Friday, 8 January 2016

Hollywood and The Warrens: Rewriting History Again...

Horror fans are likely waiting with bated breath for 10th June 2016, and the release of the sequel to the hugely successful 2013 film The Conjuring, directed by James Wan. The film will see Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga reprise their roles as "paranormal investigators" the late Ed Warren and his surviving spouse Lorraine, the poster even features the tagline "the next true story from the case files of the Warrens."  Many, with more than a passing interest in the paranormal scene, likely had a slightly different reaction when the film's full title, The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Poltergeist, was revealed a few months ago, and to the return of Ed and Lorraine, not to mention the aforementioned tagline which should induce at least a snort of derision from anyone aware of the Warrens' history.

The reason for these raised eyebrows?

Anyone who is aware of the Enfield poltergeist case knows that, barring a fleeting, uninvited visit to the family home,  Ed and Lorraine Warren had fudge-all to do with it! Sure Ed made various comments about Enfield, frequently referring to the alleged haunting as the work of a demon, something that the case's actual investigators, Guy Lyon Playfair and the late Maurice Gross of the SPR were in direct opposition to.

Now, cards on the table, firstly I'm not going to delve into Enfield too much. Frankly, it's been done to death, if you want more background, Joe Nickell wrote this excellent account for CSI. Also, I'm not a fan or Playfair or Gross, I think the investigative methods the pair used were shoddy at best. They gave the children at the center of the case just enough freedom to fake "phenomena" at will, as did the various journalists who visited the family over the course of the incidents.

A great example of Playfair's blindness to the idea of Janet and her sisters faking occurrences comes in this interview with the Righteous indignation team back in 2011. Interviewer Michael marsh asks if the girls could have faked any of the happenings recorded. Playfair responds that it's not possible, as every time they did fake something, he and Gross caught them! Seriously listen to the whole interview, Playfair unintentionally reveals many of the clear flaws in the investigation. As a side note to this side note, go and listen to the first 90 or so episodes of RI. It truly is the best skeptical podcast I've ever listened too. The interviews, many with believers and advocates of the paranormal and such, were conducted with such respect. but firmness, very were quite unique.

 I miss it a lot....

Anyway. Whatever I think of Lyon and Playfair, this was their investigation. This hijacking of their work to further the myth being weaved around the Warrens is disgraceful. Playfair has quite rightly spoken out about it, in an interview with Darkness radio. 

Playfair says:

"They did turn up once, I think, at Enfield, and all I can remember is Ed Warren telling me that he could make a lot of money for me out of it. So I thought, “well thats all I need to know from you” and I got myself out of his way as soon as I could. I said was not impressed.... I don’t think anybody in the family had ever heard of him until he turned up. Uninvited. I had a brief conversation with Ed at Enfield, and as I say, he was telling me how much money he’d help me make, and I politely declined his help, and I strained that that’s not what we exist for in the SPR, and that was the last time I saw him."
The repeated references to money will come as no surprise to anyone familiar with the Warrens. Let's be frank. That's all they ever gave a damn about. Also just turning up at the site of an alleged haunting was totally part of their MO. No doubt the narrative of this film will contain the victims of this haunting seeking out Ed and Lorraine, just as the first film did. The truth is, Ed and Lorraine just turned up unwarranted at the Perron's home just like they did at Enfield.

So why have the filmmakers chosen this case, rather than focus on an investigation that the Warrens were legitimately (not that Ed and Lorraine ever did anything legitimate) involved with? The truth if that the other cases the Warrens were involved with, and crucially, have the film rights to, probably wouldn't fit a popcorn, big studio horror-by-numbers.

Werewolf demon? Is a modern audience going to buy that as a true story? Unlikely.

What about the case of Arne Cheyenne Johnson, a 19-year-old tree surgeon, who murdered his landlord in a frenzied knife attack, and called in the Warrens to help him prove the devil made him do it? Well, the Warrens can hardly be heroes in this, the jury were, unsurprisingly unimpressed with the claim and voted to convict Johnston. Plus, the Warrens don't own the rights to this exclusively, Lorraine is unlikely to want to share the spoils with Johnson's family, with whom she co-owns the rights.

Should we be surprised by this revisionism? The Warrens do have form.

Fact Vs Fiction: Spot the difference between the real Warrens and their Hollywood likenesses 

As I wrote in this piece for Doubtful News in 2014, the Warrens were reinventing their own history long before Hollywood pitched in, so none of this should really come as much of a surprise. In fact, Ed and Lorraine investigated purely ghost-related phenomena until the release of the Exorcist in 1973, from then on in it was demons all the way. That's where the money was, the Hollywood movie deals and book deals.

Ed and Lorraine were, and are, sideshow carnies nothing more. They exploited vulnerable families and situations in some pretty foul ways. Author Ray Garton, who wrote the account of the Connecticut haunting "In A Dark Place" told interviewer Blake Smith in this monstertalk interview, of Ed Warren's disdain for the families they purported to "help":
"I have quite a few tapes and I couldn’t get the Snedekers, their stories, the details of their stories weren’t meshing. They weren’t adding up. I went to Ed Warren and I explained to him that this was happening. I said, “I’m not sure how to go about this.” I had never done any nonfiction before. This was a new experience for me and I was trying, I wanted to have all the information laid out in chronological order in front of me, and it just wasn’t adding up. I told Ed and he said, “Well, they’re crazy.” He said, “All the people who come to us are crazy. That’s why they come to us.” He said, “You just use what you can and make the rest up.”
Another example of this disregard for those affected by their investigation comes from Ed's justification for the ex-funeral home at the center of the "Haunting in Connecticut" case being infested with demons. Ed stated it was due to acts of necrophilia committed whilst it was trading. Think about the upset that absolutely baseless accusation could cause to the families whose loved ones were interred there after death. And worse, that was a family owned business, the ex-owners were well known in the local community. Allegations like this could have ruined their lives. And did Ed ever provide evidence of these allegations? Of course not.

Give me flawed investigators like Playfair and Gross over these exploitative charlatans any day of the week. Thankfully for the family at the center of the Enfield case, they got there before Ed and Lorraine. Ed and Lorraine would have turned this damaged family into a side show to be paraded around trashy US daytime TV. Don't, believe me, watch the appearance of the family involved in the "haunting in Connecticut" case on an episode of Sally Jesse Raphael show entitled "I was raped by a demon"

The Warrens shouldn't be movie heroes, they were villains and hucksters through and through. Their glorification frankly sickens me.

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