"Conjuring" Scares From Real-World Horror

Director James Wan kept his latest fear-fest as grounded as possible

By Scott Huver
|  Friday, Jul 19, 2013  |  Updated 1:15 PM EDT
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Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in "The Conjuring"

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There’s something about knowing that what just scared the pants off you in the horror film you’re watching may have actually happened to someone in the real world that makes those goosebumps get that much bigger.

That’s what the filmmakers behind “The Conjuring” are hoping for. Not only is the modern take on the classic haunted house scenario garnering rave reviews for delivering a riveting scare factor in spades, the film’s bolstered by a pervasive feel of rich, detailed authenticity drawn from a real-life story in which supernatural forces appeared to have plagued a family occupying a small town farm house.
 
In 1970 the Perron family – father Roger, wife Carolyn and their five daughters – moved into a 200-acre property in Harrisville, Rhode Island, a locale they would later learn had a long history of suicides, violence, death and tragedy. The Perrons would soon experience an increasingly intense array of seemingly supernatural phenomena which, as they escalated and appeared to grow more sinister and terrifying, prompted them to seek help from renowned paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, who would later be among the lead investigators in the famed haunted house case that would inspire the 1979 film “The Amityville Horror.”
 
“The Conjuring” dramatizes the efforts of the Warrens – played in the film by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga – to free the Perrons from the bizarre forces that were terrorizing and tormenting them.
 
“After having made 'Insidious,' I didn't really want to do another haunted house/ghost story movie, but I've been fascinated with the Warrens for a while now,” says director James Wan. “Part of the reason why I was willing to come back and do this was the chance to tell a real-life."
 
“’Based on a true story’ is a great selling point for filmmakers and producers just because people love the real life macabre stuff,” says Ryan Turek, editor in chief of the horror website Shocktillyoudrop,com. “Instantaneously people's ears prick up, because they're like, 'Oh my God, this might've really happened,' which sends a shutter down their spine and sends them to the internet to like start looking up that kind of true take that inspired the film.”
 
“After it’s all over, and if you’re scared, then it stays with you,” says Staci Layne Wilson, producer/host of the horror talk show “Inside Horror on theStream.tv. “And the studio executives have the same subliminal message that the viewing audience gets. They probably feel in the back of their mind that this is true and they’d like to be one who brings that story to the public.”
 

 
At 86, Lorraine Warren, who is said to be psychically gifted, still has vivid memories of her time with the Perrons. ”They really lived in fear of what was going on in the house, she recalls. “Being there, I still realized that it wasn't a very good place. It wasn't a very good place. There were negatives – I'm not going to say it was demonic, but they were very negative spirits there.”
 
Wan says his intention was to be faithful to the stories of both the Warren and Perron families, combining elements of their personal stories into the narrative – many of chilling sequences are stylized but otherwise virtually literal interpretations of their experiences. “They talked about constantly seeing apparitions, constantly being woken up in the middle of the night, people pulling at their legs while they sleep, voices talking to them,” he says. “A lot of these things were true to what happened to the family in that house.”
 
Other elements, like the suspense inducing “clapping game” that the Perrons play, came from the director’s cinematic extrapolations from their experiences. “The actual clapping game itself, that came from me, but I used what they told me as inspiration to come up with something like that.”
 
In playing the Perron matriarch Carolyn, actress Lili Taylor took a different tack when it came to research, relying primarily on the story and characters as defined in the screenplay. “The first way in was sincerity,” says Taylor. “Because it's real, it needs to be treated with respect and you have to have integrity and authenticity. Everything was treated with care. I watched some exorcisms on YouTube – which are pretty heavy, actually, and I don't recommend to anybody – but just seeing real people who were going through that, and kind of drawing from this is real. I'm not going to make fun of it or treat it lightly.”
 
“If you're a believer in all this stuff, it probably doesn't bother you anymore whether it's a true story or not because you believe it,” says actor Ron Livingston, who plays Roger Perron. “But if you're a skeptic, the fact that there's sort of documented evidence that this family's saying happened to us, and these paranormal experts saying, 'Yeah, we have evidence that this in fact happened to them.' It's hard to wrap your head around how that could be, and it makes you a little extra nervous watching it and walking in the dark parking lot on the way home.”
 

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