James Wan's The Conjuring deeply divided audiences. People seemed to either hate it with a searing passion or love it with ours goes to eleven intensity.
I loved it. Not only because I found it scary as hell, but also because I once worked with Ed and Lorraine Warren, real paranormal investigators who are the film's main characters. Not only did I work with them, I came very close to getting beaten up by them.
This happened during my work as cinematographer on a reality show called Real Scary Stories. In the show, we took teenagers to haunted locations then did our best to scare the living hell out of them.
Bodie was once a prosperous mining town, but as all prosperous mining towns seem to do, it "fell on hard times." It's now almost completely abandoned. Thankfully, California has preserved it in a state of "arrested decay" as a park.
Like any respectable ghost town, it's supposedly haunted. But worse than the spirits of long dead prospectors, saloonkeepers, gun-slingers and whores wandering the streets, the town is also cursed. See, the spirits that inhabit Bodie are very protective of the town's treasures and anyone who takes anything from Bodie is going to catch holy hell, paranormally speaking. Park rangers get packages in the mail all the time. The packages contain all sorts of crap -- old nails, chunks of wood, even rocks -- that visitors stole from Bodie as souvenirs, only to suffer a sudden and inexplicable onset of bad luck.
For our segment, the casting team dug up a pair of Los Angeles "valley girls." Kids from successful, wealthy households. Kids who had everything. Kids for whom the oyster of life seemed to have shucked itself open revealing a six pound black pearl. We dragged these two out to Bodie, toured them around town, then had each take an object home to see if their solid gold luck would transmute to lead.
And what do you know? The Bodie curse seemed to be real. Through video journals, the girls documented unexpected strings of bad hair days, inability to find the right shoes to go with that new dress no matter how many boutiques they scoured, and even mysterious mechanical problems with the Mercedes one had received for her sweet sixteen. The curse was clearly real and the girls had to return these objects to Bodie post-haste to break the evil spell. Which they did, as the last installment of their video journals documented.
The Warrens are, shall we say, controversial figures. Like the split over the film which supposedly depicts their most terrifying case, many people believe their tales of occult battles with powers from the beyond are unassailable truth. Others consider it bull-puckey of the highest order. Whether the supernatural forces the Warrens made a career duking it out with are real is one question (and one I shall not attempt to answer.) The other question is this: did they really believe all this stuff, or were they just con artists, making it all up to forge a name for themselves and generate some income?
That was the question on my mind when I first met them. At first blush, they seemed like a nice old couple. Lorraine was as sweet as can be, literally making cookies as we walked through the door. Ed was Lorraine's male half, warm, grandfatherly, a little gruff, but in a sweet and funny sort of way. At this point, he didn't know anything about the show, including what the content of the segment was.
Then the producer told him what we had done: convinced two innocent girls to take cursed objects out of a cursed ghost town to see if they'd be, well, cursed.
The change was instant. That was the last we saw of the warm, funny, grandfather type. Ed went ballistic and literally started screaming at us. He was as furious as I've ever seen a human being be as he turned the booming voice that had sent a hundred demons scurrying back to hell on our hapless producer. The phrase "how stupid are you people?" came up. A lot. In his view, we had not only potentially cursed these girls, but by doing it deliberately for a TV show, had taunted, nay insulted, the denizens of "the other side," making it that much more likely they'd come after those girls seeking payback.
He ripped into us for the better part of an hour. We weren't questioning him anymore, he was interrogating us. He wanted to know exactly what the girls had taken, when had they taken them, how long had they had these objects? Where were they stored? When he learned we had asked them to wear the objects on cords around their necks, he almost exploded. I actually thought he was going to go into his museum of the occult, grab a cursed baseball bat or two by four and start beating the crap out of us with it. He was that mad.
He didn't go as far as to kick us out of his house, but it was close. With Lorraine's help, we managed to calm him down enough to even get a few more sound-bites for the interview. Then we packed our gear up at super-human speed and fled for our lives.
Driving away, I took solace that at least the unpleasantness had answered that nagging question I'd had about Ed and Lorraine.
Were they con artists?
Based on his reaction to the Bodie story, seeing how genuinely furious, concerned, and frightened Ed was, convinced me that he's either the greatest actor of his generation, or 100 percent for real. I don't know if demons, ghosts, and evil spirits exist, but Ed and Lorraine believed they did to the core of their being. They're weren't scamming, weren't making it up.
And you have to respect that.