The Compelling True Story of The Real Life Couple Depicted in ‘The Conjuring’

By July 17, 2013
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Once in a while, a truly affecting horror movie comes along and the ’70s-style chiller The Conjuring certainly falls into that category. The film is based on the true story of the Perron family, who in 1971 moved into a farmhouse in Harrisville, Rhode Island, only to be tormented by supernatural forces. (Read our review from the L.A. Film Fest here.) As depicted in the movie, the Perrons enlisted the aid of noted demonologist Ed Warren and his clairvoyant, medium wife Lorraine (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga).

Stylish and character-driven, one of its main strengths is the way in which the relationship between the Warrens is portrayed. The surprisingly touching interaction between the two is one of the prime reasons that The Conjuring isn’t just a great horror film, it’s a great film in general.

So what gives this storyline such a human element? For starters, the real life story of the Warren couple is beyond intriguing – giving screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes and director James Wan endless material to draw from. The same can be said for Wilson and Farmiga, who perfectly capture the couple’s humor and spiritual connection.

Back in May, I joined a few other reporters in “The Conjuring Experience,” which included a discussion with actors Wilson and Lili Taylor as well as a trip to Lorraine’s home in Monroe, Connecticut.

No Rest for the Psychics 

Though Ed died in 2006, Lorraine, 86, is still devoted to her work.

“Doing the work, investigating and explaining it to people is really beautiful,” Lorraine said while introducing guests to her home. “I love the work. I’m still doing it. I’m doing it for him because I know he’d want me to. We worked so hard on it for such a long long time.”

Inside the Home of a Demon-Hunting Medium  

Lorraine’s modest home wouldn’t be easy to distinguish from most others in rural Connecticut but for an eerie basement, which serves as part of the Warren’s Occult Museum and is filled with mementos from each of their investigations. This includes a number of items that are believed to contain deadly energy, like the Annabelle doll (which is cleverly incorporated into The Conjuring’s plot).

While the real doll is nowhere near as creepy as the one featured in the The Conjuring, the story behind it certainly is.

The doll was given as a gift to a young nurse named Donna in 1970. Eventually, Donna and her roommate Angie began noticing that the doll would move on it’s own. Often times, the girls would find it in a completely different room than they left it in. Some time later, they discovered that the doll was writing messages on the wall, pleading, “Help me!”

When Donna noticed what looked like drops of blood on the toy, she consulted a medium who advised her to hold a seance. It was then that they were introduced to the spirit of Annabelle, a little girl who was murdered at the age of seven and left in a field that existed before the girls’ apartment complex was built. Feeling empathetic towards the child, they gave her permission to occupy the doll. But as it turns out, the child had a demonic nature. After a few more horrifying incidents, the women contacted Ed and Lorraine.

With the help of a priest, the couple performed an exorcism on the doll and placed it inside a glass case, where it is currently on display.

Amityville vs. Harrisville 

Though she and her husband are best known for the Amityville case, Lorraine has said that what happened in Harrisville remains one of the most harrowing experiences of her lengthy career.

“The Perron family called us in to see what was wrong with the house,” Lorraine recalled. “We had to go back and forth to the house several times for an awful long time. It was terrifying.”

Andrea Perron (played by Shanley Caswell), the eldest daughter in the family, detailed the horrifying incidents in her book “House of Darkness House of Light: The True Story.” In it, she notes that two former residents had hung themselves. She also describes how parts of the house would, at times, smell like a corpse and that faceless demons often appeared. One demon in particular, who Lorraine would refer to as Bathsheba, terrorized her mother, Karen Perron (played by Lili Taylor).

A Haunting in Connecticut 

Ed’s passion for ridding houses of evil spirits came out of his experiences growing up. According to his son-in-law and psychic researcher Tony Spera, he lived in a haunted house from the ages of 5 to 12.

“He’d see an old lady in his closet–peering out the door. The door would open up and an old hag head would come popping out. He’d also hear a cane and footsteps coming up the stairs to his house.”

“Ed and his twin sister both encountered this,” he continued. “They’d hear the footsteps around their beds at night.”

His mother, who struggled with alcohol abuse, was often out at local bars while his father, a cop, was typically working the night shift. As a result, the two young children were often left home alone.

Wilson as Warren 

When preparing for the role, Patrick Wilson first read Ed’s most well known book.

“I read “The Demonologist” and it’s pretty vast,” Wilson said. “Once you get into this world of the occult, it’s like going down a rabbit hole.”

He and Farmiga also visited Lorraine’s home, which the couple moved into in the 1960s. While there, he was surprised to learn that Ed and Lorraine made their living as artists.

“His artistic side was something that was very fascinating because he seemed like such a blue collar guy,” Wilson said of the famed paranormal investigator, “So I said, ‘We have to put some of these paintings in the film.'”

Though the couple’s artistic endeavors are not mentioned in the The Conjuring, Ed’s paintings can be seen hanging in the film version of the couple’s house.

Strangely enough, the couple’s love of art is what opened the door for their paranormal pursuits – literally.

When Ed would hear of a haunted house, he would drive to the home, paint a portrait of it, and knock on the owner’s door to see if they wanted to buy it. Once he had their attention, he’d ask if he and Lorraine could look around.

Though some believe that this was an elaborate money-making scheme, not once, in their entire career, were they paid to investigate a haunting.

“No, God no,” she said when asked if she and Ed were compensated. “What would they pay me for?”

When someone points out that everything has a price she interjects, “Not with something like that. Not something spiritual. We were artists and lecturers. That’s how we made our living.”

More Frightening than Any Demon 

There’s one thing that Lorraine enjoys discussing more than her work, and that’s her relationship with Ed.

“I met my husband when I was 16 years old. I went to the movies with a group of girls, and he was an usher.”

Lorraine recounts that shortly after they met, Ed enlisted in the military and eventually fought in World War II. One evening, while she was home recovering from surgery, she learned that the ship he was on was attacked. Though she is unemotional when discussing even the most dangerous supernatural entities, she does find it difficult to relive almost losing her husband during the war.

“I don’t want to get emotional about it,” she says becoming visibly teary,  “but I had just had ruptured appendix surgery and I was writing him a letter at the dining room table. While I was writing–it came on the radio that his ship went down.

“Only a half hour before, his father had called me to tell me what ship he was on,” she continued. “I kept calling and calling and calling. His father kept calling. He wasn’t on the list of survivors. That was really terrifying to me. I never dated another boy, I had never fallen in love with anybody like that.”

Remarkably, Ed survived and returned home. He was treated for burns at the Marine Hospital on Staten Island and Lorraine, who was still in recovery (appendix surgery in those days was far more debilitating), insisted on making the trip from Bridgeport, Connecticut, to see him.

The two were married while Ed was on survivor’s leave for a day and a half. The couple was given special permission to have a night wedding at a nearby Catholic Church.

House of Light 

Despite the severity of some of the stories she tells, Lorraine’s light-heartedness is apparent.

She refers to most people she’s speaking to as “honey” and is the first to laugh when her son-in-law implies that she may be too drunk on cocktails to answer questions as the night progresses. To the amusement of her guests, she interrupts her stories a few times to quiet one of her pet roosters (she has three).

Lorraine remains proud of her work and is still in awe of the places it’s taken her.

“I never dreamed it would come to this,” she said, “Where I would be talking to people all over the world.”

Despite the fact that she travels extensively, she says she has no plans to leave the small home she once shared with Ed.

“This is where we started, this is where I still am and I’ll probably be here until the end.”

The Conjuring opens this Friday, July 19. 

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Justine Browning
Justine is a film and culture reporter whose work has appeared in USA Today, Indie Wire and The Huffington Post. She currently serves as an on-camera correspondent for MovieWeb and Cine Movie TV.