Ed and Lorraine Warren in Film
The American homestead is synonymous with the American Dream. For many, the promise of that dream seemed like a tangible reality – a good job, a white picket fence and a house to come home to with a family waiting inside. Unfortunately, for most, the American Dream of the ’50s was a mirage. As the ’60s and ’70s trudged forward in history, a series of brutal incidents from race-based violence to the Charles Manson murders served to destabilize a country that was meant to be an answer to the freedom that its European settlers had long hoped for.
The 1960s were a period when the counter-culture hippie movement of the underground began to hit mainstream audiences and also a time in horror films when the horror was no longer just situated in far way Eastern European castles but moved into Americas very own backyard. The films that paved the way for the horror comes home movement were Night of the Living Dead (1968), Rosemarys Baby (1968) and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) each dealing with a then radical topic such as racial tension, womens reproductive rights and the Vietnam War. As this trend soon became the norm other films of this ilk followed, such as Halloween (1978) and Carrie (1976). All of these films situated the fantastic and supernatural within a contemporary American context reflecting a new instability in the American consciousness.
Meanwhile, Ed and Lorraine Warren were small-town paranormal investigators who founded the New England Society for Psychic Research in 1952. They worked on multiple cases at the request of the police and soon became part of American lore from the 1970s to ’80s for their work. Most recently, the Warrens have become part of mainstream pop culture with the 2013 release of James Wans The Conjuring, which dealt with the Warrens investigation of the Perron family haunting. The Warrens have been controversial figures in the field of psychic investigation with many claiming theyre a hoax and as many people believing they are saviours. What becomes apparent when looking at their cases is how ingrained they are in the American ideal. The films based on cases they worked on all reflect a particular set of values family, faith and stability. Whether the Warrens truly possessed the powers that saved these families from demons and hauntings doesnt take away from the preservation of the American dream that the Warrens represented. Their place in mainstream culture has as much to do with spooks and spectres as it does with Christian family values, a cornerstone of the American Dream.
The Haunted (1991)
The opening title card of the Fox made-for-television chiller The Haunted assures us that what we are about to see is based on true events which were also the basis for a widely derided book based on the same events. After losing their home in a hurricane, the Smurl family moves into a house that could be politely described as a fixer-upper. Time passes and while the Smurls settle in to the community, strange occurrences begin to happen, such as whispering emanating from the pillows and the patriarch of the familys inadvertent intimate relations with a demon. Eventually, Janet Smurl finds the Warrens, who are lecturing at a local university. In this incarnation, the Warrens are presented as far more contemporary then they were in real-life. Lorraine Warren (Diane Baker) wears a power suit and her hair short while Ed (Stephen Markle) appears as a relaxed straight-shooter who prefers Ed rather than Mr. Warren. From the outset, the Warrens are well-versed in the paranormal telling the class that the Devil has made their fights somewhat personal as they have defeated him so many times. Despite the Warrens’ hip appearance in this TV movie, they dispense advice and wisdom to the Smurls informing them that the entities in their house are able to interact and create havoc because two of their daughters have passed through puberty and the entities are feeding off of their emotional turbulence. While the Smurls nod their heads worryingly, the Warrens explanation comes across as outdated, even for 1991. In The Haunted, the Warrens only serve to identify the haunting of the house, its a local Church group which arrives at the Smurls house for a group prayer that helps to quell the haunting. The spine of The Haunted adheres rather strictly to many Puritan beliefs, in the film it is a true faith in God and family that saves the Smurls rather than an elaborate cinematic spiritual purging of the house.
The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)
While Ed and Lorraine Warren dont make a physical appearance in the Peter Cornwell film, their values are present throughout it. In 1986, the Warrens investigated disturbances at the Snedeker house which was revealed to be a former funeral home which in turn was rotten with demons. The events were also turned into a book, this time by Ray Garton entitled In A Dark Place: The Story of a True Haunting published in 1992.
The 2009 film fills in the gap of the information given by the Warrens with a well-placed library montage. The film centers on the Campbell family, which moves to a remote and abandoned house because of its proximity to the hospital where their teenage son Matthew (Kyle Gallner) is receiving medical treatment for cancer. Because Matthew is close to death, the ghosts of the house begin to interact with him. When he and his cousin hit the books, it is revealed that the former funeral home was also used to conduct séances. The owner of the funeral home was using necromancy and hid bodies in the walls. A local priest, also undergoing cancer treatment, aids the family and the hauntings end as the spirits are set free and seemingly allowed to pass on to heaven rather than being trapped in the house.
The Haunting in Connecticut pulls its ghost and demon lore specifically from the Warrens claims when they originally investigated the house in 1986. While the Warrens may not appear in the film, their shadow of a conservative Christian America resonates throughout the film. The Campbell family is desperately trying to stay together despite overwhelming odds and ultimately it is their faith and the trauma of the haunting that serves to bring them together. Their pure goodness and love for one another eclipses their financial hardships that seem to magically disappear by the end of the film, promoting the idea that goodness (in every socially appropriate way) wins out every time.
The Conjuring (2013)
The most famous version of the Warrens comes to us courtesy of James Wan, the director behind Saw (2004) and Insidious (2010). The Conjuring is split into two parallel stories, one of which follows Ed and Lorraine Warren, played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. The film begins with the Warrens investigating the Annabelle doll (which went on to have its own film in 2014) and follows them as they give a lecture at a university. Were also introduced to the Perron family, which has moved into a new house that is much cheaper than their last. Soon, as in almost immediately, strange events begin to disrupt their everyday life and they call on the Warrens for help.
The Warrens investigated the Perron haunting in 1971 and declared that the house was haunted by the ghost of a malevolent witch, Bathsheba Sherman. The film depicts this interpretation and spends a great deal of time with the Warrens and the toll these investigations take on them, particularly Lorraine. The witch is determined to possess Carolyn (Lily Taylor), the mother of the family, and wreaks havoc through her. While the Warrens manage to put a stop to Bathsheba, its not before the witch attempts to attack the Warrens daughter with the Annabelle doll once again, implying that these supernatural attacks are personal.
While The Conjuring is an elaborate tale of haunting and possession, it manages to continue the through line of the previous incarnations of the Warrens – the spirits and demons have a personal vendetta against the couple and the families whom they help are all essentially good people who have fallen on hard times. The shadow of Christinity continues to loom large over the stories as the Warrens power stems from the Christian faith and the demonic forces are all sent from Hell. Believe in God and the evil forces will be subdued. Wan has largely ignored the presence of Heaven and Hell in his films (see The Further in Insidious), but with The Warrens its an essential part of their mythology.
While many horror films offer a subversive or non-denominational view of evil and supernatural entities, Ed and Lorraine Warren are entirely tied up in it. Many have denounced the Warrens findings stating that the families they helped were simply looking for a pay day, while others insist that the Warrens possess real gifts and do Gods bidding.
The home page of the Warrens website features a quote from Ed: The Catholic Church refers to God as a supernatural being, and the Bible is filled with tales of Demons, Saints and Angels. Their alignment with the Catholic Church is present through the stories they shared with the public and on the screen. Each of the hauntings depicted reinforces conservative Catholic values and the films act as (an albeit) entertaining cautionary tale about what happens if you dont conform to those beliefs.
The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Poltergeist is currently in production with stars Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson returning along with director James Wan. The story is yet again based on a Warren case file, in which a troubled British family is plagued by a supernatural entity. Im sure you can guess the rest of the story.