THE CONJURING Franchise Recap To Prep You For ANNABELLE: CREATION

Annabelle: Creation hits theaters nationwide Friday, August 11th and in a unique twist the film is actually a prequel to a prequel of The Conjuring: the series is going backwards in time. This will be the fourth film in the franchise and if you are like me it can be super tough to keep track of and remember what is going on in a long running series.  While I can’t wait to see what demon hunters and a creepy possessed doll are up to this time, I have to furiously Google the plot points of the previous films when I get to the theater so I don’t miss anything. That is why I have put together another franchise recap to get you up to speed on the ins and outs of Ed and Loraine Warren’s paranormal investigations. We will be retiring haunted items on our demon shelf in no time!

NOTE: it is safe to say there are SPOILERS if you have not seen the previous Conjuring films.

The Conjuring

In 2013 director James Wan (of SAW fame) made what would be the first in The Conjuring series which follows the supposedly “true” stories (more on that later) of paranormal investigators Ed and Loraine Warren (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga) who rose to fame in the 1970’s and 80’s. They were a real-life version of the team that shows up in Poltergeist to help a haunted family. Ed Warren passed on to the next realm in 2006, but Loraine is still here on this plane of existence to lend her soul to movie studios. The series is tangentially related to what was up until now the most famous of the Warren cases: The Amityville Horror. Amityville, the story of a man following in the footsteps of his homes previous owner, murdering his family while possessed by a demon, is referenced in The Conjuring, but Wan indicated that wanted to tell a different Warren story as the former has already been filmed and re-filmed nearly a dozen times.

What follows is a classic story of a young family moving into an old house only to discover that it is haunted. (Up until Paranormal Activity, it was a safe bet that horror movie characters should only buy brand new condos if they want to live.) In 1971, the Perron family including Roger and Carolyn with their five daughters; Andrea, Nancy, Christine, Cindy and April get a sweet deal on a rundown farmhouse in Rhode Island. Right away things go sideways when the family dog ends up dead and the children can’t get a good night’s sleep, what with all the loud clapping, an angry spirit threatening to kill the whole family and mom Carolyn being trapped in the spooky basement by an unseen force. So, like any good mother, Carolyn finds demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren who make a living lecturing at college campuses on their work (today I’m sure some college would make an entire curriculum out of demon hunting.)  Carolyn convinces the Warrens to come and take a look at the house. While there, Lorraine is able to use her Spidey sense to detect many spirits in the house and becomes freaked out by one that she says is very hostile. The Warrens recommend a full exorcism of the home (hopefully home owners insurance covers green pea soup stains), but they need permission from the Catholic Church before they go ahead with a complete demon removal.

The pair do research on the property and discover that, in the 1800’s, the place belonged to an accused witch named Bathsheba, who was totally a bad witch. Bathsheba murdered her own one-week old baby as a sacrifice to the devil and put a curse on the land and anyone who would live there. The evil witch killed herself in 1863, and since then the house has been plagued by murders and suicides. Oof, I bet the real-estate agent did not tell them that nugget of property history.  The Perrons attempt to escape by staying at a motel; however, this doesn’t work as the witch is “attached’ to the family now. After conducting some recordings, the Warrens get the Church on board with the exorcism.

However, before the priest can arrive, Bathsheba possesses Carolyn and takes Christine and April back to the house where she plans to sacrifice them just like old times.

Luckily Ed shows up and stops her, tying Carolyn to a chair where he must give the exorcism himself: the power of Ed compels you! In the process Carolyn breaks free and is about to kill her daughter, April, when Loraine distracts her allowing Ed to finish the exorcism, ridding Carolyn of Bathsheba and lifting the curse on the house. At the end of the movie when the Warrens return home, they place a music box from the Perron’s home in their room of haunted artifacts. It spontaneously opens and begins to play on its own. While this happens, we overhear a conversation that the Warrens are going to go investigate a case in Long Island, wink, wink- Amityville reference!

Annabelle

The second film in the series, Annabelle came out in 2014 as a prequel to The Conjuring. In the first film, we meet the Warrens and they are talking to people that are also seeking their help over the story of a possessed doll. Annabelle starts out with that entire scene from the first film and then gives viewers the complete backstory. Sadly though, Annabelle does not connect The Conjuring universe to Chucky.

The story then follows the case of John and Mia Form in the late 1960’s in Santa Monica, California. As the young couple are expecting the birth of their first child, a baby girl, Mia wants an expensive antique doll, and as a surprise one-day John gets it for her. However, the doll is soon ruined for her in the most horrific way imaginable. Mia hears fighting sounds happening from her next-door neighbors and calls police; when she goes out to investigate, a crazy man and woman attack her. Luckily the police arrive and kill the man, while the woman dramatically slits her own throat after grabbing hold of the doll. A drop of the woman’s blood splashes it’s face. We learn that the woman’s name was “Annabelle” and Mia soon wants to rid herself of the tarnished doll, having John throw it away; boom first mistake.

Later a fire erupts in their home and as the pregnant lady is attempting to escape, an unseen force pulls her back toward the flames. Luckily, she is rescued but more strange things keep happening. After moving to a new apartment, and having the successful birth of their daughter Leah, the DOLL shows up, even though John had thrown it away. After more paranormal things happen in the apartment, Mia investigates by talking to police detectives about the woman who killed herself. Funny story! It turns out that Annabelle and the man were into the occult and had wanted to summon a demon by claiming a soul.

Mia decided to do a little research; in horror movies this means going to a library or an old book store. Mia hits up the book store where she meets a woman who works there named Evelyn. Evelyn, seeing the occult books Mia is reading, drops some insider knowledge on the situation. She thinks Annabelle wants Leah’s soul.  Evelyn relates to Mia as she had a daughter who died in a car accident because of Evelyn. When Evelyn was going to kill herself, her dead daughter whispered in her ear that it is “not her time to go yet.” Creepy. Having corroboration that the doll is in fact evil, Mia and John contact their priest who agrees to come and take the doll from their house. However, when he attempts to take it into his church, the ghost of Annabelle is not having it and attacks the poor man.  Having had enough from this annoying demon doll, Mia tries to destroy it. However, the spirit inside warns her that the only way to stop it from taking her daughters’ soul is if she sacrifices herself instead. Like a good mom she takes the doll and is about to jump out the window, but John and Evelyn are there in time to stop her. Instead Evelyn takes Annabelle the doll and sacrifices herself instead to make up for the death of her daughter, and it is now her time to go. The doll possession seems to have been lifted. Six months later Mia and John and their daughter are just fine. However, we see a woman from the opening scene who had been talking to the Warrens purchasing the doll for her own child and learn that the doll is now locked up in the Warren’s special haunted artifact room. Side note: who here would watch a crossover “Annabelle Vs Chucky?!”

The Conjuring 2

In 2016, the Wan directed The Conjuring 2 and jumped back into the main series following Ed and Loraine Warren. This time we start off with the Warrens in the mid 1970’s conducting a séance where Loraine relives the Amityville horrors before being lured into a basement by a demonic looking nun where she sees Ed impaled and murdered in the vision. Then we jump to London, England where the Hodgson family is having some paranormal happenings. Their child Janet has been caught sleep walking and having a conversation with the ghost of an elderly man who sits in the chair in the corner and angrily yells at her that she is in his house. “I see dead people!” Soon, mother Peggy and the other children are seeing things move around the house and are terrified. They stay with neighbors but soon word gets out about the haunting and the media comes calling to interview the family. Talking to a reporter Janet becomes possessed by the spirit of a man named Bill Wilkins who died in the house. He likes to mess with the family as he wants them to leave so he can have peace in his house. The media attention causes the Hodgson’s story to get to the Warrens who are invited by the church to come and investigate if the story is real or a big hoax.

At this time Loraine is reluctant to continue with their paranormal investigations as the vision of the evil nun killing Ed has her worried. However Ed wants to do the right thing and help the family sine he and Loraine are one of the few people in the world who believe folks in these type of situations.

Once in London however, other investigators helping the Warrens make a video in which they discover Janet pretending to be possessed and destroying the family kitchen on purpose. This leads the Warrens to declaring the whole thing a hoax and leaving the investigation. However. Loraine soon finds out that the haunting is real. Not only that the old man’s spirit is being used by an evil demon: The Demonic Nun! The Warrens rush back to the house to find that the rest of the family is locked out while a possessed Janet is inside. Ed goes in the house but as he does lightning strikes, cracking open a tree on the front yard which creates a large protruding wooden shard; just like the one Loraine saw in her vision!  In a dramatic rescue, reminiscent of the ending of Annabelle, Ed grabs Janet before she can lea through the widow to her death. However, as he grabs her, he clutches the window’s curtain and ends up hanging on, out the window, perilously dangling above the large spike. Just in time Loraine remembers that she has the name of the demon written down in her Bible: Valak. As we all remember, having a demon’s name is the key to getting rid of it and Loraine successfully gets Valak out of Janet, stopping the possession and freeing the girl. In the end the Warrens add “The Crooked Man” toy from the Hodgson’s to their shelf of haunted artifacts, placing it next to the music box from the first film and the Annabelle doll. We are then reminded that this was all supposedly true as the text on the screen says that Peggy lived in that same house the rest of her life until she died in 2003 in the same spot as the old man who had haunted her.

As a skeptic, whenever the tagline “based on a true story” or “inspired by true events” is employed for the promotion of a horror film, I immediately roll my eyes. Although I am a huge horror fan and can suspend my disbelief for most things, as soon as things start flying around the room I can’t help thinking about that poster in the lobby that claims it is all real. The only film to deal with using “true events” as the source material for a horror movie successfully in my book is The Exorcism of Emily Rose where two versions of events are shown. One version is from the viewpoint of the family of the girl claiming that their daughter was possessed by a demon and who was killed during an exorcism. The other by authorities who assert that the young woman with epilepsy was abused by her religious extremist parents and priest. More often than not this is the case in these “real life” horror stories. It’s just some crazy folks looking for attention.  The real Ed and Loraine Warren came under a constant stream of criticism for giving credence to such family situations in order to attain their own fame and fortune.

In fact this past March, Warner Brothers and The Conjuring franchise filmmakers were sued for an insane $900 million dollars by author Gerald Brittle, who wrote a 1980 book, “The Demonologist” which details stories depicted in The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2.  Brittle claims that he had a contract with the Warrens preventing any further works to be derived from these stories without his involvement or permission. However, the studio says since these stories are historical fact they do not need to obtain legal clearance from Brittle. As part of the lawsuit, Brittle is essentially admitting that the stories were fabricated, and the filmmakers are not using “true events” as a basis for the series but his original, creative fictional storytelling, and therefore owe him compensation for story credit on the movies. This also means that a Fortune 500 company is taking the legal position in the court of law that demons and demon possession are real. So, unless Annabelle herself gets up and walks across the courtroom, this guy might actually have a case! However, what is even stranger is that Brittle waited until after the third movie in the series to file a lawsuit.

My suggestion is to put all of the above aside and go into Annabelle: Creation (and the rest of The Conjuring series) taking it as fiction. So far, the series has had some hits and misses, but real or not, there is something about the topic of demonic possession that is very compelling for audiences. Check back next week for my full review of Annabelle: Creation!