'The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It' Ending Blends Fact and Fiction
How much of that spooky finale was true?
When you sit down to watch a furniture-flying-around, ghosts-popping-out-of-nowhere horror movie like The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, which premiered on HBO Max and in theaters last Friday and made over $24 million at the box office over the weekend, you're most likely looking to get sufficiently scared. Accuracy, facts, and the overall fidelity to the truth aren't exactly the main attraction. Yes, Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson play Lorraine and Ed Warren, real-life New England-based paranormal investigators with twin loves for Catholicism and ghost-hunting, but the movies aren't documentaries. They're rollercoaster rides.
Still, the "based on a true story" element of the series is often played up in the marketing material, and the latest entry in the series, the follow-up to 2016's London-set The Conjuring 2, draws on a noteworthy court case that made headlines at the time, fed into the "Satanic Panic" of the '80s, and even inspired a 1983 TV movie called The Demon Murder Case. The 1981 trial of Arne Cheyenne Johnson was the first court case in the US where defense attorneys attempted to prove that a client was possessed by a demon when committing a crime. Seemingly a perfect case for Lorraine and Ed.
Though there are obviously significant differences between reality and the movie version, the Warrens did have a role to play in the trial. Below, we dig into some of the questions surrounding the ending of the movie and the case itself as portrayed in the film by director Michael Chaves and screenwriter David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, who shares a story credit on the film with producer (and original Conjuring director) James Wan. The truth might not always be creepier than fiction, but it's often stranger.
Is the exorcism recording that plays over the credits real?It's not uncommon for dramas based on real stories to end with photos of the actors laid out next to the actual people they played. The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It takes this tradition a step further by playing a recording of the exorcism of 11-year-old David Glatzel over the end credits. You don't get to see any of the limb-twisting chaos portrayed in the film, but you do hear some back and forth with the child.
This incident was real and the Warrens, who were well-known in the field at this point, were called in by the family to attempt to help the boy. In recent years, David's brother, Carl Glatzel has challenged the possession story and spoken out against the Warrens. (Ed died in 2006 and Lorraine died in 2019). "That's why I moved out of Connecticut," Carl Glatzel told the Hartford Courant. "I never did believe in the bullshit."
What actually happened to Arne Johnson?While the broad outlines of the Arne Johnson story as portrayed in the film are true—for example, he was convicted of manslaughter and he did remain married to David's sister Debbie—the filmmakers play very fast and loose with the specifics. The real victim was named Alan Bono; the movie changes his name to Bruno. In the film, Arne and Debbie are the only other people at the crime scene; in real life, there were more people present.
The most noteworthy detail about the case that the movie leaves out is that the judge in Johnson's trial didn't actually allow Johnson's attorney to make the "devil made me do it" defense, citing the lack of evidence; instead, Johnson's attorney made a self-defense argument and the jury found Johnson guilty of first-degree manslaughter.
Perhaps that's why the movie doesn't suddenly transform into a courtroom drama. The plot in the second half mostly centers around the hunt for The Occultist (Eugenie Bondurant), a woman who uses spooky-looking totems to summon demons and steal souls. As you'd probably imagine, the big showdown between the Warrens and The Occultist isn't exactly ripped from the headlines.
According to a Fangoria interview with the film's writer David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, the investigations in the second half of the film were drawn from the Warrens' experiences as investigators. "We could start off with Arne's story, and then we moved into composite territory where we were plucking stories of her investigations and folding them into this story," he explained. "And that gave us a little bit of license in terms of coming up with things that were not necessarily from Arne's story, but were still based on their case files."
Will there be a Conjuring 4?Though The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is the third movie in the original series, following The Conjuring (2013) and The Conjuring 2 (2016), it's actually the eighth (!) entry in what Warner Bros. refers to as The Conjuring Universe. The spinoff movies Annabelle (2014), Annabelle: Creation (2017), The Nun (2018), The Curse of La Llorona (2019), and Annabelle Comes Home (2019) are all part of the larger, ever-expanding franchise. You may be surprised to learn that The Nun is the highest-grossing of the eight films worldwide, which may explain why there's a sequel in development. There's also another Conjuring project in the pipeline called The Crooked Man. (No relation to The Empty Man.)
But what about Lorraine and Ed? As goofy and over-the-top as The Conjuring movies can be, Farmiga and Wilson are fun in these roles, selling each demonic possession and grounding the battle between good and evil in the wholesome dynamic of their relationship. Also, the third movie does an effective job of ditching the haunted house narrative model of the first two films for a more procedural story that calls to mind countless episodes of The X-Files. While there's still no official announcement about a fourth installment, both Farmiga and Wilson confirmed in an interview with Empire that they'd love to make more. (They also appeared in Annabelle Comes Home, as it picks up just after the events in The Conjuring). Given how long the real-life Warrens kept investigating paranormal happenings, there should be plenty more "real" cases to pull from the files.