By Jim Penson (Arlington, Texas)


The Conjuring Conjures Pretty Good Scares

If you are a fan of ghost stories in the movies, you are undoubtedly aware of the The Amityville Horror franchise, and probably A Haunting in Connecticut. These movies have more in common than that they claim to be based on “real events”. Ed and Lorraine Warren were a little known pair of paranormal investigators before the term was in general use, but who were rocketed to fame and notoriety by the extreme success of The Amityville Horror, which was released in 1979, based on a book by Jay Anson published in 1977. This success was almost certainly due to the fact that both the book and movie were depicted as “true stories”, a claim that led to a series of claims, counter claims, and lawsuits. At one point, the attorney for the Lutzes, the family at the center of the story, claimed the entire story was concocted over “a few bottles of wine” with the Lutzes who were in financial hard times and trying to get out from under a burdening mortgage.

Ed and Lorraine Warren (along with their nephew, John Zaffis, of the SyFy Channel’s Haunted Collector) were the investigators on the case. A Haunting in Connecticut was also alleged to be based on true events, with the Warrens involved in this investigation as well, and was based on a book written by Jay Garton who has since vehemently denied any truthfulness having been contracted to write a non-fiction book, and having been told to “make it scary” by Ed Warren. Garton has repeatedly stated that Ed Warren was motivated by making a successful, profitable book and movie, and that the Warrens were almost criminally engaged in convincing people who probably had very real emotional issues that they were the victims of demons. It should be stated that Garton has been accused of “sour grapes” in these allegations, as he had no involvement in the movie (or subsequent profits) and only profited from the book contract which didn’t entail any profits from its sale.

The Warrens have been trying for over 20 years to get the story of the Perron family at the center of The Conjuring made into a movie, and eventually succeeded in getting James Wan’s interest. The veracity of the story aside, the movie is at times an almost comic glorification of the Warrens who are really the central characters of the movie. Ed is portrayed as a crusading force for good with his brilliant and sensitive wife Lorraine at his side. Garton says that Ed at one time told him that due to not being able to work as a result of emotional problems, he was selling plates with haunted houses painted on them door to door. Hardly a heroic figure.

The family at the center of the book and movie are very convinced that they are telling the truth. These things really did happen. People who seriously investigate the supernatural are very quick to state that personal experience cannot be denied. Generally, the events that people relate are not the problem; it is how they interpreted the events, and to what forces they attribute them. Houses tend not to be haunted. People do. In fact, subsequent owners of the houses involved in Amityville, Connecticut, and Conjuring all relate very peaceful non-supernatural experiences, except for the hordes of ghost chasers constantly seeking to gain access to them.

All this aside, James Wan, who also made Insidious, does a good job of making this type of movie. Patrick Wilson, who played the father in Insidious plays the Ed Warren role. I think my problem with the movie, aside from the glorification of the Warrens, has more to do with the deception involved in passing it off as a “true story” than the actual movie making. It delivers good, high quality scares, although the acting is more reminiscent of a Discovery Channel ghost special than a first run movie. Lili Taylor plays the mother of 5 daughters and wife of Wilson. She was the lead in the dreadful remake of 1963’s The Haunting, based on Shirley Jackson’s classic ghost story, and comes off very summer stock in both roles.

If you like a good ghost story, you won’t be disappointed, just don’t come out of the theater thinking you’d seen some piece of verifiable history. Remember that Hollywood is not in the business of warning or educating you. They are in the business of making money. The Conjuring did 17 million opening day. Do people who see these movies really think they are true? I suspect fewer do than the makers of the movies think, but that won’t stop people from going, and that’s all that really matters.

Rating: 4/5



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