The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It (2021)

You know, the Warrens were not Catholic superheroes. Despite warning us that the world was in a constant battle with demons, the Hollywood Reporter divulged that “in the early 1960s, Ed Warren initiated a relationship with an underage girl with Lorraine’s knowledge. Now in her 70s, Judith Penney has said in a sworn declaration that she lived in the Warrens’ house as Ed’s lover for four decades.”

They were pretty much hucksters who knew how to keep themselves in the eye of the media and could always fall back on religion to literally say they were doing God’s work. I guess that I don’t mind the carny world all that much until it starts impacting people’s lives more than the money they willingly give away.

This movie is a case in point of my issues with them.

It’s based on the trial Arne Cheyenne Johnson, also known as the “Devil Made Me Do It” case. This case was the first known court case in the U.S. in which the defendant claimed that Satan took over their body and actually committed the crime.

It all started when 11-year-old David Glatzel got possessed. The family brought in the Warrens to work with the Catholic Church to exorcise their son, at which point the demon left the child and went into Arne. Months later, Arne would kill his landlord and his defense lawyer that he was possessed.

As soon as a day after the murder, Lorraine Warren told local police that Johnson was possessed when the crime was committed. A media blitzkrieg followed, because the warrens were planning lectures, a book and even a movie — which was canceled — would soon be forthcoming. There was a TV movie, The Demon Murder Case, but the whole furor died down when Judge Robert Callahan rejected the defense, saying that possession could never be proved and that it would be “irrelative and unscientific” to allow related testimony.

On November 24, 1981, Arne was convicted of first-degree manslaughter, serving five years of a ten to twenty-year sentence. The book that followed, Gerald Brittle’s The Devil in Connecticut, was published in 1983. When the book was republished in 2006, David Glatzel — the kid who got possessed in the first place — and his brother Carl sued for violating their right to privacy, libel and “intentional affliction of emotional distress.”

Carl claimed that the criminal and abusive acts against his family and others, as recounted by the book, were lies created by the Warrens to exploit his brother’s mental illness. As he didn’t believe anything the Warrens told him, he was painted as the bad guy. Even worse, he also stated that the Warrens explained to him that the story would make the family millionaires and get Johnson out of jail.

Lorraine defended the story, bringing up the fact that six priests were involved in the incident. And as for Johnson, he continues to support the Johnsons and has stated that the lawsuit is so that the Glatzels can get rich.

All of the real-life things you just read are way more interesting than this movie.

There’s a new bad guy — The Occultist — and a priest named Kastner who had a child and left the church, but not before battling the Disciples of the Ram cult. Also, Earl has a new kryptonite to deal with as exorcizing young David leads to him having a heart attack.

The opening exorcism is pretty well-done and I was hoping for a return to form, as the original film in the series has some great art direction. Yet here we’re dragging back into the universe of this film, with fanservice toward showing Annabelle and Valak, reminding us that perhaps this series best days are long behind it and if this were the 90s, this movie would have gone direct to video.

That said, I love the team of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as the Warrens. However, I really disliked the directing style of Michael Chaves, whose The Curse of La Llorona was only halfway decent. There are plenty of opportunities for jump scares — the scene with a haunted waterbed has such promise that fizzles out, showing that no one studies Val Lewton any longer — and the rest of the movie is a strobing and confusing mess. They also must have not remembered the movie that this pays homage to — A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master — because that sequence is remembered to this day. This one will be gone in a week.

This movie also seems obsessed with The Exorcist. In the opening, Father Gordon’s arrival echoes the poster of that film and later, when Earl is in the hospital, we hear the name Dr. Merrin get called. These little asides to that classic did not make me think this was in the same pantheon of that film. It made me want to shut it off and watch that movie instead.

I’m kind of sad that this movie was so bad. The past two films in the series have had great scares and I’ve kind of written the side stories off, thinking that at least the mainline films have been pretty good. Sadly, that downward slide of creativity has now extended toward this film, which was an utter waste of time and energy. At least people are vaccinated now and can’t put their lives on the line to go and see it.

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