James Wan revitalized horror with Insidious, and now he's back with the 1970s period piece The Conjuring, which is allegedly based on a true story. We saw some footage from The Conjuring at Wondercon just now, and our hair is still standing up. Seriously. Spoilers ahead...
The Conjuring is based on the real-life paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren, who famously investigated the Amityville horror of the Lutz family — but this film is about another one of their cases, a Rhode Island farmhouse where a family struggled with a witches curse. At the Wondercon panel, Wan was joined by Lorraine Warren herself, as well as some members of the real-life Rhode Island family, the Perrons.
We saw two incredibly harrowing scenes from The Conjuring. In the first, Christine Perron (Joey King) is playing hide and seek with her young daughter — blindfolded. The daughter will give her mom three claps to orient her. But the mother gets led astray, wandering through the sprawling 1970s farmhouse, led by the wrong set of claps... claps that don't come from human hands. Later that night, at three in the morning, the mom hears those claps again. She thinks her daughters are messing around, but they're asleep in bed. And the claps are coming from downstairs. As she goes towards the stairs, though, there's a deafening crash — like an earthquake — and all the pictures on the wall fall on the floor, with the sound of shattering glass. Now she's freaked out, so she heads downstairs, where she hears the clapping again. The claps lead her towards the cellar, where she can't see anyone. She threatens to lock whoever is in the cellar down there — but then someone shoves her in there and closes the door with a slam. The lightbulb blows out, leaving her in total darkness. She lights a match... and someone says "Hey look behind you." As she turns to look, two ghostly hands appear... and clap.
On screen, this was the most terrifying, unsettling thing we've seen in ages.
The second clip showed the two Perron girls in bed, late at night, in their separate beds. The younger Peron girl, Christine, feels someone grabbing her feet, and yells at her sister Nancy to stop bothering her because she's trying to sleep — but she looks over, and her sister's in the other bed, fast asleep. Then whoever is grabbing her feet yanks hard, so she's almost pulled off the bed. Christine creeps towards the edge of the bed, slowly, haltingly, and peeks. Nothing there. She looks closer: just floorboards and bedsprings. The camera flips over as she gets back upright — and then there's someone or something in the room with the girls. She warns her older sister, and Nancy gets up to investigate. Nancy doesn't see anyone, until she's finally over by the door, where the strange presence is hiding in wait. "He's right behind you," squeals the terrified Christine — and then the door slams and they're in total darkness.
Wan told us that he's been a fan of Ed and Lorraine Warren for a long time. "It's hard to be aware of these films and these stories and be fascinated by this world, and not be fascinated by the Warrens." Wan said he doesn't have "anything else to prove in this genre," but the chance to tell a story about these people was too awesome to pass up, and given the chance "I might as well do it right." He was amazed by the terrifying experiences this family went through — and was happy to make a period piece, set in an era where nobody had cell phones. If you want to make a call, you have to go back into the spooky house and use the landline.
The real-life Christine Perron told us: "I was so astonished that were so many elements of our story that were captured on film... the integral part of what needed to be portrayed and what I thought was authentically and accurately portrayed was the love bonds in our family." She praised the realism and intensity that Wan brought to portraying their story.
Added Lorraine Warren, the real-life paranormal investigator: "When you had an infestation in a home like that — terrified children, terrified mother, terrified father — it was awful. We had to come rushing to their home as quickly as we could, to see if we could calm them down, to see if we could help them any way we could." She, too, praised Wan's ability to capture the real story of these people and their nightmare.