Being given rave ratings by gee-whiz reviewers, while being panned as just another cliché-ridden scary movie by intelligent film critics, The Conjuring is a piece of work. It depicts Roger and Carolyn Perron (played by Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor), together with their five daughters, moving into an old Rhode Island farmhouse in 1971 where, well, hysteria soon reigns. The flames are fanned by Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) the famous—or infamous—paranormal “investigators.”
Lorraine Warren (b. 1927) is a self-claimed clairvoyant and “aura” reader, and a “light-trance” medium. To appreciate her unique abilities, one needs to read the chapter on Bigfoot in the Warrens’ ghost-written book, Ghost Hunters (1989). There Lorraine Warren describes how once in Appalachia she sensed a presence and had a vision of a shaggy-haired creature. After she received telepathically projected images from the ape man and learned he had an injured (big) foot, she sent him healing thoughts. Although she doesn’t seem to be really clairvoyant (she failed to detect the Amityville Horror case as the deliberate hoax it was), everywhere she shows traits associated with a fantasy-prone personality.
Ed Warren (born Warren Edward Miney, 1926–2006), like his wife, was a Catholic of a medieval bent, actually believing in demons. Ed even handed out business cards describing himself as a “demonologist.” He had developed his hobby of painting pictures of “haunted” houses into “investigating” sites with ghost hunting equipment—cameras, an ultraviolet light, a crucifix, and holy water.
Typically, the Warrens would arrive and soon transform a ghost or poltergeist case into a demonic one, with a book deal on the horizon. Some of the coauthors of their books have reportedly since admitted that Ed Warren instructed them to make up incidents and add details to produce “scary” stories. When I met the Warrens on Sally Jesse Raphael (aired October 30, 1992), I found Ed Warren a bullying type who, backstage, swore like a loud-mouthed sailor.
According to an August 1977 article in The Providence Journal, the Perrons’ spooky events began with a phenomenon well known to science. “Mrs. Perron said she awoke before dawn one morning to find an apparition by her bed: the head of an old woman hanging off to one side over an old gray dress. There was a voice reverberating, ‘Get out. Get out. I’ll drive you out with death and gloom.’” Knowledgeable skeptics will immediately recognize the “apparition” as having the characteristics of a common “waking dream” that occurs in the twilight between wakefulness and sleep. (See my The Science of Ghosts, 2012.)
Today, one of the Perron daughters, (Andrea) admits that the movie made many changes to their story. For example, instead of the Perrons seeking help from the Warrens, the latter actually just showed up at the Perrons’ front door one day. And far from successfully exorcising the demons to end the haunting, says Andrea Perron, her family had to learn to live with the nine spirits for several years to come. But Perron—who has penned her own set of books on the events—claims director James Wan presented “the essence of what we went through.” (See Peter C.T. Elsworth, “‘The Conjuring’ depicts family’s reported haunting . . .,” The Providence Journal, July 17, 2013.)
Be that as it may, viewers over the age of twenty will probably soon tire of the movie’s repeatedly conjured-up “jump scares,” but, I can’t help but point out, there are 112 minutes to endure. To me it seemed like forever.
Rating: one wooden nickel (out of four)