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The Conjuring (2013)
With its thrifty $20m budget, James Wan's paranormal thriller is this summer’s sleeper hit – a feat no doubt boosted by its bold poster claim: "based on the true case files of the Warrens." The Warrens in question being paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine, who founded the New England Society for Psychic Research in 1952. Of the 10,000-plus hauntings they chronicled – many disputed - The Conjuring was their most notorious: the 1971 case when Roger and Carolyn Perron moved into a colonial farmhouse in Rhode Island with their five daughters, only to find it “possessed”. As the Warrens painstakingly detailed, this involved hauntings, the permanent stench of rotting flesh and angry spirits who arrived, admirably punctually, at 5.15am every morning to levitate beds. Luckily, no permanent harm was done: as well as tolerating these unworldly domestic intrusions for over nine years (!), the real-life Perrons also appear throughout the film’s marketing bumf to certify its authenticity.
♔ Katrina_96♔'s rating:
Responsible for much tabloid opprobrium in the years since – not to mention many parents quietly disposing of their offspring’s Cabbage Patch Dolls – is Tom Holland’s 1988 idiotic slasher, based on doll that comes to life. And yet Chucky, ludicrously, pays homage to a real-life demonic mannequin – specifically ‘Robert’, a 2ft-long sailor doll infamous throughout the state of Florida. Originally gifted to local author Eugene Otto in 1906, legend states ‘Robert’ was then cursed with a voodoo hoodoo by an irate Bahamian servant. The result? Over a century where various owners have reportedly seen Robert talking, giggling insanely, running around, smashing furniture and, on one occasion, attacking a girl. The doll is now housed behind glass at Fort East Martello Museum in Key West; visitors are implored to ask Robert permission before taking photos.
Spider-like crawling and airborne pea soup are what most people remember from William Friedkin’s 1973 horror classic. But not necessarily the name “Roland Doe” – the pseudonym for a real-life exorcism subject who, in 1949, inspired the film and William Blatty’s novel. According to diaries kept by priest Fr. Raymond Bishop, “Roland” was born to a German Lutheran Christian family in Maryland, and started exhibiting signs of possession aged 13, after trying contact his dead aunt with an ouija board. Nine priests and thirty-nine other witnesses described moving furniture, scratching sounds in the walls, the words “evil” and “hell” appearing on the boy’s skin, and a large boom when the exorcism ritual was finally completed. Although in a rare example of Hollywood restraint, not all these occurrences made it into the final film; even Friedkin himself dismissed the priest’s reports of a rotating head as “silly”. But filmed it anyway, you’ll note.
Garnering, well, universal indifference upon its release in 2002, the film version of John Keel’s novel recounted the events of 1966, when the town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia was terrorised by a winged humanoid - dubbed the Mothman. Witnesses at the time recalled a 7ft tall, possibly extra-terrestrial flying creature with glowing red eyes that ate local dogs; others claimed it foretold the collapse of the nearby Silver Bridge on December 15, 1967, which killed 46 people. Either way, the movie version, however, opted for a more modernized, surreal take – and disappointingly, failed to suggest ways of catching the Mothman. Perhaps by leaving a giant light on, say, or scattering old musty clothes in huge wardrobe.
Sidney J. Furie’s 1982 story of Carla Moran, a single mother plagued by a supernatural entity that abuses her, is mostly memorable for making “spectral rape” a viable form of entertainment. And yet such astral assaulting was based on the “true” case of Doris Bither – a single mother of three who, in 1974, claimed she had been repeatedly held down and attacked by up to three “Asian” ghosts at her home in Culver City, California. Wary of Bither’s raging alcoholism, paranormal researchers Kerry Gaynor and Barry Taff nevertheless recorded severe bruising, a humanoid apparition in the house and even captured photos of floating lights. Regardless, it proved too rich for Tinsel Town’s blood: the film’s release was delayed by a year when certain plot strands – specifically where Carla was forced to have incestuous thoughts about her own son – were deemed too controversial and grudgingly excised.
Cheerfully marketed as a documentary-style true story (despite fabrication claims), Stuart Rosenberg’s 1979 paranormal classic chronicled the experiences of the Lutzes – a US family of five who moved to Amityville, Long Island in December 1975. Only problem being their new, suspiciously cheap home at 112 Ocean Avenue had, 13 months previously, been the scene of the vicious DeFeo murders, where six members of the same family were slaughtered in their sleep. Cue a series of terrifying paranormal events, including – said father George Lutz - unseen forces levitating them at night, red glowing eyes, hoofprints, hidden rooms and green slime oozing from the walls. Bad luck for the family, who fled five weeks later. But good luck for author Jay Anson, who sold 10 million copies of his subsequent novel, and for director Rosenberg: the movie grossed a huge $86m upon release.
Another from the wholesome, family-friendly pen of Wes Craven, this 1984 hit slasher would ignite the careers of Robert Englund and a young Johnny Depp. And yet the concept, amazingly, was based on a true story that Craven had read in the LA Times during the 1970s. The subject was Khmer refugees, who’d fled to America after the US bombing of Cambodia. Several had began to suffer from disturbing nightmares, and refused to sleep. A few days later, when they finally succumbed to exhaustion, they died – a phenomenon unimaginatively named by medics as “Asian Death Syndrome”. To which, Craven realised, the natural next step would be to add razor-sharp gloves, stripey jumpers and a man apparently dipped in a mozzarella fondue.
The Haunting in Connecticut (2009)
Moderately successful at the 2009 box office, Peter Cornwell’s psych-horror ticked several paranormal movie boxes: a family with a sick child, a building with an evil history, and a ring of truth. Well, sort of: based on the book In a Dark Place: The Story of a True Haunting, it referenced the real-life Snedeker family, who moved into a house in Connecticut in 1984. Only to find – whoops – it was an ex-mortuary, where an employee had been convicted of necrophilia and barbaric tools still filled the basement. Worse, aside from general screaming, the Snedekers were also plagued by a demon “with white hair and eyes, [who] wore a pinstriped tuxedo, and his feet were constantly in motion.” Chilling indeed. Although the film’s “true story” claim was rather undermined when the book’s author, Ray Garton, revealed he never actually believed the Snedeker’s story – and had wanted it published as fiction. “It seemed everyone was having a problem keeping their stories straight," he said.
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