CinePile: The Conjuring 2's Enfield Haunting: Paranormal Hoax or Horror?
The Enfield Haunting had its share of skeptics - we delve into the history of the supernatural shiftiness surrounding Ed & Lorraine Warren's investigations.
The Conjuring 2 is sending a chill through the spines of cinemagoers everywhere right now. Director James Wan (Saw, Insidious 2) is well-known for creating work that recalls the style and cinematic tricks of the horror films of the ‘70s and ‘80s that he grew up with, yet with a modern (and often playful) eye, and The Conjuring 2 finds him right at home, in the actual 70s - retelling one of history’s more publicised paranormal stories: the Enfield haunting, in England.
In the sequel, we revisit The Conjuring’s paranormal investigator couple Ed and Lorraine Warren – who are based on the real-life couple of the same name, a husband-and-wife duo of “ghostbusters” who worked on a number of cases in the 70s. When the film begins, The Warrens have taken a sabbatical after being exhausted by their work on the Amityville case (a clever move on behalf of Wan, integrating a film that no doubt influenced his cinematic style - the 1977 film The Amityville Horror - into his own). But they can't turn down an unusual case across the seas in the UK, where a young girl called Janet is speaking with the voice of a grouchy old man and flying around her bedroom...along with the furniture. Ed and Lorraine attempt to rid the girl of a demonic spirit, and get mixed up themselves in the demon's bad business.
One of the most interesting aspects of the film is the presumption of disbelief - the local authorities in the film are desperate to debunk the idea that there are supernatural forces at work in this suburban home - them, along with the skeptics they've hired, would much rather expose the working-class Hodgson family as having elaborately staged the whole haunting in a bid for fame and fortune. Enfield wasn’t the first time paranormal occurrences have been called into question, or labelled 'hoaxes', due to a lack of solid evidence – here’s some of the more high-profile creepy cases that Ed and Lorraine Warren investigated that have captured the imagination of the public at large, what’s been documented - and just as extensively disputed. Have a read, and decide if you believe, think it’s rubbish, or think that truth should never stand in the way of a good story…
THE ENFIELD HAUNTING
The Conjuring 2 is based on the Enfield hauntings of the 70s, where a family living in northern London were troubled by a strange presence, fixated on their teenage daughter Janet Hodgson. The case attracted a bunch of media attention at the time, mainly due to the release of some super spooky photos of young Janet in her nightie levitating from her bed (images which are re-enacted in The Conjuring 2, with the original film stills revealed during the end credits sequence). A police officer was said to have seen a chair move across the floor, there was hundreds of hours of audio recordings of Janet speaking in the voice of an old man (which she apparently did for hours, and would be impossible for her to do without damaging her vocal chords), and the family’s mother reported rock throwing, objects catching fire spontaneously, demonic voices, and overturned furniture. Neighbours reported seeing hte figure of a man sitting at a table in the house when it was supposedly empty. Apparently the family were offered the family a large amount of money to say it was fake, but declined.
Above: The original photo from the Hodgson family, and a film still from The Conjuring 2
Ghostbuster Ed Warren said he witnessed the young girl levitating and attempted to rid Janet of demonic possession. However, skeptics investigated the Enfield incidents and criticised paranormal investigators for believing, identifying various features of the case as being indicative of a hoax from an “imaginative teenager”. A video camera caught Janet bending spoons and attempting to bend an iron bar, and supposedly a remote-controlled still camera unveiled the levitating Janet photos to be school-sports champion Janet bouncing on the bed as if it were a trampoline. Guy Lyon Playfair, the paranormal investigator who was there and who wrote the book This House is Haunted upon which the drama is based, observed the family closely for fourteen months, and claims there’s no way a young girl could continue a hoax for that amount of time.
THE AMITYVILLE HAUNTING
The tale of a reportedly demon-infested house in Long Island, New York, became a best-selling novel in 1977 and a hit horror in 1979 (with a bunch of inferior sequels following in its wake). Here, the inhabitants of the house, The Lutzes (who provided the information for the novel) claimed it was haunted, following the mass murder of its prior inhabitants, a family of six, by their father, Butch. After a number of events were documented, including doors being ripped from their hinges, glowing red eyes, cloven footprints in the snow, slime dripping from the ceiling, and insect swarms… it came to light that perhaps the house’s demons drove the father to murder his family. A priest who went to the house returned with blistered palms, and claims to have heard the voice of a demon telling him to ‘get out’. A television special was made about the house, which featured ‘ghostbusters’ Ed and Lorraine Warren.
Above: A scene from the 1977 film.
Researcher Rick Moran compiled a list of more than a hundred factual errors and discrepancies between the claimed horror and the truth. Apparently weather reports showed there was no snowfall when The Lutzes claimed they saw cloved hoofprints in the snow. The Lutzes’ account details extensive damage to the home's doors and hardware - however the original locks, doorknobs, and hinges were untouched. And in his interview with Father Pecoraro, the priest apparently told Moran “said he never saw anything in the house.” Butch’s lawyer, William Weber, admitted that he, along with the Lutzes, created the story, and author Jay Anson further embellished the tale for the book. Still, the Lutzes stuck to their story, reaping tens of thousands of dollars from the book and film rights.
ARNE CHEYENNE JOHNSON ‘THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT’ CASE
The 1981 murder trial of Arne Cheyenne Johnson was the first US case where a lawyer pleaded his client’s innocence on the grounds of demonic possession. Arne Cheyenne Johnson stabbed his landlord to death with a pocketknife. Arne lived with his fiancé and fiance’s younger brother David, David began seeing a man with hooves and black eyes that appeared in his house at night, and reported footsteps, slamming doors, and voices. David went into convulsions and bruises appeared on his wrists and neck, and he spoke to Arne and his fiancé in Latin tongues. Arne, who was helping David through the ordeal, began to taunt and threaten the demons, telling them to take over him instead. He too then claimed to be possessed, and to have looked into the eyes of the man with hooves. Ed and Lorraine Warren were called in at this point, and a number of exorcisms took place. During a small party, Johnson’s behavior became increasingly erratic and witnesses reported Arne going into a trance, growling under his breath, then walking slowly towards the landlord, stabbing him viciously in the chest multiple times. Lorraine Warren made the claim that Johnson had been possessed by demons when the murder was committed, and that David had said he had seen the demons go from him into Johnson’s body.
Above: A photo from the trial
The claims of demonic possession and murder in the quiet peaceful neighbourhood of Brookfield, Connecticut drove the media into a frenzy, and the story was covered extensively in various outlets. During the court proceedings, alleged taped evidence of the priests confirming approval for an exorcism was presented – however the church diocese officially denied that any actual exorcisms had been performed, and distanced themselves from the case. There were also photos presented in court of Johnson kneeling over David on the floor with a crucifix pressed to his forehead, and another in which Johnson is holding David down as the crucifix lies broken on the floor next to him. Despite this, the judge wouldn’t hold up the demonic possession claim – all of the testimony related to the demon possession defense was thrown out, and the charge was changed to one of self-defence – Johnson was found guilty of first-degree manslaughter, and was sentenced to 20 years. In 1983, Lorraine Warren wrote a book about the incident titled The Devil in Connecticut - David and his brother Carl sued the publishers, claiming that the Warrens had lied about the events that had taken place and that the exorcism story was a hoax; a tall tale they had weaved to take advantage of and make profit off of David’s mental illness. The Warrens stood by their version of events.
This case is focused on the Snedeker family, who in 1986 rented an old house in Southington, Connecticut, with their daughter and three young sons. The family discovered, after finding mortician’s tools, that their house was once a funeral parlour – soon, the family was plagued with horrifying ghostly visions – the parents even said they were raped and sodomized by demons. Ed and Lorraine Warren were called in, and proclaimed the Snedeker house to be infested with demons. The story first came to light in horror novelist Ray Garton’s 1992 book, that he wrote with the help of The Warrens: ‘In a Dark Place: The Story of a True Haunting’. The family have appeared on the Discovery Channel TV show, and their story has been turned into a film - The Haunting in Connecticut.
Above: The Snedeker Family
The Skeptical Inquirer magazine interviewed the Snedeker’s landlady, who found the whole story ridiculous, saying that nobody before or since had experienced anything unusual in the house, and that the Snedeker family stayed in the house for more than two years after reporting the events. The novelist Garton also said that, after finding that the family’s individual accounts didn’t mesh and telling this to the Warrens, the Warrens asked him to “use what works, and make the rest up and make it scary”. It’s said that the Snedekers were aware of the wide public interest in the Amityville Horror, which happened ten years prior - and profited handsomely from selling the rights to their ‘true story’ of a haunted house.
Above: The Warrens
ANABELLE THE DOLL
In 1970, two roommates claimed their Raggedy Ann doll was possessed by the spirit of a young girl named Annabelle Higgins. They said that they’d come home from work to find the doll in different positions, Despite having no parchment paper in their home, the girls would find pencil-written notes from Annabelle throughout their apartment. The Warrens were called into investigate, verifying the notes, and saying that they said ‘help us’ in what appeared to be the hand writing of a small child. They proclaimed the doll possessed, exorcised the apartment, and found the doll a home in their ‘Occult Museum’, in Connecticut.
Above: the original doll in the Warrens' Museum
A 2014 film, Annabelle, was loosely based on this story, and it was also referenced in the opening scene of the first The Conjuring film – although the doll used in the films was more terrifying and human looking than the actual doll. At a press conference, Anabelle director John Leonetti told journalists that the first night he walked into the apartment that was used for the movie (one that had been vacant for 15 years) with members of the film crew, he told the interviewer there was a bright full moon shining through the window, shining light on the tracks of three fingers through the dust – the doll apparently had three fingers. The doll sits in the museum to this day, with a cross and a sign saying ‘Do Not Touch’. Despite being kept in the museum, the Warrens said the Doll was known to reappear in different areas of their home. The Warrens have talked of a number of incidents involving the doll wreaking havoc when it was moved, or called into question – according to the Warrens, two Occult museum visitors reportedly crashed their motorcycle after poking fun at the doll’s abilities, and a priest who insulted Annabelle, telling her “you can’t hurt anyone,” was reportedly involved in a near-fatal car crash after the visit. Ed Warren was said to relate this story to visitors to the museum – without naming any names - prior to his death. The Warrens’ stories haven’t been verified.
The Conjuring 2 is in cinemas now.