. They were rock stars to budding scholars like myself.
This isn’t the first film to be based on their work, either. Unless you were born yesterday then you’ve at least heard of, if not seen, the 1975 classic, The Amityville Horror– which led to 10 films.
When Lorraine realized that she had psychic abilities and that she could go into homes where people were having problems such as those in The Conjuring, she saw an incredible chance to use it to help people, and help she did in the years since.
In 1952, the Warrens founded the New England Society for Psychic Research, the oldest ghost-hunting group in New England. With well over 10,000 investigations in their storied career, they have authored numerous books about the paranormal and case studies of various hauntings. Many of their books grace my office library.
During the 1970s and ‘80s, the Warrens were part of some of the most prolific case studies in psychical research and leading contributors to the advancement of Electronic Voice Phenomenon techniques.
Sadly, Ed stepped across the great divide seven years ago, but Lorraine is alive, well, and full of much of the same adventurous spark that made them legends in the paranormal field.
She says that Ed would agree that the haunting and possession depicted in The Conjuring was one of the most extreme cases they’d ever witnessed.
As far as the new film is concerned, it depicts- admittedly in typical sensationalistic Hollywood fashion, the story of the Perrons as they dealt with both benign and malicious spirits in their Rhode Island farmhouse with their five girls in 1971.
Warren says that the movie does a “pretty good job” at keeping the storyline close to what really happened.
“I can remember the places where it was very bad such as the dirt cellar [in the Perron home]. I can remember my husband going down the stairs and there was a professor from a university in New Haven, Connecticut who wanted to see what was happening in the home.
When I came a few minutes later, Ed signaled me to go upstairs. When I got to the top and I looked in this room and it was all dark and this grotesque face was in there and I made the sign of the cross in the air and said, ‘in the name of Jesus Christ I command you to leave and go back to where you came from.’ That was a bad case.”
The Perrons themselves star in some of the promotional materials of The Conjuring, which seems to add truth that the happenings were true. “Because I was the youngest and the most vulnerable, I was approached more than anyone, and I actually had a relationship with that (ghostly) boy,” April Perron says in one trailer.
Many of their cases have been debated over the years, especially the Amityville case- that many say was simply made up.
The president of the New England Skeptical Society, Steven Novella, doubts the story and told USA Today that “there is absolutely no reason to believe there is any legitimacy” to the Warren’s reports on the Perron case.
Andrea Perron, in return, responded that The Conjuring “is a fair reflection of the chaos and danger we faced at the farm.”
“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.”
Hey, I’ll be the first to stand up and say that a dose of honest skepticism is good. At the end of the day it’s important to keep two things in mind: The Conjuring is a movie; as such, its primary goal is to entertain and make money. Therefore, view it with a light heart. Although the events in the film are glamorized with studio special effects, they are based on actual events that are meant to inspire and encourage debate, research, and- above all else- foster an open mind about a universe that we are only beginning to understand.
© 2013 R. Wolf Baldassarro/Deep Forest Productions