‘The Conjuring’: a Real-Life Horror Story or Mostly Fiction?

THE CONJURING

In its opening weekend, The Conjuring racked in a hefty $41.5 million and has since received favorable reviews from critics, who describe the spookfest as “artfully crafted from the first scares to the closing credits” and an “uncommonly intense and frightening experience.”

Despite the film’s lack of gore, guts, or any torture-porn fare, it received an ‘R’ rating. Simple hand clapping, dark corners, and empty basement cellars provide enough fodder to induce spine-tingling chills. “When we sent it [to MPAA], they gave us the R-rating,” said producer Walter Hamada, as reported by Screen Rant. “When we asked them why, they basically said, ‘It’s just so scary. [There are] no specific scenes or tone you could take out to get it PG-13.’”

These elements make director James Wan’s (Saw, Insidious) masterfully executed vision more intriguing, as well as the marketed tagline that the film is based on a true story. The film industry has taken the liberty over the past few decades to put a stamp of approval on loosely based truths in scary movies. How much of The Conjuring is fact and how much of it is fiction? WARNING: Spoilers ahead.

Although the film centers on the haunting of Roger (Ron Livingston) and Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor) and their five daughters when they move into an 18th century farmhouse in Harrisville, R.I. in 1971, it also focuses on a parallel story of paranormal researchers Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) who are enlisted by the family to help them rid of the spirits attacking them.

The Warrens are Perrons are very much real people—as the film reminds audiences in the opening moments to the end credits when actual photos of the families are revealed. In the marketing campaign, the real family was featured in one of the film’s trailers, telling their personal accounts of the events. “The owner said, ‘Do you and your family a favor… keep the lights on at night,’” Roger said in the clip of his experience buying the house.

Lorraine, now 86, was a consultant on shooting The Conjuring. (Her husband Ed had passed away in 2006.) A trance medium, she has been cited as the inspiration for the clairvoyant character in Poltergeist, and the duo were consulted for their case study that later became The Amityville Horror. The Warrens had created the New England Society for Paranormal Activity (N.E.S.P.A.) in 1952 and even had their own Occult Museum, and like in the film, did college tours discussing their work in seminars.

Andrea Perron, 54, the eldest daughter in the family, released the first book in her three-volume memoir, House of Darkness House of Light, in 2011, nearly 30 years after the chain of ghostly events, saying there had been enough time and distance from the actual events to now write the story. She admitted in an interview in USA Today that the film had elements of both truth and fiction.

“For the purpose of clarification, ‘The Conjuring’ IS based on a ‘true story’… our story,” Perron told HorrorMovies.ca. “However, the film is not based on my trilogy ‘House of Darkness House of Light’. It is, instead, based upon the case files of Ed & Lorraine Warren.”

“Though Mrs. Warren and I both provided the studio with more information than they could handle, the screenwriters had much to pick & choose from, amalgamating it into a cohesive rendering which I am proud of, having been privileged to see it as a private screening last March,” she added.

While the hauntings occurred quickly in the nearly two-hour film, the Perron family actually lived in the farmhouse for nine years, and the Warrens investigated their home from 1973 to 1974. The malevolent spirits frequently attacked the family in the film, although Andrea described them as both harmless and scary. The Annabelle doll story introduced in the beginning of the film featured a burnt and a sinister-looking porcelain doll, but on the Warrens’ case study of the doll on their website, they describe her as a Raggedy Ann Doll. Similar to the film, Andrea described a recurring smell of rotting flesh and the family would experience their beds being lifted and other hauntings at a particular time—at 5:15 a.m. instead of the film’s 3:07 a.m. They mostly stayed away from the dark basement cellar in real life as much as possible, unlike their common encounters with the space in the film. And although Ed performs an exorcism on Carolyn in The Conjuring, Lorraine told USA Today that he would never have done it in reality because it must be performed by a Catholic priest.

The Warrens have faced a number of skeptics and critics on their work, one of which concerned their most famous case, which spawned two movies of the same name—The Amityville Horror—in 1979 and 2005. William Weber, the lawyer for Ronald DeFeo who had been convicted for murdering his family—which was the inspiration behind the book that later spawned the films—said the story was largely fabricated “over many bottles of wine,” as reported in a 1979 article from the Lakeland Ledger. The exaggerated parts included the green slime oozing from keyholes and the unexplained noises. Also, the book The Amityville Horror Conspiracy pointed to the events as being a hoax.

Even so, Lorraine and the Perron family still hold their farmhouse hauntings to be true. Regardless of how many of the details in The Conjuring are from real life, it still stands that the film is entertaining and a frightening romp to watch.

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