In an age where seemingly every movie series aspires to be an interconnected universe, the number of franchises that have pulled off that trick remains shockingly small. One exception — other than Marvel — is The Conjuring. With its core series, spin-off series like Annabelle and The Nun, and seeming one-offs like The Curse of La Llorona and the forthcoming The Crooked Man, The Conjuring built a proven box office brand. Perhaps the most shocking thing is that this fright-machine is based on the investigations of a real couple, a partnership that delved into the paranormal for years and were involved in everything from that horror in Amityville to that haunting in Connecticut. This is the story of Ed and Lorraine Warren.
Ed Warren (born Ed Warren Miney) and Lorraine Rita Moran both came from Bridgeport, Connecticut. Ed, who claimed to have lived in a haunted house from ages five to twelve, served in the U.S. Navy in World War II; he and Lorraine married while he was on leave. Their daughter, Judy, was born after the war and Ed went to art school for two years. As they traveled around selling Ed’s work, the pair began to investigate houses for hauntings.
In 1952, they founded the New England Society for Psychic Research. The ghost-hunting group actually made it easier to gain access to homes to investigate, as it not only lent an air of legitimacy to their work, but also served as a base for the writing that Ed would do. Ed was really the occult scholar of the pair, a self-taught demonologist, whereas Lorraine considered herself a clairvoyant who also served as a “light-trance medium.” Lorraine tried to contact spirits in homes and locations as Ed researched and documented everything. By the mid-1960s, they turned more toward trying to help people that they believed were possessed or haunted, rather than simply documenting and investigating cases.
That’s the beginning of the Ed and Lorraine Warren that you might know from movies, talk shows, or magazine articles. Over the years, the Warrens professed to have investigated 10,000 cases. Those cases included some of the most famous unexplained phenomena in America. They investigated the Lutz home in New York, later immortalized as The Amityville Horror. They looked into incidents at the Perron family home in Rhode Island, a case that provided the foundation for the first Conjuring film. A 1968 encounter with two roommates and a doll set the basis for Annabelle. The Snedeker house in Connecticut, which was once a funeral home, was spun into A Haunting in Connecticut. The Warrens created an occult museum (currently closed due to zoning issues) that became a popular destination for enthusiasts.
For their part, the Warrens consistently maintained their belief in the supernatural and the authenticity of the phenomena they experienced, but their investigations always drew a healthy share of skeptics. The Enfield poltergeist, which figures into The Conjuring 2, attracted the interest of skeptics like magician Milbourne Christopher and associate dean for the Center for Inquiry Institute Joe Nickell; both showed the case was a hoax. In 1997, neurologist and Yale professor Steven Novella and late podcaster Perry DeAngelis investigated claims by the Warrens, and even met and interviewed them. In an interview with the Sydney Morning Herald, Novella said, “What we found was a very nice couple, some genuinely sincere people, but absolutely no compelling evidence” that the hauntings were real.
Ed Warren passed away in 2006, missing his and Lorraine’s second pop culture act. In 2013, The Conjuring arrived, directed by James Wan (of Saw and Insidious) and featuring Patrick Wilson as Ed and Vera Farmiga as Lorraine. The film turned out to be a massive success, both critically and financially, and it opened the doors for other Warren stories and cases to be adapted. During this time, Lorraine made appearances at conventions to speak about the film and her experiences. The Conjuring Universe presently contains eight completed films, two pending (The Conjuring 3 and The Crooked Man) and five shorts. Lorraine passed away in April of this year, but the legacy of her and Ed’s work and stories are kept alive by their daughter, Judy Spera, and Judy’s husband, Tony.
The Warrens occupy a curious place in our culture. They were real people who have become franchise characters. They investigated frightening things with real conviction, even as other people debunked them with equal conviction. To some, they represent curiosity and a belief in powers outside the visible world, while to others they were nice, even loveable, people who took their own desire to believe too far. Whichever side you land on, the story of the Warrens is a fascinating example of how a life’s passion can lead to cultural immortality. The Warrens’ stories may be easy to dismiss in the light of day, but it’s that time alone, in the dark, with an inexplicable noise creaking on your stairs just out of your field of vision, that makes them seem completely real.
Featured image: TCD/Prod.DB / Alamy Stock Photo.
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