Welcome to Behind the Screams! In this article, we will be taking a look at the true stories that inspired some of our favorite horror films. Each month, we will dive into the stories behind these films and see that, sometimes, the truth is far more horrifying than fiction.
Let’s get something out in the open right away:
I am not a fan of Ed and Lorraine Warren.
I know that it isn’t polite to speak ill of the recently deceased, but it’s also not polite to lie. My Grandma would get in her car, drive over here, and smack me with her strong hand if she knew that I was telling lies to you. Letting her down is not something I’m ready to do, and neither is taking one of her Butterbean-like haymakers. So, to preserve my teeth, I’m going to be truthful with you: I have always viewed the Warrens as money-hungry publicists who preyed upon traumatized families in order to enhance their brand.
That being said, The Conjuring universe is a spectacular achievement and one of the best horror franchises in decades. That is especially true for The Conjuring 2, which was released to near-universal acclaim and almost made back ten-times its budget at the box office. A lot of people connected with the story the film told, and they especially loved the fact that it was based on a true story. But, was it?
While the setting, characters, and some plot points resemble the true story, the film takes some liberties with the magnitude of the Warren’s involvement. This might not be a big deal to most people (the film was great, after all) but it’s a shame that the true story of the Enfield Haunting has been overshadowed by the specter of the Warrens. Not only is this a disservice to the truth, in general, but it also would have made an amazing film in its own right. Let’s take a look..
The Conjuring 2 takes us across the pond to Enfield, England, as Ed and Lorraine Warren come to the aid of the Hodgson family. These folks, living in public housing and scraping two coins together to try to make a third, are being tormented by an evil spirit. The focus of the mischievous ghost seems to be 11-year-old Janet, the second of four Hodgson children. As the stories and the publicity begins to mount, the Warrens are sent in to be the eyes and ears of the church.
The Warrens are present to see whether it is a true case of possession or just an elaborate hoax. The Catholic church doesn’t want to get involved with anything improper, you see, which is a stark departure from the behavior of the church throughout human history. While there, Ed sings, Lorraine sees, and they come face-to-face with a demon who has haunted them for almost a decade. With the help of… nobody… the Warrens take a leap of faith and deliver poor Janet from the evil clutches of Valak the Defiler.
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Now, I know that I’ve been a little tough on the Warrens. I don’t mean to be a curmudgeon. They have done a lot for the paranormal community, and they have shed a light on some incredible cases and stories that we would not have heard, otherwise. So, in the spirit of fairness, I’m not doing to go line-by-line and point out each inconsistency this film has with the true story of the Enfield Haunting. Instead, I’d like to go over a couple of the incredible opportunities the filmmakers missed by going with the Warren angle.
The Enfield Haunting is one of the longest, most documented cases of paranormal activity in history. Over the course of 19 months, the Hodgson house was a destination for dozens of reporters, investigators, police, and even magicians and ventriloquists. Two of these investigators, Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair, were members of the Society for Psychical Research, and both stayed nearly the entire 19 months with the family. They were present for almost every disturbance, knock, bark, and flying marble that the house displayed. Playfair, an author and amateur specialist in poltergeist activity, meticulously documented their experience in the 1980 book, This House is Haunted: The True Story of the Enfield Poltergeist.
It’s in the portrayal, or lack thereof, of these two men where The Conjuring 2 swings and misses. As I mentioned before, Grosse and Playfair were there with the Hodgson family for over a year and a half. They wrote everything down. They photographed everything they could. They invited other paranormal specialists in to see for themselves and they released their entire findings to the public. In the film, Grosse is portrayed as an overeager amateur who is consistently shot down by Ed Warren and the other investigators. He’s played as a bumbling sort of man who is really just looking for confirmation of his daughter’s existence in the spectral realm. He was new to the SPR, sure, but he stuck by that family from the very beginning and was there for them until his death in 2006. He was a surrogate father to Janet and the other children and deserved so much more respect and recognition than The Conjuring 2 gave him.
As for author and investigator Guy Playfair, the film didn’t mention him at all. The man who literally wrote the book on the Enfield Haunting was completely absent from the story. He spent over a year watching and observing this family, only to be completely cut out. It’s a travesty, and it’s a mystery. Is it because the filmmakers didn’t have the rights to his book or weren’t legally able to use his likeness, or is it because Playfair has repeatedly called Ed Warren out on his lies? In an interview with Darkness Radio, Playfair said:
I bumped into Ed Warren once or twice, and Lorraine… and I got the impression that Ed Warren was, well.. (laughs) fill in your own expletive. I wasn’t impressed at all.
When he was asked whether or not the Warren’s were involved in the Enfield case to the extent they claimed they were, he said:
They did turn up once, I think, at Enfield, and all I can remember is Ed Warren telling me that he could make a lot of money for me out of it. So I thought, “well that’s all I need to know from you” … I don’t think he went there more than once… Nobody ever mentioned them. I mean, I don’t think anybody in the family had ever heard of him until he turned up. Uninvited.
Again, I don’t know the reason why Playfair was left out of the movie, but whatever the case may be, his absence is definitely a missed opportunity for the filmmakers. Think about it for a second. These are two grown men who so completely believed the tales this family was telling them that they basically put their own lives on hold for 19 months. They ate with the family, they slept in the same house. It was a complete immersion into the world of the Enfield Poltergeist.
They weren’t just a couple of gullible amateurs, either. Both Grosse and Playfair admit that some of the occurrences in the house were faked. Playfair mentions each faked event in his book and doesn’t attempt to hide any evidence from his readers. They admit their skepticism, but still approach the haunting in as scientific a manner as the paranormal can allow. If the haunting’s official Wikipedia page is to be believed, the claims of their gullibility come from three magicians and a ventriloquist. I don’t know about you, but if I had to choose four people who I would trust the least in the world, it would be three magicians and a ventriloquist.
So, whether the entire haunting was a hoax or not, these two men would have been a great addition to the story. Unfortunately, it also would have shown how Ed and Lorraine Warren weren’t as pivotal to the solution to the Enfield Haunting as they claimed to be.
That brings me to my other grievance with the direction The Conjuring 2 took with the story: The nature of the haunting itself. Like I mentioned before, the events of the Enfield Haunting took place over the span of many months, sometimes with days passing between paranormal occurrences. These events were mainly prankish in nature, including the throwing of marbles, the shuffling of chairs, and the voice of an old man speaking through the body of Janet.
Ok, maybe that last one wasn’t so “prankish”, but you get what I mean. Nobody was being thrown across the room or suspended from the ceiling by ghostly tendrils. Nobody turned into a Crooked Man and chased their brother down the hallway. The basement wasn’t filled with murky water that hid a spirit that loved itself the taste of Hodgson flesh. Janet’s bedroom wasn’t filled wall-to-wall with crucifixes, and there was no evil demon named Valak who was using the spirit of an old man to disguise itself from the Warrens. And, you guessed it, there was no window-and-tree-stump-related climax that saw Lorraine cast out a demon from this realm by shouting its name.
I get that the story needed to be embellished a bit to get butts in seats, but this turns the Enfield Haunting, one of the finest examples of a poltergeist ever recorded, into just another Warren demonology case. They changed the entire nature of the haunting to shoehorn Ed and Lorraine Warren into the story. They falsified the events to make them more important than they actually were. I’m here to tell you that they didn’t need to do this at all. It would have been as close as we have ever gotten to a real-life Ghostbusters! I would love to see little Janet make them spooky noises and stalk around the house while two nerdy British men tried to politely communicate with the being.
The true story of the Enfield Haunting is an engrossing story about love, fear, family, and faith. It sports one of the most compelling mountains of evidence in the history of paranormal research and it perfectly encapsulates the tensions felt by a family in poverty and turmoil. It doesn’t need to have the Supernatural Superman Ed Warren shoved into it to make it interesting. While it made for a very fun and spooky movie, The Conjuring 2 will go down as one of the least-truthful “Based on a True Story” films ever made.
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I know. I said that I didn’t want to be a curmudgeon or to be too hard on the Warrens in this article, but that might have been a lie. I’m sorry, Grandma.
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