I grew up an avid student of the occult and paranormal. Anything macabre, arcane or outright bizarre enthralled me and I would spend hours lying on my stomach in the living room floor leafing through pages of books about ghosts, cryptids and unsolved mysteries of the ancient world. As an adult, that curiosity has only managed to grow despite being girded with a healthy dose of skepticism. I’ve seen too many frauds masquerading themselves as the “definitive truth” to believe anything without proper evidence.
Meanwhile, when it comes to movies, I automatically assume that anything with the tag line “Based on a True Story” — or any similar phrasing — is going to be absolute bullshit and nothing rings more true to this than the tales of Ed and Lorraine Warren.
The Warrens were the most prominent and prolific paranormal researchers of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, and their “experiences” gave us such horror classics as The Amityville Horror and A Haunting in Connecticut. Each story falls along almost identical lines in the most uniform of ways. A blended or otherwise non-traditional family for the time move into an older home already replete with a rich history and, within a month or so, the bizarre phenomena begin to happen. Usually these happenings hone in on a teen or preteen in the hormonal grips of puberty while simultaneously driving an otherwise loving, normal parental figure into a steadily increasing, abusive rage.
The Defeo family massacre, the source of the Amityville haunting incident and their most famous struggle against a supernatural entity, is largely considered to have been a sham by everyone, including the book’s author. More recently, however, we’ve moved away from the over-hyped, over-marketed memory of Amityville as we’ve been introduced to The Conjuring Universe. Following the Warrens as they continue to move across New England battling the forces of evil, each installment represents another spectacular, if not completely recognizable plot.
In The Conjuring, a blended family moves into a home that is soon found to be possessed by the homicidal spirit of a murderous mother. In Annabelle, the creepiest god damn doll any of us has seen since Child’s Play or maybe that episode of Goosebumps back in the ’90s terrorizes a family in a blending of the Amityville formula, with dashes of The Exorcist and Twilight Zone thrown in for good measure. She’s a possessed trinket of the Devil who is eventually captured and put on display in the Warren’s collection in a locked, magically sealed box to prevent her from causing any more trouble. The real-life Annabelle is on display in the Warren’s museum and is in the same sort of box, though the real Annabelle is a rather benign-looking Raggedy Ann doll.
Are the stories of The Conjuring Universe more frightening because of their “true” roots? Maybe. Does the fact that those “true events” likely never happened diminish from that? A bit. Do all of these stories feel a little contrived and hokey? Sure. Are these and other stories from the files of Ed and Lorraine Warren complete, bogus fabrications designed to capitalize on a family’s misfortune, while making themselves rich and famous in the circles of the occult and paranormal? Almost certainly. Should I stop asking questions and then immediately answering them? Probably. Am I going to? Yes, very soon.
I’ll be going to see Annabelle: Creation because, well, for formulaic big-budget scares, they’re definitely not the worst movies I’ve ever seen.
Some might say I lack scruples, but the truth is, in spite of the source material and my abhorrence of the recycled formula, each film has featured some great suspense and made me interested enough in the stories and characters that inspired them to do my own research into the “true events.” Whether or not there is any truth to the controversial tales of Ed and Lorraine Warren remains a topic for another article. As for the movies based on their stories, I’m down to watch them any time.
Annabelle, The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2 are all available on streaming services and on DVD. Be sure to check them out before you see Annabelle: Creation in theaters August 11th.