It’s the horror film which showed that good old-fashioned spooky scares can be a thousand times more effective than anything the torture porn world can muster, established the ever-reliable Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as one of cinema’s finest ghostbusting duos, and proved once again that when it comes to the paranormal, truth can indeed be stranger than fiction. Yes, The Conjuring delighted and terrified audiences in equal measure when it arrived in 2013, so much so that it spawned both a hit sequel and a hit spinoff, with more entries possibly on the way.
From cameos by those who lived through all the drama for real and a surprise soundtrack cut from Hollywood’s smoothest leading man, to behind-the-scenes paranormal activity and stories of religious intervention, not to mention lawsuits, record breaking box office statistics and niche award nominations, here’s a look at 15 things that you may not know about James Wan’s hugely successful supernatural tale.
15. It’s one of the highest grossing horror films of all time
The Conjuring was made on a relatively modest budget of $20m, but went on to recoup that figure back nearly 16 times over to become one of the most profitable scary movies of all time. It was also the first horror film since 2004’s Van Helsing to gross over $300 million worldwide and the fifth most successful supernatural tale in domestic history. But its most impressive feat is the fact that it is now firmly placed inside the top 10 highest-grossing horrors ever.
Indeed, finishing ahead of much starrier and more heavily promoted affairs such as Shutter Island, The Silence of the Lambs and What Lies Beneath, The Conjuring sits at No.7 in the all-time rankings as of 2016. Seven ($327m) and Hannibal ($352m) were also within touching distance just ahead of them, with Signs ($408m), The Exorcist ($441m), Jaws ($471m) and The Sixth Sense ($673m) making up the top four.
14. It achieved the highest opening weekend for an original R-rated horror
The Conjuring also broke a rather more specific record when it opened on the weekend of July 19, 2013. Surpassing its predicted gross of $30-35m, the film raked in a highly impressive $41.9m over its first three days to finish ahead of other new releases Red 2, Turbo and R.I.P.D. at the top of the US box office chart. It was a figure which was also the highest for an original R-rated horror, a record which home invasion movie The Purge had only broken with $34.1m just two months previously.
The Conjuring’s remarkable first weekend gross also topped that of distributor Warner. Bros’ far bigger budget picture Pacific Rim, which had grossed $37.3m just the week previously. And unlike most other horrors which plummet at least 50% in its second week, Wan’s haunted house effort managed a respectable drop of 47% to fall just one place behind The Wolverine seven days on.
13. The story was originally told from the Perron family’s perspective
Producer Tony Rosa De-Grund’s early treatment intended for the film to be viewed from the perspective of father Roger, mother Carolyn, kids Andrea, Nancy, Christine, Cindy and April — and not forgetting dog Sadie, of course — aka the real-life Perron family who moved into the now-notorious dilapidated farmhouse in Rhode Island back in 1971, only to experience a nightmarish series of events shortly after.
However, after sibling writers Carey and Chad Hayes were invited to refine the script, the pair decided to shift the focus on to Ed and Lorraine Warren, the professional demonologists who were brought in to investigate the strange and unexplained developments that occurred at the property, interviewing the latter to ensure that all the details were correct. Given that Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga’s tag-team act as the paranormal sleuths was one of the film’s most successful elements, it’s a move which proved to be truly inspired.
12. The film had been in the works for 20 years
The Conjuring couldn’t exactly be described as an overnight success. In fact, the idea for the film initially emerged 20 years previously when film producer Tony DeRosa-Grund was played a tape of Lorraine’s original interview with Carolyn Perron by her husband Ed. Derosa-Grund attempted to get the project off the ground for the next 14 years to no avail, although he very nearly landed a deal with the production company responsible for The Haunting in Connecticut.
The film’s lengthy gestation period finally looked to be coming to an end in mid-2009 when it became the subject of a six-studio bidding war. But after DeRosa-Grund and successful bidders Summit Entertainment failed to agree on the terms of the contract, The Conjuring went into limbo once again. Much to DeRosa-Grund’s relief, the movie finally started to become a reality a few months later when his Evergreen Media Group made a deal with New Line Cinema.
11. It originally had a different name
The film’s viewpoint wasn’t the only thing that changed during the course of its production. The Conjuring was originally described as The Untitled Warren Filed Project when Farmiga, Wilson and co-stars Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor were cast. Following a suggestion from director Wan, the film was given the title of The Warren Files before producers finally settled on its more familiar name.
In a 2010 interview with Vulture about Insidious, Wan admitted that he wasn’t particularly precious about the titles given to his movies. “Don’t be surprised if they say, ‘We need to come up with a simple title,’ and call it something like Darkness or something easier. Which I understand, because ‘insidious’ is not a word that a lot of people use, unfortunately, even though it’s such a cool word. If they come up with a much better title than Insidious, then I’m all for it. But if they don’t, I’ll stand up for it and say, ‘Guys, that is one crappy title.’”
10. Farmiga and Wilson spent three days with the real Lorraine Warren
Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson certainly couldn’t be accused of slacking when it came to preparation for their portrayals of Lorraine and Ed Warren. The pair, who would of course later reprise their roles in the sequel based on The Enfield Haunting, The Conjuring 2, traveled all the way to Connecticut before filming began, where they spent three days learning about the former’s long-running paranormal career from the lady herself.
Indeed, as well as regularly visiting the set during production, Lorraine Warren proved to be a valuable research tool for the film’s two main stars, and Farmiga in particular, who later revealed how much her trip had informed her performance: “I just wanted to absorb her essence. I wanted to see the details, she has such mad style. I just wanted to see – the way she communicates with her hands, these gestures, her smile, how she moves through space.”
9. The real Lorraine Warren has a cameo
Lorraine Warren’s involvement in the film also extends far beyond her research with the Hayes brothers and Farmiga and Wilson. Alongside Andrea Perron, whose three-part book about her family’s paranormal experiences, House of Darkness, was also used as inspiration for the script, she served as a consultant to Wan throughout the shoot, while eagle-eyed viewers already familiar with the case may well have spotted her on screen, too.
Indeed, as well as clairvoyant, light trance medium and paranormal investigator, Lorraine can also add actress to her resume, having appeared in The Conjuring as the older woman in the front row of the classroom in which Carolyn is listening to the Warrens’ presentation. However, it’s not Warren’s first IMDB credit. In 1982, she served as a demonology advisor on Damiano Damiani’s supernatural horror sequel Amityville II: The Possession, while she is also listed as a writer on the 1991 TV movie, Haunted.
8. The film’s composer plays Bathsheba
Joseph Bishara has become something of a maestro when it comes to the horror film soundtrack. The American composer has lent his musical talents to over a dozen chillers since the turn of the century, including anthologies V/H/S Viral and Tales of Halloween, ghost stories The Gravedancers and The Other Side of the Door, and demonic films Unearthed and Night of the Demons. But Bishara also appears to have ambitions to appear in front of the camera too.
Indeed, Bishara has played minor roles in several of the James Wan films he’s also scored, including a lipstick-face demon in both Insidious and Insidious: Chapter 3, and a demonic figure in the haunted doll spin-off Annabelle. Alongside working with avant-garde musician Diamanda Galas on the soundtrack to The Conjuring, Bishara added to his acting resume by playing its main antagonist, the evil spectre of a 19th Century devil worshipper known as Bathsheba Sherman.
7. The current owners of the house in the film sued the producers
You have to feel some sympathy for Norma Sutcliffe and Gerald Helfrich. The pair had lived peacefully in the house where all the real-life paranormal activity supposedly took place for over 25 years. But after the release of The Conjuring put their home back on the map, the couple suddenly found themselves living in a tourist attraction.
After claiming that they had experienced numerous acts of vandalism, been subject to threats of violence and found several objects affiliated with satanic cults placed there since the film first hit screens, Sutcliffe and Helfrich decided to sue director Wan, studio Warner Bros. and various other producers. The couple, who bought the property back in 1987, 16 years after the events in the movie took place, have also named five individual trespassers and 500 interlopers referenced as John and Jane Does in the lawsuit, which argues that those responsible for the film failed to notify them of their plans.
6. Vera Farmiga was nominated for a Best Scared-as-S*** Performance Award
Vera Farmiga is a celebrated star of stage and screen who has received numerous prestigious accolades, including Academy Award, BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations for her performance as traveling businesswoman Alex Goran in dramedy Up in the Air, a Sundance Festival Film Award for her turn as a cocaine-addicted supermarket cashier in the gritty indie Down to the Bone, and a Saturn Award for her magnetic portrayal of Norma Bates in the underrated A&E Psycho prequel series, Bates Motel.
But you may not know that she also picked up the only film’s nod at the 2014 MTV Movie Awards – in the Best Scared-as-S*** Performance category. Alongside Ethan Hawke in The Purge, Jessica Chastain in Mama and Rose Byrne in another Wan feature, Insidious: Chapter 2, Farmiga (perhaps unfairly) ended up losing out to Brad Pitt for World War Z, but we can’t imagine that she lost much sleep over it.
5. It’s the first James Wan horror film without any input from Leigh Whannell
James Wan and his screenwriter/producer friend Leigh Whannell had become something of a horror dream team ever since their first feature, Saw, revolutionized the genre back in 2004. The pair went on to work together on 2007’s supernatural tale Dead Silence and the first two chapters of the successful Insidious franchise, and although Wan had briefly headed out on his own for the much-maligned Nicolas Cage vigilante thriller Death Sentence, many assumed that they would continue scaring audiences together for years to come.
However, Whannell was nowhere to be seen on The Conjuring, and the two Australian exports haven’t teamed up since. Wan has instead branched out into blockbusters with his work on the seventh installment of the increasingly popular Fast and Furious series and the upcoming superhero flick Aquaman, while Whannell returned to the Insidious world when he took the director’s chair for the first time on its third chapter in 2015.
4. Screenings in the Philippines were blessed by priests
It’s a well-known marketing tactic in the horror trade to make a film sound so much more dangerous than it actually is. Everything from The Exorcist to The Blair Witch Project has reported of members of the cinema-going public passing out or even needing medical attention after becoming so consumed by fear while watching its action on the big screen. However, the publicity The Conjuring received in the Philippines was of more of a divine nature.
According to reports, some cinemas in the Southeast Asian island were forced to appoint Catholic priests in order to bless audiences before showing the film. Apparently, in a case of life imitating art, several viewers had experienced a negative presence after watching the Warrens’ antics, and so, in an inspired move, various picturehouses turned to the men of the cloth to offer both a spiritual shield before the movie and psychological help after it.
3. Ryan Gosling features on the soundtrack
So we all know Ryan Gosling as the cooler-than-cool leading man capable of gliding between neo-noir cult classics (Drive) and offbeat indies (Lars and the Real Girl) to mainstream romantic comedies (Crazy Stupid Love) and crime thrillers (Gangster Squad) with the utmost of ease. But his sideline as the frontman of indie-rock duo Dead Man’s Bones has largely flown under the radar, and it’s pretty likely that you were entirely unaware that his voice can be heard on The Conjuring.
Taken from their 2009 self-titled album, the eerie psychedelia of “In the Room Where You Sleep” plays halfway through the film’s 112 minute running time, and is joined on the official soundtrack by songs from the likes of Betsy Brye (“Sleep Walk”), British ’60s hitmakers The Zombies (“Time of the Season”) and Pennsylvania hard rockers Breaking Benjamin (“Wish I May”), as well as a theme from American composer Mark Isham.
2. Producers wanted a PG-13 rating
Further evidence of just how scary The Conjuring is came in the form of its age certificate. Wan and producers were initially hoping for a box office-friendly rating of PG-13 and were so left disappointed when the Motion Picture Association of America handed out an R rating instead. This is despite the fact that the film contains no nudity or sex, relatively tame violence and little profanity.
Indeed, The Conjuring received an R solely for the fact that it was too frightening to be given anything else. The MPAA clarified that there were no edits or cuts possible that would help to change the rating without affecting the whole tone of the film, and so Wan and co. were forced to accept that a large section of their potential audience would simply be too young to watch it. Had the PG-13 rating been awarded, The Conjuring would undoubtedly have rocketed up the all-time highest-grossing horror list even further.
1. The film’s production was plagued by spooky happenings
You could say that it takes nerves of steel to tackle a true-life paranormal story, and many of The Conjuring’s key players had theirs put to the test during the film’s production. James Wan revealed that while working on the script one late night, his adopted puppy started staring and growling aggressively at an empty side of the room. The Hayes brothers reported that their phone chats with Lorraine Warren were plagued by weird sounds and static, and were often cut off altogether.
And that’s not all. When the Perron family visited the North Carolina set, mother Carolyn admitted to feeling the same strange dark presence she did during the various real-life incidents back in the ’70s, and later had to make a trip to a nearby hospital after suffering a fall. The whole family also noted that the cool wind which whipped through the set did not move or shake any of the surrounding trees.
Do you know of any more fun facts about The Conjuring series? Let us know in the comments.