Conjuring: Making Gothic Horror Film

The Conjuring is released by Warner July 19, 2013

Truth is stranger than fiction, and a lot more frightening. No one knew that better than Ed Warren and his clairvoyant wife, Lorraine, whose lifelong personal experiences combating inhuman forces garnered them respect in the field of demonology long before the immense popularity of the paranormal on the screen. And long before Ed and Lorraine tackled the foreboding menace in a little place called Amityville, they encountered the most perilous evil even they would ever come up against.

James Wan, who had known of the couple’s work prior to taking the directing reins of “The Conjuring,” relates, “I’ve always been a big fan of the Warrens. I really admire them. They pioneered the modern-day style of ghost hunting with technical equipment, capturing evidence on film and audiotape. Since they’ve inspired so many stories, books and films, it was cool to actually make a movie where who they are is as much the focus as the family’s home they are investigating.”

The film reveals the real horrors lurking within a secluded centuries-old farmhouse in the seemingly peaceful countryside of Harrisville, Rhode Island, bought in 1970 by Carolyn and Roger Perron. However, the couple and their five daughters soon find themselves directly in the path of extreme, yet indefinable, danger. When Ed and Lorraine meet the family and the unnatural enemy waging war against them, they know they are in for the battle of their career and lives.

Taking on the role of the renowned demonologist, Patrick Wilson was intrigued by the idea of playing a real person in a grave conflict with powers beyond most people’s comprehension. Wilson observes, “Ed Warren was a guy whose whole life was geared around being dangerously close to the dark side because he genuinely wanted to help people. He knew the terror they were experiencing could happen to anyone, including them—the ones there to help.”

Vera Farmiga stars alongside Wilson as Ed’s loving wife and preternaturally gifted partner Lorraine, who is swept along with her husband into the violent path of the malevolent presence. She offers, “Stories are like train tickets. Someone hands you a pass to somewhere, and you go. This was an interesting psychic space to explore. Even though it put me in a cold sweat and panic, I had the compelling need to investigate this story, like Lorraine and Ed investigated the Perrons.”

Producer Peter Safran believes the case was seminal for the Warrens because they wanted not only to safeguard the Perron children, but their own young daughter, Judy. He conveys, “I think what they went through with those girls really laid the groundwork for their life path, including Amityville and beyond. I was particularly drawn to the events because I also have a daughter, and I can’t even think of a limit to what I would do to protect her.”

Ironically, the Perrons had moved to the country to raise their children in a safe environment, only to put them in harm’s way. Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor star as Roger and Carolyn Perron, whose encounter with the paranormal, shared with the Warrens, changes their family forever.

Livingston notes, “Getting away is what they’d always wanted, but isolation can be very scary, too. They had to be wondering— is this the beginning of our new life or the beginning of the end? And is God actually looking out for us here or are we on our own? When bad things go down, I think people relate to those questions on a visceral level, and a lot of the answers can be unsettling.”

“I’m torn about the spirit world,” Taylor acknowledges. “There are times I wonder if a strange experience I had is something more than that. It’s hard to strip away everything and be totally open to it. But the exorcism tapes I’ve seen and heard are persuasive. And terrifying.”

Producer Rob Cowan comments, “Everybody identifies with the notion that something’s under your bed or in the closet, but this really happened, so it makes it all the more chilling.”

Screenwriters Chad Hayes and Carey W. Hayes had a unique take—telling the story via the tandem points of view of the Warrens and the Perrons. Chad remarks, “What we loved about writing this script is the contrast between two couples: there are the Warrens, who are devout Catholics and respected demonologists, and the Perrons, who aren’t at all religious. And then their lives collide. Who fixes what and how does it get fixed?”

“These strangers crossed paths over some very ugly entities,” Carey adds. “They took a very daunting journey, and going through their steps, we just got hooked. It became an obsession.”

Wan remembers, “When I read the script, I said, ‘Wow, this is great, here is a chance to do something different.’”

During the project’s development, Wan and the Hayes brothers went through the Warrens’ files—some 4,000 cases. “We found a lot of great material,” says Wan. “My goal was to incorporate some of the wildest things they’d encountered in their lifetime, yet still stay true to this particular family’s story. We drew a lot of inspiration from the Perrons’ recollections as well. I thought it was even more frightening to show the scares through the eyes of the pros along with the perspective of this family that has no inkling of the supernatural world.”

“We wanted to honor both families,” says Cowan, “so it was really rewarding when they said we’d achieved a genuine level of accuracy.”

Lorraine Warren, now in her eighties, still recalls all too well the physical environment of the real house where a sinister multitude had begun an infestation all those years ago. She attests, “When I walked inside, I immediately knew it was haunted. There’s a feeling that comes over you, almost like a veil, it draws your energy because the entity needs it in order to manifest; the only way to get that energy is from you. It was really heavy in that house and being on the set brought all that back. It was uncanny. I’m very fond of James. He wanted to get everything right, and I’m excited about the film.”

During the Hayes’ many long phone conversations with Lorraine, there was usually some sort of seemingly otherworldly interruption in the form of sounds and static, often completely causing the line to go dead. Carey recounts that when they asked if it was common, Lorraine would reply, “Oh, yes, honey, dark, light…that’s a constant battle, you know?”

Chad elaborates, “She told us, ‘We’re about to expose the dark side of the dark side, and it doesn’t want good to win. I’m surprised that there isn’t a lot more interference.’”

Roger Perron and his daughters had the opportunity to visit the set and agree that it stirred intense memories, starting with the fateful day they moved to the farm. Andrea, the eldest, remarks, “I was absolutely confident that James, the cast and the whole team authentically captured the essence of that house and what happened to us, which is no small feat. All that we hoped for has come to fruition. It is as though they had a key to our emotions, releasing what we experienced, recreating it on screen.”

It was all too real for Carolyn, the wife and mother who lived through the terror more than three decades ago. She would not attend filming for that very reason, admitting, “I didn’t go, just like I never, ever went back to the farm. I didn’t want the memories—or the thing that so threatened me in the house—to be able to touch me.”

However, keeping her distance was perhaps not enough to protect her. One afternoon, while her family was at the location set that mirrored the feel of their former residence, an eerie and inexplicable wind whipped up to encircle them, though the trees remained perfectly still. As technicians steadied the gear there in North Carolina, miles away in Atlanta, Carolyn experienced a presence which she hadn’t felt in 30 years—suddenly tripping and suffering injuries that put her in the hospital. Shortly thereafter, the cast and crew were evacuated from their hotel because a fire broke out.

Almost no one believes these are random coincidences. Wan also experienced a strange incident while emailing about the script late one night. It began with his puppy growling at a corner of his office. “There was nothing there,” he recounts. “Then she did something even creepier, she started tracking whatever she was staring at, which was nothing, across the room, without missing a beat. I was freaked out….and it was at that very moment I knew that the story had gotten into my psyche and was really affecting me in a big way.”

The director continues, “Most people will, at some point, relate that they know someone who has, or that they themselves have, experienced something paranormal. On my other films, it was comforting to tell myself those things weren’t real, I’d just made them up…but for ‘The Conjuring’ I didn’t have that luxury.”