How Accurate Are ‘The Conjuring’ Movies to The Real-Life Cases?

The Big Picture

  • The Conjuring franchise is the highest-grossing horror franchise of all time, beating out established universes like Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street.
  • The real-life Ed and Lorraine Warren claimed to have investigated thousands of supernatural cases and founded the New England Society for Psychic Research in 1952.
  • The events portrayed in the films The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 were based on real experiences, including investigations of the Perron family and the Enfield Poltergeist.

With eight films and at least two more on the way, The Conjuring universe is the highest-grossing horror franchise of all time. Yes, demon hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren (the best horror movie couple ever) beat out established universes like Halloween and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Portrayed in the franchise by actors Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, the real-life Warrens claimed they investigated thousands of supernatural cases. Likewise, The Conjuring movies announce themselves with the creepiest of descriptions: « based on a true story. » Critics have questioned the validity of the Warrens’ claims for decades. It’s a valid impulse — whether you fall into the believer camp or the skeptic camp (or the neighboring « I don’t care » tent), the biggest appeal behind all things supernatural is the lack of conclusive proof. Every discovery or eyewitness account can be debunked as a hoax as much as they can be interpreted as evidence. With opinions strongly differing and the truth of these cases only known to those involved, all we can do is pull a Dragnet and report « just the facts. » When it comes to The Conjuring‘s nuts and bolts, how accurate are these spooktacular masterpieces?

RELATED: This is How ‘The Conjuring’ Morphed Into a Shared Universe

Who Were Ed and Lorraine Warren?

Image via Warner Bros.

To start, Ed and Lorraine Warren were a married couple from New England. Ed, a believer from a young age, operated as a demonologist while Lorraine was classified as a clairvoyant and a « trance medium. » The pair met when a young Ed worked as a theater usher and they married after he served in World War II. Lorraine gave birth to their daughter Judy soon after. Both active Roman Catholics, the couple became amateur spiritual investigators, founding the New England Society for Psychic Research in 1952. The cases they claimed to investigate number in the tens of thousands and involve malevolent entities as well as classic hauntings. They worked closely with the Catholic Church and never charged families for their services. The pair also gave lectures about the supernatural and kept dangerous items in their Occult Museum (which is closed to visitors, sadly). Some of the Warrens’ cases included the most name-drop hauntings in pop culture: the Amityville house, the Snedeker house (A Haunting in Connecticut), and the incidents popularized through The Conjuring movies. Many denounced them as frauds, especially after the heightened attention The Conjuring films brought. According to TravelChannel, before her death in 2019, Lorraine combated the skeptics and agreed to « scientific testing »; UCLA parapsychologists labeled her a « light » medium.

How Much of ‘The Conjuring’ Was Real?

Lili Taylor as Carolyn Perron holding a lit match in the dark in The Conjuring
Image via Warner Bros.

Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, director James Wan was « adamant » the original The Conjuring movie stay « as close to the true story as possible. » Likewise, screenwriters Chad and Carey W. Hayes strove to accurately represent the events and people involved. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga spent time with the real Lorraine Warren (Ed passed away in 2006), with Farmiga growing close with Lorraine.

Members of the Perron family still attest to enduring a decade of horrors in the Old Arnold house in Harrisville, Rhode Island. Andrea Perron (Shanley Caswell), the eldest daughter of Roger (Ron Livingston) and Carolyn (Lili Taylor), published a three-part memoir entitled House of Darkness House of Light. Andrea details incidents such as the stink of « rotting flesh, » a disturbing « presence » in the basement, and the girls’ beds hovering off the ground. The Perrons lacking enough finances to move to another house wasn’t just a dramatic plot device. The real-life family had no recourse except to stay despite these disturbing events.

A third party recommended the Warrens investigate. Ed and Lorraine conducted a séance inside the house — not an exorcism. But Andrea shared with People how « we were all scared to death and scarred for life. My mother was attacked (some say possessed) by an entity. [Her] chair began to levitate and then within a split second, she was thrown from the dining room to the parlor. » Allegedly, this violent entity was a spirit named Bathsheba, who “resented” Carolyn’s presence in the house. A real-life Bathsheba Sherman lived near Harrisville in the 1800s. The locals suspected her of witchcraft and infanticide, but, lacking evidence, authorities never charged her with a crime. Concerned that the Warrens’ presence aggravated Bathsheba, Roger Perron had them leave.

The Perrons stayed in the Arnold house until moving was financially feasible. « [The house] taught me everything I need to know about life, » Andrea shared with People. « Because of it, I have lived fearlessly. » She also ominously stated, « Woe be unto those who provoke in that house, » if you didn’t feel creeped out enough. For her part, Lorraine remained haunted by the Perrons’ case: « The things that went on there were just so incredibly frightening. It still affects me to talk about it today. »

How Much of ‘The Conjuring 2’ Was Real?

Madison Wolfe and Vera Farmiga in 'The Conjuring 2.'
Image via Warner Bros.

Researchers have debated the Enfield Poltergeist since the incidents made headlines in the late 1970s. Peggy Hodgson (Frances O’Connor) and her daughters Margaret (Lauren Esposito) and Janet (Madison Wolfe) said they experienced unexplained phenomena inside their home. According to the Hodgsons, disruptive sounds rang out, furniture moved on its own, and an invisible force dragged the girls through the air. Janet didn’t appear traditionally possessed, but she « would speak in a deep, scratchy voice, claiming to be the ghost of a man named Bill Wilkens, who had died in the house years before. » When the family called the police, local officers testified to « a chair ris[ing] up and mov[ing] across the floor. » Maurice Gross, a paranormal investigator, investigated the Hodgsons’ home and reported similar activity. As depicted in The Conjuring 2, the Warrens traveled to Britain and backed up the family’s story.

Skeptics who critique the Enfield case argue two main points. One, Janet could have easily altered her voice. Two, the infamous photos of the girls hovering in the air were easy to fake. An adult Janet maintains that her experiences were real but admitted to The Telegraph that she and Margaret felt pressured by the media attention and faked « two percent » of the incidents. What else was truly fake? A demonic nun trying to kill Ed Warren in an overly complicated fashion (more on that later).

Was ‘The Devil Made Me Do It’ a Real Court Case?

Patrick Wilson as Ed Warren holding up a cross at the camera in The Conjuring 3
Image via Warner Bros.

The third Conjuring film, subtitled The Devil Made Me Do It, has the wildest incidental differences while preserving its inspiration’s premise. In 1981, Arne Cheyenne Johnson (Ruairi O’Connor) killed his friend Alan Bono, a manager of a local dog kennel. For the first time in American law, Johnson and his lawyer proposed that Johnson was demonically possessed during the murder and therefore innocent. Similar to the film, laywer Martin Minella dramatically espoused, « The courts have dealt with the existence of God. Now they’re going to have to deal with the existence of the Devil. »

Although Judge Robert Callahan tossed out this defense and Johnson was convicted of first-degree manslaughter, Johnson and his future wife Deborah Glatzel’s (Sarah Catherine Hook) family were adamant about his possession as well as its cause. The Warrens and several Catholic priests spent days exorcising demons from Deborah’s younger brother David (Julian Hilliard). Judy Glatzel (Charlene Amoia), their mother, swore to The New York Times in 1981 that David « would kick, bite, [and] spit, » and « powerful forces would flop him rapidly head to toe like a rag doll. » Lorraine claimed Johnson invited the demons to possess him instead of David; they accepted the invitation, leading to Alan Bono’s death.

Outside these claims, all the fun scary moments in The Devil Made Me Do It were invented for dramatic effect. There’s no evidence a demon worshiper (Eugenie Bondurant) targeted Johnson and the Warrens. And in stark contrast to the Perrons and the Hodgsons, in 2007, David and his brother Carl Glatzel sued Lorraine Warren and Gerald Brittle, the author of a book about David’s possession. They insisted David had experienced mental health difficulties and the Warrens exploited their circumstances. Brittle countered with a statement claiming the Glatzel family « vouched for [the book]’s accuracy » before its publication.

What Are the Origins of Valak and Annabelle?

Bonnie Aarons as The Nun in a promotional still for the 2018 film
Image via Warner Bros.

The Conjuring franchise proved successful enough to spawn two spin-off series. 2018’s The Nun focuses on Valak, The Conjuring 2‘s main villain and the Grand President of Hell, if a 17th-century demonology manual knows what it’s talking about. The offscreen Lorraine Warren never had beef with Valak, but the demon nun on Red Bull mixes two of Lorraine’s real-life experiences. Once, Lorraine « felt the presence of a nun » when she and Ed investigated England’s most haunted church. Separately, she felt haunted by a threatening presence that appeared as « a black whirlwind of black mass. »

The first Conjuring spin-off, however, is perhaps the most iconic. That creepy-ass Annabelle doll is as real as can be. Thankfully, she’s locked up in the Warrens’ museum. Although the real Annabelle resembles a Raggedy Ann doll, she still flaunts her nasty pedigree. Donna, a nursing student, received an old doll as a birthday present. Odd things purportedly happened: the doll popped up in different places around the house. Horrifying handwritten messages appeared. The name Annabelle entered the picture after a séance (hint: those never pan out well) intuited that the spirit of a young girl named Annabelle Higgins lived inside the doll.

Supposedly, Annabelle was lonely. She wanted to « inhabit the doll » permanently and hang out with her new bestie. When the Warrens heard about Annabelle, they warned Donna she had been tricked by a demonic force. According to the Warrens’ case files, « the spirit was not looking to stay attached to the doll, it was looking to possess a human host. » A Catholic priest exorcised the house and the Warrens took Annabelle into their possession. It was a rocky drive home, literally: the Warrens claimed the furious demon inside Annabelle tried to run their car off the road several times. No backseat driving, ma’am!

The main Conjuring films combine realism and story with some of the best cinematic flair in modern memory. Whether these harrowing events happened or just occurred without that exaggerated third-act intensity, they’re damn good horror films grounded in empathy. Ed and Lorraine’s fictionalized love story is one of humane selflessness, which sets this franchise apart from its peers. Although there’s no release date for The Conjuring: Last Rites, James Wan suggested the fourth installment may be the last. That’ll be a truly sad day for fans of this gorgeous onscreen marriage, but all good things must come to an end — even a badass demon-fighting couple.

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