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The Conjuring 3
Image: TimeOut/New Line Cinema/Warner Brothers

'The Conjuring 3' is based on an incredibly creepy true story

But the truth is extremely complicated

Written by
Andy Kryza

Earlier this week, audiences became very, very concerned for Vera Farmiga's beleaguered ghost-hunting hero Lorraine Warren after a clip of The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It debuted at the MTV Movie & TV Awards

As the deeply religious Warren matriarch, Farmiga has been the victim of many of the series' most intense jump scares, enduring demonic nuns, possessed dolls and all manner of gnarled visage that pops suddenly out of the darkness accompanied by screeching violins. 

Could this be the film where the devoted Mrs. Warren finally meets her end, yanked off a huge cliff by a ghostly hand? Those who know the facts — and real-world fictions — behind The Conjuring series definitely already know the answer. 

The Conjuring films are all based on real cases. But in real life, the stories that inspired the films — and the stories told by the real-life Ed and Lorraine Warren — are shrouded in as much skepticism as they are in mysticism.

The Conjuring movies are based on real people

Horror movies love to claim they're based on real events. It simply adds a layer of creepiness to think that whatever unfolds on screen really did go bump in the night. It's usually BS.

But The Conjuring series really does take its inspirations from the real world, or at least a version of reality that was presented to the real world. Ed and Lorraine Warren, played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, were self-proclaimed paranormal investigators whose files informed the films. 

The Perron family at the center of the first film's really did reside in what they claimed was a house haunted by a witch with roots in their Rhode Island town. The Warrens were also investigators of the famous Amityville haunting — the murderous basis of The Amityville Horror and many other films — and investigated the famous Enfield poltergeist in England, whose reign of terror over an unsuspecting family in 1978 drew considerable attention from the media, academia and the paranormal community. Their experiences inspired the second Conjuring film. 

Even the series' creepy Annabelle doll is inspired by a supposedly possessed Raggedy Ann that the couple investigated. It resides in their museum in Connecticut.

While the veracity of all the claims have been debated, the fact remains that they are well documented in the real world. 

The Devil Made Me Do It is based on a famous murder trial

The Devil Made Me Do It isn't just the name of the third Conjuring film. It's the nickname of a wild murder trial in Connecticut from 1981, which represents the first time in the US justice system that a defense attorney rested his entire defense on the basis of demonic demonic possession. 

There was no debate as to whether Arne Johnson had technically murdered his landlord Alan Bono in Brookfield, CT. His girlfriend had watched Johnson repeatedly stab Bono while making guttural noises. But he claimed to have no control over his body, instead being used as a demonic vessel to spill blood. 

The Warrens' involvement preceded the murder. They were called in by Brookfield's Glatzel family to examine their 11-year-old son David, whose erratic behavior — animalistic hissing, claiming to see a soul-stealing old man speaking in Latin — led the Warrens to declare him possessed by multiple entities, despite the Glatzel not believing in such things. An official exorcism was performed, and in the aftermath the Warrens would eventually claim that the expelled demon had jumped hosts into young Arne Johnson, who happened to be dating the Glatzel's daughter. 

The ensuing media frenzy grabbed national headlines, with the Warrens front and center from the moment the crime occurred to the eventual manslaughter conviction of Johnson, who served five years of his 10-20 year sentence.

The Warrens' legacy is complicated

The Warrens, while fascinating, have proven to be controversial figures in the paranormal community. Like the Lutz family that occupied the Amityville house they themselves investigated, the Warrens have been accused of spinning elaborate hoaxes in order to sell books and promote their own brand. 

The couple were endlessly scrutinized and accused of sensationalization, fraud and exploitation of the mentally ill, having detailed their experiences across such books as Ghost Hunters: True Stories From the World's Most Famous Demonologists and The Haunted: The True Story of One Family's Nightmare.

Notably, David's brother Carl Glatzel sued Lorraine Warren and Devil in Connecticut author Gerald Brittle in 2007, claiming that the author and demonologist had "concocted a phony story about demons in an attempt to get rich and famous at our expense."

Ed Warren died in 2006, while Lorraine died in 2019. And while their legacy is constantly under the microscope and mired in charges of fraud, it's all but impossible for us to truly prove that the demons they claimed to commune with weren't real, regardless of how tall the tales. 

One thing is for certain: Vera Farmiga will very likely survive The Conjuring 3 when it's released on HBO Max and in theaters June 3. 

Warm up for The Conjuring with Time Out's 100 greatest horror films

Read what Time Out thought of the original Conjuring right here

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