One of the biggest horror hits of the summer movie season is The Conjuring, which is "based on the true story" from renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. In the film, the couple tries to help a Rhode Island family allegedly terrorized by "a dark presence" in their farmhouse.
Starring Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as the acclaimed "demonologists," The Conjuring opened as the No. 1 film of the past weekend, earning $41 million. The film's strong debut is due in part to strong reviews from both critics and fans (85% and 89% positive respectively from RottenTomatoes.com), and a viral word-of-mouth campaign that has been building over the past few months.
Although films such as The Amityville Horror and The Haunting in Connecticut have drawn upon the personal investigative case files of the Warrens, this is the first time that the husband-and-wife team from Monroe have appeared as actual characters in a movie. Lorraine, now 86, has appeared as herself on recent TV programs like "A Haunting" and "Paranormal State." Ed passed away in 2006.
The Warrens originally started out as artists and took up ghost hunting on the side (Ed claimed that his interest in the subject came from having grown up in a haunted house in Bridgeport). After decades of investigating paranormal-type events around Connecticut and then the world, they really gained notoriety in the the 1960s and '70s as they began lecturing at colleges; their appearances would usually be near Halloween and in addition to detailing their exploits, would heavily feature slideshows of spooky photos as well as audio tapes of supposedly demonic voices that they had recorded. The opening scenes of The Conjuring feature Ed and Lorraine at one of these talks.
For the record: Like so many Connecticut residents, I first saw the Warrens at one of these talks back during my college days in the 1980s. I remember not being able to sleep for a few days, as visions of Annabelle—the supposedly possessed doll that they keep locked behind glass in their occult museum in Monroe—terrorized me.
One of the reasons that the Warrens made such an impact was that they were the only real-life ghosthunters and demonologists out there for a long time. In their heyday, there was no Internet with thousands of ghost pictures and videos, no dozen “ghost hunter”-type TV shows, no hundreds of paranormal investigation groups blitzing graveyards and old houses—there was only Ed and Lorraine, and since they were the main source for this kind of thing, it really established their reputation.
Connecticut Magazine did an in-depth profile of the Warrens in the April 1972 issue entitled, "In Search of the Supernatural," which is right around the time that the main events of The Conjuring are set.
Although the story is more than 40 years old, it still holds up. Here it is in its entirety:
In Search of the Supernatural
Have Ed and Lorraine Warren proved the existence of a spirit world?
By John C. Peterson
To some the occult is late-night television, to others it’s a Ouija Board, but to scores of Connecticut residents it has been experiences they didn’t believe would exist and would like to forget.
Two of the state’s residents, Edward and Lorraine Warren of Stepney, know about these experiences. They’ve devoted a life-time to investigating them. Their work has taken them to all sections of the state, the nation and Canada. And, as they point out, to worlds that many people refuse to recognize.
Their investigations have dealt with human and inhuman spirits--crisis ghosts, malign forces, demons and witches. Artists by profession, the Warrens, who have 27 years’ experience investigating psychic phenomena, warn of the dangers of fooling with the spirit world.
Locally the Warrens have checked numerous reports of supernatural activity, such as the demons that drove an 18-year-old girl to practice human vampirism, the spirits which haunt a Willimantic theatre, and the ghost with mixed emotions that helped an East Haddam family renovate its home.
While many persons scoff at such work, the Warrens believe they have sufficient proof of an afterlife and the evil forces--sometimes uncontrollable--waiting both in the darkness and in the full light of day.
“It’s not a bunch of fairy tales. These things are happening right here,” Warren said. “Everyone,” he claims, “has experienced one form of supernatural activity or another.”
• • •
Even if it’s only deja vu (the sensation of being somewhere or doing something before). Or precognition and dreams. Others have found terrifying proof of the occult. Some have been driven to destruction by it.
And, points out Warren, it is nothing for amateurs. One case he offers for this point is the story of a 13-year-old girl who was playing with a Ouija Board and asked for proof of spirit presence.
“She got this proof with two days and two nights of hell,” he said. Her proof began with a manifestation of an animal form walking on her bed. Then came brutal hands which bruised most of her body. It was only her mother’s presence of mind, explained Warren, that saved the girl from serious harm. The mother prayed by the girl’s side and sprinkled holy water throughout the two-day vigil.
Warren’s first exposure to the world of the occult was at the age of five when his family moved into a haunted home on the east side of Bridgeport. His father, a devout Catholic and state police officer, refused to acknowledge the presence of the ghosts even though each member of the family witnessed some form of paranormal activity.
In later years Warren was confronted with religious questions he could not answer and began to pursue the secrets of the supernatural. Hid full commitment began with his marriage to Lorraine after World War II.
In recent years the coupe has dedicated their lives to that study. The price of their interest has been paid by the torment and curses of demons and a toll of strange accidents. But together the Warrens work for the day when belief in the supernatural will be as commonplace as sitting down to dinner with friends.
Not all the cases they investigate turn out to be valid (Warren estimates only one out of 20 are true); but through the experience of more than 2,000 reports, they have amassed a knowledge which will represent parts of a book on New England hauntings to be published soon. Warren credits much of his knowledge and interest to people like Nicholas Chapar of Bridgeport, who helped him during the early years of investigative work.
The Warrens stand ready to help--at no cost--any persons who feel they may have a paranormal activity going on around them. “We can be reached through Post Office Box 41, Monroe,” Warren said.
One of the most authentic and interesting cases investigated by the Warrens was that in the Francis W. Antonelli home in East Haddam. At first only Mrs. Antonelli was bothered by a spirit presence, but as time passed other members of the family and visitors--among them a reporter and photographer from a newspaper--experienced the supernatural.
An apparition first appeared to Mrs. Antonelli on Feb. 2, 1966. The family has retired for the night. The rest of the family was asleep and Mrs. Antonelli was about to doze off when she had a funny feeling.
“I thought something’s there,” Mrs. Antonelli related years later. Opening her eyes she saw a mass of gray mist with four distinct appendages. It was bright and looked as if it were in a bubble.
She turned on a light and the figure disappeared. She got up to look for the source of the reflection but never found one. Quite shaken she returned to bed. She sat there with her glasses on and the lights out. Minutes later the apparition reappeared. This time it took a different route to the bottom of the four-poster bed.. Suddenly it turned and appeared to go in the direction of the hall and the rooms in which her children slept.
Alarmed for her children and believing it was a ghost, she screamed her faith in God. Affirming that faith she closed her eyes tightly and went to sleep. For the next year Mrs. Antonelli lived with the experience and a scoffing husband. But a year later he stopped laughing.
Mr. Antonelli has returned home from his job in New London about 4:15 one afternoon. The rest of the family was away at the time. Suddenly he heard an ungodly scream. Looking up the stairway in the direction of the sound he found the stairs appear as if they continued into infinity. Rattled, he sat down and consumed quantities of coffee and cigarettes.
Calm again he decided to finish the installation of a heater in a remodeled attic room. He laid a hammer on the floor where he worked, about seven to 10 feet away from the top of the stairs. Suddenly the hammer went flying down the stairs. Antonelli retrieved it and laid it down again. This time is flew over his left shoulder. When the family returned they found him white-faced and with two cigarettes in his mouth.
• • •
In the months that followed other members of the family reported strange occurrence: a guitar that strummed itself and a typewriter that needed no one to ring its bell. A neighbor’s child staying at the house reported seeing a “whitish glob.”
A series of strange urgings followed as the family completed renovations of the 19th-Century structure. Repainting the interior, they found the colors they had chosen were those of the original wall several layers deep. Rebuilding the fireplace Mrs. Antonelli has a compulsion to dig to the ground beneath an outbuilding. She found the original bricks which dated back before the existing modified hearth.
Digging for the foundation of a patio, they found one beneath it. After cutting a path through the brush behind the house they learned there has been a path in the same place years before. As they laid out a stone wall, they discovered one long lost beneath it.
A seance conducted by the Warrens, with a local minister serving as a medium, unfolded the history behind the haunting. A young girl who became pregnant by a neighbor. Her parents would not allow her to marry him, so the child was born illegitimate. The parents and the girl never loved the child.
One day, beating the baby, the girl inadvertently killed it. It was winter and a grave could not be dug so the body was placed in the attic, and later buried in the cellar. The father of the baby came looking for it and was killed by the man of the house. Because of the turmoil, the spirits remained earthbound.
A newspaper, The Day of New London, sent a reporter and a photographer to investigate the reports of the Antonelli house. Norman R. Soderberg, a veteran journalist, listened intently to Mrs. Antonelli’s story. As one point he swears he saw a door latch move back and forth. The longer he stayed in the house the stranger he felt. “As if I was in another dimension,” he remarked.
The photographer, John Urwiller, was kneeling to take a picture when a piece of lumber stuck him across the back. It has been leaning against a wall and should have fallen to the left of right if disturbed, not straight at him.
“I don’t believe in ghosts,” Urwiller said last month, when asked about the experience. “But this thing went up hill to get me.”
• • •
On the other side of the spirit world Warren has investigated a demon possession. (Lorraine, a clairvoyant, does not get involved in these.) In possession cases a person will first become obsessed and eventually possessed by evil forces. Warren explains that possession usually occurs among people who have an unnatural liking of supernatural subjects, although a mean or wicked person can attract evil forces through his personality.
For example, Warren explains, some persons will develop an interest in the subject and then read books. Some become so intrigues, they’ll play with a Ouija Board, try automatic writing or look for a spirit to come to them. Some may go so far as to delve into ceremonies.
Warren cautions against this because it gives recognition without protection.
Leslie, a 19-year-old student attending college in Hartford, is one of the Warren’s best arguments for this point. The daughter of a well-to-do New York family, she came to him after inexplicable fits of depression and anger. She admitted she has called upon the devils and demons to help her win the love of a boy back home. She promised her “soul” to the devil if she could have the boy. She got the boy and “Satan” was on his way to claim her “soul” when she asked Warren to intervene.
A similar possession case involves a girl of 18, who practices human vampirism near Thomaston. In an interview with Warren she admitted having a taste for blood and said she had bitten 16 persons.
Her interest in the occult began with a fascination for morbidity and death. Then she began practicing Satanic rituals and acquired a blood lust. Soon she found herself waiting outside cemeteries and dark places soliciting the attention of young men. Alone with them and when the time was right, she would bite. The bites were never serious but were enough for her to satisfy her craving for blood.
In Willimantic the Warrens investigated a theatre where a number of strange apparitions were seen. The manager, a man of 32 who had only recently begun working there, said he saw the figure of a woman late one night as he closed the theatre. The woman moved off the stage and downstairs to some dressing rooms where she disappeared.
The manager, described as very rational by the Warrens, saw the same figure the next night. This time is was transparent and wore a belt of gold. Rattled, the manager confided in an employee of several years. The employee said that from the balcony one night he had seen two actors in a Shakespearean dress. One of them fell, exclaiming, “They’ve killed me . . .” All three then disappeared. A janitor related that he heard footsteps and saw white hazes in the theatre.
The Warrens conducted a seance in the theatre. “The girl whom the manager had seen came to us and explained she had been murdered after she witnessed the killing of a man,” Warren explained. The spirit said she knew she was dead, but she was afraid to “pass over to death” because “they were waiting” for her. The medium called upon spirit guides to help the girl but she refused.
In the seance the medium related the location of the spirit’s body and that of the murdered man, buried beneath a now-cemented floor in the theatre. The manager and a friend went to the police with the information but were received with no satisfaction, Warren said.
To the best of Warren's information, the girl’s spirit is still earthbound and remains in the theatre. The manager has since become obsessed with her presence and often plays the piano for her at night.
The Warrens hope their work will serve two goals. One is to warn of the dangers, the other is to bring about an understanding of the supernatural that will enable the public to cope with its phenomena.
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