The Conjuring scared up a surprising $41.5 million over the weekend with a haunted farmhouse tale said to be "based on the true story" of ghost hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren.
But how much paranormal truth does the film handle?
Conjuring depicts the 18th-century farmhouse in Rhode Island where Roger and Carolyn Perron (Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston) and their five daughters allegedly were terrified and even possessed by spirits.
Ed Warren died in 2006, but Lorraine, now 86, was a consultant on the film and remains a paranormal investigator. She insists that many of the movie's harrowing moments actually happened.
"The things that went on there were just so incredibly frightening," she says, citing her own investigation nearly 40 years ago. "It still affects me to talk about it today."
Neurologist Steven Novella, president of the New England Skeptical Society, who has investigated the Warrens in the past, is far from convinced.
"The Warrens are good at telling ghost stories," says Novella of the couple who were also involved in the paranormal story that was made into the 1979 film The Amityville Horror."You could do a lot of movies based on the stories they have spun. But there's absolutely no reason to believe there is any legitimacy to them."
Nonetheless, Andrea Perron, the oldest of the five Perron girls, now 54, says the film is "a beautiful tapestry" with "many elements of truth to it, and some moments of fiction." And she and Lorraine say they can explain some of the obvious questions:
Why didn't the family just leave the haunted house?
Rather than the relatively short, intense haunting depicted in The Conjuring, Perron says her family lived in the 14-room farmhouse from January 1971 until 1980.
While many spirits in the house were harmless, some, like one called Bathsheba, were angry. "Whoever the spirit was, she perceived herself to be mistress of the house and she resented the competition my mother posed for that position," says Perron.
When asked why the family endured the spirit invaders, who stunk of rotting flesh and would arrive at 5:15 most mornings to lift beds, Perron says: "I hear that question most every day. I think we were supposed to have this experience and share it with the world."
Why did they go into the cellar?
Perron says the family stayed away from the dirt-floored cellar, which was a spirit hotspot, except when the house's heating equipment would fail, forcing Roger to make repairs. "He would go downstairs and feel this cold, stinking presence beside him."
Did the exorcism attempted in the film really take place?
The Warrens (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in the film) made frequent trips to the house in 1974 to investigate, but Lorraine insists she and her husband would never try an exorcism, which must be performed by a Catholic priest. However, a seance allegedly caused Carolyn Perron to be temporarily possessed, which Andrea claims she secretly watched.
"I thought I was going to pass out," Andrea says. "My mother began to speak a language not of this world in a voice not her own. Her chair levitated and she was thrown across the room."
What do they say to non-believers?
Perron, who has written her family's story in three self-published books, says she is never surprised when people don't believe their tale.
"Both my mother and I would just as soon swallow our tongue than tell a lie," she says. "People are free to believe whatever they want to believe. But I know what we experienced."
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