Be a Doll and Read These 13 Spooky Secrets About The Conjuring Universe

The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, the eighth installment in the sprawling franchise about ordinary people and the demons who terrorize them, is in theaters June 4.

By Natalie Finn Jun 04, 2021 7:00 AMTags

Don't worry, we know it's not you. It's that pesky devil again!

In the grand tradition of films such as The Exorcist and The Evil Dead that take demonic possession deadly seriously, combined with "inspired by true events" scare fests like The Amityville Horror, along came The Conjuring in July 2013.

Starring Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as scholarly paranormal investigators (and real people) Ed and Lorraine Warren, the R-rated film about a family in dire need of the Warrens' services had the highest-grossing opening weekend ever for an original horror movie and ultimately took in $320 million worldwide.

Which, considering it only cost $20 million to make, meant one thing.

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That's right, sequel. Or subsequently made prequel in what became the Conjuring Universe, an unequivocally clever interconnected group of movies involving evil forces that date back thousands of years—and the average person's inability to rid themselves of that evil once it gets its hooks into them. Which is where folks like Ed and Lorraine can be of service.

Almost eight years after the first film came out, the series having grossed more than $1.9 billion, The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is now in theaters (and streaming on HBO Max because of that other insidious beast, the lingering coronavirus pandemic). It may only be the third movie with "conjuring" in the title, but it's the eighth chapter in this terrifying cinematic saga.

So with the latest installment lying in wait to scare the crap out of you, here are the secrets that will ensure you are the one with all the answers when you're called upon to explain the inexplicable:

1. James Wan had previously directed Patrick Wilson in 2010's Insidious, about a child in danger of being possessed forever by evil spirits, so he naturally wanted to ensure that The Conjuring had its own distinguishable terror going on. Having the action set in the 1970s, when New England Society for Psychic Research founders Ed and Lorraine Warren were a young couple plying their trade, certainly helped.

"I wanted to make that a fun, creepy, sort of tongue-in-cheek movie, to some degree," the filmmaker told Collider in 2013 while on the North Carolina set of the original. "But just the nature of what this film is, and the fact that it's based on people's stories, I want to honor that as much as I possibly can and ground it in reality as much as I possibly could. And also, it's a period film, as well, and I want to stay true to all of that."

He was inspired by both the feel of The Amityville Horror (the 1979 original, not the Ryan Reynolds abs-fest) and The Haunting (also the 1963 original, though Lili Taylor, who plays the kind-and-loving turned possessed-and-homicidal mom in The Conjuring, starred in the 1999 remake).

"Still one of my favorite movies is the original The Haunting," Wan said of the black and white classic, which features a whole house that goes bump in the night. "I love that style. I love that feel, and I want to take that feeling and apply it to this story."

Overall, the director said, "I want to make a classical period film. I want to capture that with the production design, the wardrobe and the photography. If nothing else, I know this will be a beautiful-looking film!"

Audiences liked what Wan did with the place, so he's been a producer on every subsequent film in the Conjuring Universe and returned to direct 2016's The Conjuring 2.

2. Ed Warren died in 2006, but Wilson and Vera Farmiga did spend time with Lorraine Warren, making the pilgrimage to her Connecticut farmhouse, then the home of The Warrens' Occult Museum. The actors also watched interviews and read up on the Warrens' case histories—including one, Farmiga remembered, in which the couple had a run-in with flying debris from a truck on the highway.

And apparently, according to Farmiga, Wilson had a relatable experience driving to meet Lorraine for the first time. "I forget what the details of that story are—but Patrick has scars on his hands still to this day," the actress told Collider during a Conjuring press event in San Francisco in 2013. "On the way over to your house, we had met up in the parking lot but he had some strange experience on the highway where some suitcase on a truck in front of him came out from the car and kind of attacked his car. The whole fender kind of fell off on the top of his car."

3. Farmiga really wanted to get Lorraine right, the open-mindedness of a psychic mixed with the gravitas of an academic, someone who firmly believed in things that so many others do not, but without the kookiness so often associated with those who deal in the supernatural. ("There's a lot of people that don't believe," Lorraine, who died in 2019, acknowledged in a 2013 behind-the-scenes featurette.)

"I just wanted to see—the way she communicates with her hands, these gestures, her smile, how she moves through space," Farmiga recalled. "To me representing clairvoyance, how was I going to achieve that, how I was going to capture that? For me, it all became about her gaze and the way she takes you in. It's a rhythmic thing and a stillness thing to consider, but these are little details, little nuances. We were invited to the sanctity of her home and there were roosters running around and she's screaming, 'Jackie, be quiet!' Even though she's in the middle of the thing. And these are the details that we wanted to incorporate into our story."

4. Some of the paintings in "Ed and Lorraine's" house in the film are really Ed's paintings that Lorraine loaned to the production.

5. After they wrapped The Conjuring, Wilson and Wan reunited right away for Insidious: Chapter 2—which admittedly combined elements of everything that had come before.

"I mean in terms of confidence I literally made three very similar films back to back," Wan told Collider before the sequel's release in September 2013, barely two months after The Conjuring, "so I would hope that by the time I got to the third one that I've had a lot of practice. I did very similar moves, similar camera techniques in The Conjuring. I pulled things from Insidious that I applied to The Conjuring, and what I learned from The Conjuring I applied to Insidious 2. So for me, I feel like where I am in my career I feel like it's a cumulative filmmaking experience that I've gathered over the years."

6. Farmiga didn't exactly escape the first shoot unscathed. She told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 2013 that, one night before filming began, she was watching YouTube videos of Lorraine on her laptop, then closed the computer to speak with Wan on the phone. When she opened it again, she swore she saw "these digital claw marks" on the screen.

Then months later, after the production had wrapped, she came home to find three scratches on her thigh that she couldn't account for. She maybe scratched a bug bite and left those marks, but, she told the Post-Gazette, "It's odd. I don't know what it is. I'm caught in that threshold of knowing and not knowing—one foot in, one foot out. I try not to give it more relevance."

It certainly didn't scare her off of reprising the role of Lorraine for the sequel. 

"I've had some freaky stuff happen," Farmiga told Yahoo Movies in 2016. "I've experienced some weird occurrences, especially since shooting this, like a teacup flying off a shelf… I oftentimes get little cuts in threes, like three little claw marks… The first time around, I had a really prominent bruise that was like three claw-mark bruises... a lot of weird, inexplicable things."

Asked about his co-star's claw marks, Wilson told the Jakarta Post with a reported laugh, "Yeah, they were from me."

But producer Peter Safran agreed with Farmiga that things got a little weird, telling Yahoo, "People had a general sense of unease as we were shooting."

7. Wan told Collider that The Conjuring would be his last horror movie for awhile, though considering he said it while promoting Insidious: Chapter 2, which came out a couple months later, he made sure to note that he felt that sequel was mainly an extension of the first Insidious.

He went off to make Furious 7, but then returned to The Conjuring 2—which is, ultimately, another organic piece of the big Conjuring Universe puzzle. 

Meanwhile, Wilson said he was expecting a sequel all along. "I wouldn't have taken the job with the first one if I didn't think there would be at least one more," he told The Jakarta Post in 2016. "You know I realized there were a lot of stories to be told and the way that these movies were structured, with finding out a little bit more about Ed and Lorraine Warren, and also there's going to be a different taste every time. I think that's a good recipe for a couple of movies, at least and I knew I love working with Vera and James, so I had a feeling that we would be back for at least one. So we'll see what happens beyond this."

8. The Conjuring 2 starts off with Lorraine and Ed going to the site of the most well-known case the real couple ever investigated, the DeFeo murder house in Amityville, N.Y., fodder for the 1979 classic The Amityville Horror and its 2005 remake (plus a host of sequels, books and related schlock in between).

On Nov. 13, 1974, Ron DeFeo shot his parents and four siblings to death in their beds and then went to a nearby bar to ask for help, saying he thought his mother and father had been shot. A small group went to the house with him and discovered the carnage. Ron pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, insisting at trial he heard voices warning that his family was plotting against him, but he was convicted of six counts of second-degree murder. He died in prison this past March.

Meanwhile, on Dec. 19, 1975, George and Kathy Lutz moved with their three children into the DeFeo family's former home at 112 Ocean Ave.—and moved out after 28 days, insisting some sort of evil was afoot between those walls.

Asked what he thought might have happened to them if they'd stayed in the house, George told ABC News in 2006, "I try not to think about it." He said they were approached by DeFeo's attorney about collaborating on a book, but they didn't like the idea of his client profiting from it. They eventually assisted Jay Anson with his 1977 best-seller The Amityville Horror: A True Story, which inspired the movie that, despite some embellishments—he and Kathy never encountered green slime, for instance—he insisted was based in fact.

Lorraine Warren, who was a member of a team of psychic researchers hired by a journalist to probe the house's spiritual underbelly, recalled to ABC News an "overwhelming feeling" of "horrible depression" in the place.

9. Most of the rest of The Conjuring 2 was set in the north London borough of Enfield, where Ed and Lorraine take on the case of the haunted Hodgson family and consult a pair of European demon hunters played by Franka Potente and Simon McBurney (both also based on real people who factored into the 2015 British TV series The Enfield Haunting).

"I wish I have some crazy story of somebody flying through the air, but then again we didn't have [somebody to] bless the set on the first one and we did on the second one," Wilson told the Jakarta Post. "But I did get a video. It happened after I left one night, there was a video of giant curtains blowing pretty violently by themselves. There were no door open, no fan, no air conditioning. There was nothing. It was very strange. It's like the wind came out of nowhere and was blowing very violently. That was very unexplained, I just have to say."

And they did, in fact, have a priest come bless the Los Angeles set (where they built a copy of the Hodgson home on the Warner Bros. lot) before they got rolling.

"It's a smart idea because you're not talking about vampires and werewolves, you're talking about human evil," Steve Coulter, who played the priest who summons the Warrens to England, told Yahoo Movies. "Why not err on the side of caution?" 

Especially since the case of the Enfield poltergeist at 284 Green Street, where single mom Peggy Hodgson and two of her four children—as well as various psychics, neighbors and others—claimed to have witnessed all sorts of phenomena between 1977 and 1979, was the most famous alleged haunting in the U.K. When the production finally moved to Enfield, however, they did not shoot in the actual house.

"I'm sure the last thing those people want to do is relive anything that went on there," Wilson told the Jakarta Post, "but we shot at a place that looks identical and it was literally just a few blocks away."

10. During filming of The Conjuring, Farmiga found herself waking up every morning at 3:07, the same time the clocks keep stopping in the Perrons' very haunted house.

And she continued to wake up at 3:07 a.m., for a long time. "It's in my subconscious I know there's an alarm clock beyond that," she told Yahoo Movies in 2016. "It's a joke now. I look over, I flip over the cell phone, and sure enough, it's 3:07."

11. Wilson doesn't consider himself a believer, but he's forever an empathizer. He and Farmiga met the actual Hodgson family, who to him seemed "very thankful that we're sort of honoring their story, but you could also tell that it's something that—even though we're making a movie about it—they've struggled with this and lived with this for a long time now. 

"And whatever your view is on the paranormal—let's say you don't believe in any of it, then it's a woman who had a severe mental problem. You're either someone who gets possessed by a ghost, or you're someone who had a real mental breakdown or something," he told the Jakarta Post. "And either way, that's someone that needs help and someone that's going through something really tragic. So that's the way that I looked at it. Ed and Lorraine would've helped them, so I was fascinated and respectful and wanted them to know that we were there to honor their story, not to just make a movie about it."

12. Annabelle, about a possessed doll that you can't believe anyone, ever, would actually make for a child, came out in 2014 but is a prequel to The Conjuring, which features a glimpse of the malevolent toy among Ed and Lorraine's carefully contained possessions from previous cases—though you don't really know the story of how it got to their house yet.

But Annabelle, directed by James Wan pal John Leonetti, was merely the next step toward creating a universe that would sprawl every which way. Rather like the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the films can be watched in the order they were released and you'll be perfectly fine, but chronologically the events in the movies unfold as follows: The Nun (2018) kicks off in the Dark Ages with that old-time religion vs. the devil; The Curse of La Llorona (2019) first occurs in 1673; and in 1863 the witch Bathsheba sacrifices her baby to the devil, leaving the house in The Conjuring (2013) forever haunted. The Annabelle Creation (2017) begins in 1946 after a dollmaker's little girl is hit by a car; the surviving sisters in The Nun won't let the demon make it a habit in 1952; and Annabelle (2014) rears her ugly head in 1970, around the same time Lorraine and Ed help Maurice after his run-in with The Nun; which causes the trauma referred to in The Conjuring, the events of which begin after the Warrens decide that Annabelle Comes Home (2019) with them in 1971. 

Ed and Lorraine go on to help the Perron family in The Conjuring, but Annabelle is still at home in 1972, which isn't great for their clairvoyant daughter, Judy. The Curse of La Llorona makes the trip to Los Angeles in 1973. Three years later, Ed and Lorraine finally get a chance to investigate the trouble over in Amityville in The Conjuring 2 (2016), and in 1977 head to England. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021) picks up in 1981 with a boy on trial for a murder he doesn't remember committing.

But we have an idea of what his defense will be.

13. Oh, and in case you were planning on sleeping tonight, Annabelle is real and she lived in the Warrens' Occult Museum—under lock and key, of course.

During a 2014 talk at Lauralton Hall, a Catholic girls' high school in Milford, N.H., Lorraine's son-in-law Tony Spera, also a paranormal investigator, explained the backstory of the doll his mother-in-law called the item she'd be "most frightened of" in her whole archive.

Per the New Hampshire Register's account of Tony and Lorraine's slide show, a 28-year-old nurse received a Raggedy Ann doll from her mom as a birthday present in 1970. Soon enough, she noticed that it was never sitting exactly as she'd left it on her bed, the doll's position always slightly altered. Then the nurse and her roommate began to find messages written on parchment paper —even though they didn't keep any in the house—that said things like, "Help me, help us." Next, the doll would be in a different room, and one day it appeared to be bleeding.

A male friend woke up from a nap in the apartment and felt as though he was being strangled—and the doll seemed to be looking right at him. 


The roommates brought in a medium, who told them they were living with the spirit of 7-year-old Annabelle Higgins, who met an untimely death on the property before the apartments were built. The women granted permission for Annabelle's spirit to reside in the doll, but when the Warrens investigated, they determined that an inhuman entity was only temporarily using the doll on the way to finding a human host.

So, the Warrens took the doll home with them, Ed sprinkling holy water on it to counter the evil within.

Wilson said back in 2016 that he felt there were more stories about Lorraine and Ed's adventures to tell, but it would be up to audiences to say whether they wanted another Conjuring movie or not. 

"Let's see, we're a few years older, a few years wiser, and immediately, we're called into a much different case than we've ever dealt with," he told Entertainment Weekly recently with The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It on the horizon.

There's an exorcism in the new film, but also a murder trial, something different for Lorraine and Ed after a string of domestic hauntings.

"It's something that was a very conscious choice of, like, we can't go back and do a haunted house or another family with a demonic possession and hold up crosses and damn the devil to hell, although I think I do that," Wilson said with a laugh. Farmiga agreed that there were new challenges for the characters this time around, and "it was awesome for me," she said.


Ben Rothstein/2021 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

"Lorraine's been filtering messages from the divine for a couple of films now, but this was really, really super-fantastic for me. She gets put to the test in many new ways, and we really start getting into the intricacies of her clairvoyancy, and there are new facets that I got to explore: post-cognition, remote viewing, psychometry, all of these different ways of discernment. But, yeah, the love. There's a lot of love in this one! Every marriage has its ups and downs but the demons are a real downer in this marriage! But they're in it together, right?"

A little disturbing when it's the psychic who has to ask, but we're ready to find out.