Based on a True Story: THE CONJURING, ANNABELLE and The Warrens

Based on a True Story is a column that explores the reality on which our favorite horror movies, shows and icons are based on. Sometimes, the truth is scarier than the fiction.

People watch television series and movies to escape reality, and think of them as works of fiction created for enjoyment. A favorite genre for many is horror: a genre that instills fear, enjoyment and excitement into people, filled with seemingly unbelievable tales that provoke awe in the viewers, but has more to it than meets the eye. I distinctly remember my parents telling me when I was little that, “it’s just a movie, it’s make believe. Things like this don’t happen in real life. There’s nothing to be scared of!” However, although most people would like to agree with statements like that, inspiration for horror takes an insanely literal turn in almost every case. If I told you that your favorite horror movie was based on a true story, would you believe me? Almost every work of horror takes inspiration from a real life event, making the unbelievable more real than ever. 

A chilling example of this comes from the movie The Conjuring, which gained popularity quickly after its release in 2013 and grew to become a series of movies that would sell out in theaters and take the horror fan base by storm. The Conjuring, focused on the demonic spirit of a witch named Bathsheba who was known to possess people who inhabited her property. The Conjuring 2, which was about a demon named Valak, more commonly known as Beelzebub, who tormented a family to insanity in London. Lastly, the most recent movie of the series, Annabelle, was dedicated to a porcelain doll that was being controlled by a malicious demon that tormented those in the house it resided in. With horrifying special effects, an intense plot and weighing heavily on the paranormal side, people were quick to assume that this series was a pure work of fiction. However, the tales of Ed and Lorraine Warren, the demonologists portrayed in the film by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, are far from imaginary.

Ed Warren, a demonologist, and Lorraine Warren, a trance medium, have been a force to reckon with since 1952 when they founded the New England Society for Psychic Research. For 50 years the couple fought demonic spirits, helped troubled souls pass on and exorcised objects and people. Priests often called upon the couple for help when a job was too tough to handle, and the two have even handled cases as big as the Amityville haunting. 

A couple of Ed and Lorraine Warren’s most famous cases out of their total of 10,000 cases or more are those touched upon in The Conjuring, The Conjuring 2, and Annabelle. The first movie’s main focus is on the story of the witch named Bathsheba Thayer, who married a man named Judson Sherman in 1844 and became pregnant with her first child. Bathsheba spent her time caring after her own child and neighbor’s children, and after a child died in Bathsheba’s care, who’s child it was is unknown, she was suspected for murder. The child had died from being impaled at the base of its skull with a long sewing needle, and it became rumored around the town that Bathsheba had sacrificed the child in some sort of satanic ritual, but she was eventually proven innocent of the child’s death. Although once a kind woman, she became enraged after the trial and began abusing the housemaids and the farm help, and because of this, rumors began circulating around town once again that she was involved in witchcraft and was possessed. In The Conjuring, it’s said that Bathsheba committed suicide by hanging herself from a tree on her and her husband’s property, however she lived a long life and died in her 70s. Her cause of death was an odd case of paralysis that doctors couldn’t figure out, and it was said that it was almost like her body turned to stone one day, which further fueled the ideas that she had been a witch. Bathsheba’s son outlived her, and had a happy life with a wife and children of his own. As for the haunting of the Perron family in The Conjuring, the legitimacy of Bathsheba herself being one of the ghosts who haunted the family is still unknown, since it was never proven that she was indeed a witch. Ed and Lorraine Warren assisted the Perron family in a haunting of their property in the 1970s, which they had recently moved into. The property had been built in 1736 and had about 200 acres on it in total. Just as it happens in the film, the hauntings began happening immediately after the Perrons moved in.  At first, the spirits seemed to be kind to the family, and the girls claimed there was even a ghost of an old woman who would tuck them into bed and kiss their foreheads. Over time, however, it became apparent that not all of the spirits were so friendly. Eventually, what appeared to be demonic spirits began physically assaulting the family when they entered the barn area and would pull the girls’ hair, and every morning at 5:15 AM, a spirit that smelled of rotting flesh would throw someone out of their bed. An old woman spirit was also claimed to be haunting the Perron family; her neck appeared to be broken and she especially hated Carolyn Perron, the mother. Carolyn has said that she felt the spirit targeted her specifically and always felt like her energy was drained, she felt emotionally tormented and she found physical wounds on her body, leading her to believe this spirit was trying to possess her. Ed and Lorraine were called not too long after these events to help the Perron family. Ed and Lorraine preformed an exorcism on the house as well as on Carolyn, and although Lorraine remains scarred from her contact with the demonic spirit, the family was saved. 

The second case discussed in The Conjuring 2, was an odd one for the Warrens. This case was called the Enfield poltergeist and it dealt with a family being tormented by what was thought to be a demonic spirit, but is still questioned to this day and is considered to be one of the most famous supernatural cases to date. In London of 1977, Peggy Hodgson’s daughters Margaret and Janet claimed an invisible force was moving their dresser in front of their bedroom door, almost like it was attempting to trap them in. After calling the police for help, similar to the events in the movie, the cops see the paranormal activity with their own eyes but flee from fear. This led the family into an 18-month long haunting that would go down in history forever. In The Conjuring 2, an old man entity began speaking clearly through one of the Hodgson daughters, and it was proven later that an old man had died in their home previously due to hemorrhaging, but skeptics attempted to debunk the idea that the old man was speaking through the little girl for years, and to this day some people still think the children created this elaborate hoax to gain attention from the public. This case was odd for the Warrens not only because of that, but because the children did admit later on that they did fake a few things to see if anyone would catch them, but that other than the spoon bending and a couple other small claims, everything was real. Ed and Lorraine Warren did come to exorcise and cleanse the home, which ridded it completely of any supernatural activity, but the time the Warrens spent with the family was exaggerated in the film and was quite brief in real life. In addition The Conjuring 2 references a specific demon that has no known or proven affiliation with this true story, but is in fact very much real on its own. Named as Valak in the movie, the real name of this demon is thought to be Beelzebub, which is a name commonly used to refer to Satan himself. It’s unknown if such a powerful demon could have possibly been affiliated with the Enfield poltergeist case, but is highly unlikely. 

One of the Warren’s most famous cases is the case of Annabelle, which is covered in the first movie of the series, The Conjuring, as well as the third movie of the series, Annabelle, and is discussed in their book called The Demonologist, which touches on their experiences, their marriage, their museum and their beliefs. The Warrens have deemed Annabelle one of their most challenging and extreme cases in their entire history of battling the paranormal. The doll was said to be the cause of death for one person, a young man who visited the Warren’s Occult Museum, and decided it would be funny to taunt the doll. The young man told Annabelle she couldn’t hurt him because she was just a doll trapped in a glass case, and Lorraine Warren asked him to leave the museum, since she then feared for his safety. While riding his motorcycle home with his girlfriend, they crashed head on into a tree and he died instantly. Although his girlfriend survived, she remained hospitalized for a year and later told police that before they crashed, they heard the demonic laughter of what sounded like a little girl. Annabelle is said to have injured several others as well, and it is now believed that she will harm anyone who openly doubts her power in front of her. Although the doll has been exorcised many times, the demonic spirit remains attached to the doll and the Warrens believe it’s there to stay. The beginning of The Conjuring and the movie Annabelle tells the story of a doll possessed, or being controlled, by a demonic entity. In the movies, the doll is portrayed as looking porcelain, but in real life, this doll is a classic Raggedy Anne doll. The story of Annabelle is accurately represented in this film for the most part, unlike the various differences within the first and second movies. Annabelle was owned by a woman in nursing school, and was really possessed by a demon masquerading as a frightened and lonely little girl spirit. After experiencing horrifying events involving the doll, the owner of Annabelle and her roommates called for help, and Ed and Lorraine came to their home, cleansed it, and took the doll with them to be stored in their Occult Museum. 

The demonic doll Annabelle and hundreds of other haunted artifacts are locked away securely in the Warren’s Occult Museum, which just so happens to be in their home’s basement. The Warren Occult Museum, briefly touched upon in The Conjuring, is the only museum of its kind and is located in Monroe, Connecticut. The museum holds objects from satanic cults and rituals, haunted objects, even children’s gravestones, to possessed masks and voodoo artifacts all the way from Africa. Their basement museum is blessed daily by not only the couple, but also by priests, to ensure their safety and the safety of people daring enough to visit the museum. Ed and Lorraine have worked over 10,000 cases in their life of dealings with the paranormal, and although Ed passed away from natural causes in 2006, Lorraine is still actively working in their museum, greeting fans and keeping hers and Ed’s stories and work alive today.