During mid-June 2016, after her invitation, I drove to the rural Rhode Island home of Norma Sutcliffe, who lives in the allegedly demon-haunted house that was the subject of the 2013 scary movie The Conjuring. Whereas “demons” allegedly plagued the Perron family for ten years beginning in January 1971 (Perron 2011, 2013, 2014), Norma Sutcliffe (having acquired the property in 1987) has lived there with her companion Gerry for three times as long, and has never had trouble from demonic forces.
Movie fans—brainwashed into believing that demons actually exist—are another matter. Since release of the movie (a box-office hit that grossed $137 million), the couple has been plagued by a “‘Conjuring’-instigated siege of their property”—according to legal papers filed in their lawsuit against Warner Bros. studios. Unannounced people have suddenly appeared on the property with video cameras in hand; others have made harassing telephone calls late at night; and there have been Internet discussions about destroying the 300-year-old residence because “it’s so full of evil”—among other outrages (Sutcliffe 2015, 2016).
Over more than two days in the area, I soaked up the ambiance of countryside, historic house and barn, and old cemeteries, and I delved deep into archival records—all shedding light on the claims, ranging from exaggerations to outright falsehoods, made in regard to the alleged demons and their alleged behavior.
I was not surprised. My earlier analysis of the case (Nickell 2014) showed that the Perrons—not the father, who was often away on business, but the mother and her five daughters—reported a variety of incidents that are less than mystifying. Simple explanations include the effects of strong winds, misperceptions, waking dreams (that occur in a state between being asleep and awake), the pranks of schoolgirls, one child’s having had an imaginary playmate, suggestion and role-playing, and other factors, including the effects of memory after some thirty to forty years. (See also Bartholomew and Nickell 2015.)
If this were not enough, they became involved with the notorious Ed and Lorraine Warren, a phony “demonologist” and “clairvoyant” who sought to capitalize on the family’s troubles—the father calling them “a pair of two-bit charlatans” (quoted in Perron 2013, 263). (The Warrens made a career of convincing “haunted” Catholic-raised families that they were plagued by demons, and seeking book and/or movie deals. Their co-authors were, some admit, encouraged to fabricate elements to make the books “scary” [Nickell 2014, 23].)
I intend to write more about this case but, meanwhile, I can’t help but point out a simple way to keep demons at bay—based on my experience and that of Norma Sutcliffe: Don’t believe in them; they are not plaguing skeptics!
Bartholomew, Robert, and Joe Nickell. 2015. American Hauntings: The True Stories behind Hollywood’s Scariest Movies—from The Exorcist to The Conjuring. Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger.
Nickell, Joe. 2014. “The Conjuring: Ghosts? Poltergeist? Demons?” Skeptical Inquirer 37:2 (March/April), 22–25.
Perron, Andrea. 2011, 2013, 2014. House of Darkness House of Light (Bloomington, IN: AuthorHouse.
Sutcliffe, Norma. 2015, 2016. Various communications to the author, including in person, June 15–16, 2016.