The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It reveals a chilling story of terror, murder and unknown evil that marks the first time in U.S. history that a murder suspect would claim demonic possession as a defense.
It shocked even experienced real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren and was one of the most sensational cases from their files, which began with a fight for the soul of a young boy, then took them beyond anything they’d ever seen before.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It was produced by James Wan and Peter Safran, who have collaborated on all the Conjuring Universe films, directed by Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona) from a screenplay by David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick (The Conjuring 2), story by James Wan & David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, based on characters created by Chad Hayes & Carey W. Hayes. It is is the seventh film in the Conjuring Universe, the largest horror franchise in history, which has grossed more than $1.8 billion worldwide. It includes the first two Conjuring films, as well as Annabelle and Annabelle: Creation, The Nun, and Annabelle Comes Home.
The name James Wan is synonymous with The Conjuring.
Wan is the creative force behind the entire Universe, developing stories, overseeing spinoffs and directing the core Conjuring films to date. Although Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, who portray real-world clairvoyant and demonologist Lorraine and Ed Warren, have been previously directed by Gary Dauberman in Annabelle Comes Home, this is the first full feature as the Warrens where Wan is not in the captain’s seat.
Through his Atomic Monster shingle, Wan has mentored other directors early in their feature filmmaking careers, including his longtime cinematographer John Leonetti (Annabelle), David F. Sandberg (Lights Out, and subsequently Annabelle: Creation), Corin Hardy (The Nun), Gary Dauberman (Annabelle Comes Home) and Michael Chaves (The Curse of La Llorona). It made sense there would be someone in this roster of talent that Wan could tap to take the reins of the core segment of the franchise.
“I had just worked with Michael Chaves,” Wan says, “and I really liked the guy a lot. I saw him grow as a filmmaker over the course of his first feature and felt his creativity, energy and mindset were exactly what ‘The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It’ needed.”
“Chaves is an accomplished and smart filmmaker,” Safran concurs. “He really understands horror. There was never anybody other than Chaves for this.”
When Chaves got the initial call to do the third “Conjuring,” he wasn’t expecting it, but he was fully ready to jump on board.
“It was a dream come true,” Chaves, characteristically upbeat, admits. “I’m a big fan of the ‘Conjuring’ films. James is the modern master of horror, so to take the reins on this world he created is both exciting and daunting. There’s a huge responsibility not just to James, but to the fans, to the franchise, and to the characters he created. That was not lost on me.”
Chaves contends one of the reasons Wan may have tapped him to direct this latest “Conjuring” installment is because of their shared love for David Fincher’s classic psychological crime thriller Se7en. Chaves and Wan talked about that film on the set of La Llorona, and it served as a reference point in the evolution of The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. It was a big influence in my look book,” Chaves reveals, “as I made this film.”
As far back as production on The Conjuring 2, conversations were had about what the next case file would be for Ed and Lorraine to tackle onscreen.
Wan knew he didn’t want the next installment to be another haunted house movie, constraining his supernatural superheroes to the same four walls of storytelling that had been covered already in the first two films.
“I remember saying to Patrick and Vera on the set of ‘Conjuring 2,’” Wan explains, “that I wanted to explore the world where Ed and Lorraine helped police solve crimes. I wanted the third movie to feel different.”
In order to achieve that goal, Wan, Safran and screenwriter David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick turned to one of the Warrens’ most famous case files. Ripped from the headlines, the notorious The Devil Made Me Do It case centers on the first U.S. murder trial where demonic possession was used as a legal defense.
The Conjuring” team felt this was the perfect opportunity for Ed and Lorraine to push their skills to the limit, to risk their lives to prove the innocence of the accused and the existence of evil forces. This story would be the most chilling and shocking yet for the Warrens.
“For everyone involved,” Chaves says, “This was the darkest story the Warrens were involved in. They put everything on the line for the accused, Arne Johnson.”
The Devil Made Me Do It also gave the filmmakers the perfect platform from which to send Ed and Lorraine out and into the world at large. It was a great opportunity for them to engage the police and investigate the sinister reasons that led to a horrific crime.
“In ‘The Conjuring,’ the deliverance from evil was confined to a single space within four walls,” Farmiga describes. “In ‘The Conjuring 2,’ we got Ed and Lorraine an airplane ticket, and we sent them abroad. But again, their mission was confined within the walls of a home. Now, for ‘The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,’ they leave the confines of the haunted house and go to the most depraved and scary places.”
What really sets this ‘Conjuring’ apart and makes it so exciting,’ Chaves says, “is that you have all of the scares and the terror that you would expect from a ‘Conjuring’ film, but it is set against this incredible mystery that is tied into what the ‘Conjuring’ universe is all about.”
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It faced two main challenges in development: how to keep the “Conjuring” Universe original and fresh and how to balance reality with drama.
“We wanted to keep the elements of the previous films that people love,” says screenwriter David Leslie Johnson-McGoldrick, who also worked on the story with Wan, “but you don’t want to give them the exact same thing all over again.”
David Leslie Johnson-Mcgoldrick (Screenplay and Story By) developed an early interest in storytelling and began writing plays in the second grade. He later became interested in film and, at age 19, wrote his first screenplay. He attended The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Photography and Cinema. He began his career in film as a production assistant on Frank Darabont’s The Shawshank Redemption, which was shot on location in Johnson’s hometown of Mansfield, Ohio, at the historic Mansfield Reformatory, where Johnson’s great-grandfather had been a prison guard. Johnson spent the next five years as Darabont’s assistant, using the opportunity to hone his craft as a screenwriter. His first produced credit was the 2009 thriller Orphan and later wrote Red Riding Hood (2011) and Wrath of the Titans (2012), the latter with collaborators Greg Berlanti and Dan Mazeau. He also reunited with mentor Frank Darabont to write for AMC’s The Walking Dead and TNT’s noir crime drama miniseries, Mob City (2013). He has also teamed with director James Wan on The Conjuring 2 and Aquaman” He currently has several feature projects in development, including Aquaman 2. He also served as producer on the upcoming films Til Death, and Orphan: First Kill, a prequel to 2009’s Orphan, for which he also co-wrote the story.
Wan knew before they started that he wanted this new “Conjuring” to be a mystery with Lorraine’s clairvoyant abilities front and center.
Inspired by films like John Carpenter’s “Eyes of Laura Mars,” and David Cronenberg’s “The Dead Zone,” they were looking for a case where Lorraine could shine as a psychic detective, where her gifts would be integral to the story in a way that hadn’t been seen before, using her psychic visions as plot points rather than scare points.
It’s a known fact that the real Lorraine Warren consulted with police on numerous cases. Wan and Johnson-McGoldrick considered those cases but couldn’t land on one they wanted to adapt.
What happened to Arne Johnson in the aftermath of David Glatzel’s final exorcism, however, appeared to be a great springboard for a new story.
There was a little-known element of the case where the Glatzels felt that somebody out there had placed a curse on them. No one was ever able to get to the bottom of that suspicion, and it seemed like the perfect real-life angle in a case file from which to launch an investigation. But the fact that the Glatzels’ concerns were never resolved meant the plot would need construction. Although the “Conjuring” films have always taken some dramatic license in order to advance the narrative, this one was different. Wan and Johnson-McGoldrick needed to come up with an idea that was both exciting and authentic.
“We decided to interweave reality with a sort of composite story,” Johnson-McGoldrick explains, “that takes numerous, real-life occurrences that took place in different situations and combines them into one story. We go into a more fictional place in Act II where we’re solving the mystery, but we’re still pulling from the actual interactions that Lorraine had with the police.”
Once that was decided, the next thing to do was figure out how to start things off. The Devil Made Me Do It case, also known as the Brookfield Demon Murder case, has two distinct parts: the torment and possession of David Glatzel, which has been the focus of most interest in the past and for which Ed and Lorraine Warren were called to intervene, and the subsequent torment and possession of Arne Cheyenne Johnson, who challenged David’s demon during his last exorcism while being admonished by Ed not to address it directly.
How to shift the focus from David to Arne was the prerequisite, but a relatively easy one to satisfy. “We decided to start with what would normally be the conclusion of a ‘Conjuring’ movie,” Johnson-McGoldrick tells, “the haunted house version of this story has already taken place offscreen. We can get straight to the exorcism because we’ve seen this movie before, and that allows us to start Arne’s story right away. We go very quickly to the inciting incident, which is the moment when Arne challenged the demon.”
In order to tell Arne’s tale convincingly, Johnson-McGoldrick embarked on a multi-pronged path of research. The Devil Made Me Do It case was national news. It was a sensational case that everyone was talking about at the time. Johnson-McGoldrick was able to source old Newsweek and Time magazine articles as well as local and regional newspapers that were reporting on the case every day. Those local papers became even more important when Johnson-McGoldrick discovered that the original court transcripts had been lost or destroyed, because they revealed who was in the courtroom and what witness testimony was given throughout the trial. Armed with a pretty clear understanding of the case, Johnson-McGoldrick decided it was time to go to the source.
‘I interviewed Arne Johnson and also Debbie Glatzel,” Johnson-McGoldrick divulges. “The two came out together. It’s always better that way. On the one hand, you are getting the event, finding out what happened, but you’re also starting to get a feel for who these people are. That’s important, because when you have to fictionalize certain elements to make a movie, you still want to replicate what if felt like for them.”
Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson return to star as Lorraine and Ed Warren. Shifting the power dynamic in the relationship between Ed and Lorraine was something the creative team wanted to do to change things up and another component Johnson-McGoldrick had to figure out. There had to be a way to accomplish this from outside the marriage.
In the haunted house, Ed and Lorraine have always been the authority. They’ve been called in to help because of their expertise. They are not out in the world having to prove themselves to people. In The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, it’s different, because Ed and Lorraine now have to try and convince non-religious skeptics in the courts and the police to help them in order to help Arne. They manage to win over Arne’s defense attorney by taking her to the Artifact room. Detective Sergeant Clay is another matter, however.
“Detective Clay is a composite character,” Johnson-McGoldrick acknowledges. “He’s not a real person, but he represents the police with whom the real Lorraine Warren consulted. We’ve taken elements from other cases and brought them together in him. He’s a skeptic to whom she has to prove herself. That was something the real Lorraine encountered regularly.”
From a storytelling perspective, the filmmakers have always gone to great lengths to make sure the characters of Ed and Lorraine are in touch with their humanity. In the ten years that have passed in the storyline from “The Conjuring” to “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” Ed and Lorraine are as fierce and unwavering as ever, but they are also more vulnerable to illness and injury. Their love has deepened and so has their concern for each other’s well-being, which is tender and relatable.
“It all comes down to that relationship between Ed and Lorraine,” explains Safran. “One of the great accolades we received early on was from the real Lorraine Warren, who felt we had beautifully captured what existed between her and Ed. We’ve always kept that in mind as we develop these stories. We would want Ed and Lorraine to be proud of what we’re doing.”
In summary, Chaves hopes audiences will enjoy another thrilling “Conjuring” experience, remarking, “I know they’re going to be scared but I hope they’ll be surprised, too—the great thing about these films is that you get something of the familiar, with Ed and Lorraine’s relationship and the fact that they step right into the danger, but also that they evolve with every story. I’m very excited to see how audiences respond.”