|The Conjuring 2|
The Enfield Poltergeist, made famous by Guy Lyon Playfair’s classic book This House is Haunted and recently the subject of a Sky television series, The Enfield Haunting, is back in the news with the forthcoming release of a major feature film, The Conjuring 2 (the title has changed along the way from The Conjuring 2: Enfield Poltergeist). Unlike This House is Haunted and The Enfield Haunting, The Conjuring 2 does not focus on the investigation of the case conducted by the Society for Psychical Research’s Playfair and Maurice Grosse, but on the American demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren. There has been some confusion about the extent of the Warrens’ involvement at Enfield, which one might assume was considerable given that a feature film has been based on it. Yet Playfair recently went on record in an interview on ‘Darkness Radio’ to say that the Warrens perhaps visited the house in Enfield once, when Ed talked mostly about making money from the case for Playfair, an attitude which did not impress him.
So what was the Warrens’ involvement at Enfield? Some indication can be gained from Grosse’s papers, held by the Society for Psychical Research. Fortunately, Playfair generally kept Grosse informed of activities he was undertaking, so while the available papers are Grosse’s, they do touch on Playfair as well, providing a fairly reliable indication of the situation as far as the two primary investigators are concerned.
The first surprise is how long it took for the Warrens to get in touch. Bearing in mind the events began in August 1977, Lorraine Warren does not appear on the scene until 8 May 1978. She handwrote a letter to Grosse on Delta Airlines notepaper in which she said that although she had not been to Enfield, she had been kept informed of developments by a mutual friend, Charles Moses of Psychic Research Associates in California, who had visited the house. She had planned to fly over to take a look for herself and see what ‘help’ she could give. For a variety of reasons she had not been able to make the trip, but she and Ed expected to be in England in June, when they hoped to meet Maurice, and through him become acquainted with the ‘Enfield family’ (suggesting that at this point she didn’t know their real names) or any other current cases they could ‘help’ with. Then suddenly the letter lurches in tone: ‘Mr Grosse are you aware of Ed’s specialized work in the area of “demonology”? What are your feelings concerning that particular field? Do you feel there may be some strong [evidence?] for it in the Enfield case?’ She signs off after assuring Grosse they and he ‘have mutual goals’, and once more saying how they would be able to ‘help’ Grosse.
It would seem Grosse was not fooled by this approach. He replied politely on 18 May 1978 saying he was sorry Lorraine had not been able to make the trip earlier but looked forward to meeting her and Ed when they were able to do so. He noted that the case was significant in terms of the variety of phenomena, length of occurrence, and the depth of the investigation (which may have been his way of establishing his primacy in it). He was probably bemused by the reference to demonology, merely acknowledging he had ‘quite an open mind on the subject’ though he had not seen any ‘signs of “evil forces” at work’. In fact he concludes that he has not yet found a theory to account satisfactorily for the variety of the phenomena.
The Warrens did indeed turn up at the house the following month because Grosse wrote a report, dated 4 July 1978, which he sent to the SPR’s secretary. The Warrens had visited the house on 16 June with a colleague, and in Grosse’s presence interviewed Peggy, Janet and Margaret, and Peggy’s brother John Burcombe. According to Grosse, the visitors said they were impressed with the evidence. That evening Grosse and members of the Hodgson family participated in a transatlantic telephone discussion from John Burcombe’s house for an unspecified programme ‘produced by a member of President Carter’s Press Corps’. Lorraine Warren told Grosse later that the programme had been well received. After the broadcast Mrs Warren went into the Hodgsons’ house and entered a trance state in which she received impressions Mrs Hodgson and Grosse thought related closely to Mrs Hodgson’s ex-husband, though as far as Mrs Hodgson and Grosse were aware, Lorraine Warren had no personal knowledge of Mr Hodgson (the actual impressions were not included in the report). Mr Warren and the American colleague were left in the house on their own and carried out a ritual they did not describe to Grosse, though they told him it had had no effect. The three visitors left just after midnight and rang Grosse on 27 June, on their way back to the USA. They told Grosse there had been so much interest in the broadcast that a television broadcast was possible. Grosse concludes his report: ‘I personally was very impressed with our visitors’ knowledge of the occult and the manner in which they conducted their limited investigation.’ The reference to ‘limited investigation’ is a sting in the tail, and referring to the occult is possibly a covert way of saying he disagreed with their viewpoint.
So that is one day the Warrens spent at the house. They did come back though, as indicated in a letter, dated 12 July 1980 and obviously sanctioned by the Warrens, sent by Gerald Brittle to the Executive Editor at Souvenir Press, which was in the process of preparing Playfair’s This House is Haunted for publication. Brittle was writing his own book, The Demonologist: The Extraordinary Career of Ed and Lorraine Warren, published the same year. His letter gives further dates when the Warrens were allegedly present in the house. It is possible, if surprising, that Playfair and Grosse were unaware of this visit at the time and it was privately arranged with the Hodgsons. According to Brittle, the Warrens spent 6-9 August 1979 in the house, but the letter is mainly concerned with the content of This House is Haunted, the manuscript of which Brittle had seen. He said the Warrens had investigated Enfield ‘at the same time’ as Playfair and Grosse (perhaps to imply the Warrens’ one was as extensive, though it clearly was not), hence he had included it in his own book.
Brittle says that during their visit the Warrens and two colleagues had experienced ‘spirit phenomena’; had made 13 hours of audio recordings featuring the ‘entities’ in the house; had photographed levitations of objects, the appearance of excrement, and the ‘spontaneous’ removal of wallpaper in the kitchen; witnessed the materialisation of rocks and the dematerialisation of a bottle of holy water; and interviewed the family. He adds: ‘On 6 Aug 79, the Warrens also made a live radio broadcast (via telephone) from the home of Mr. Burcombe (the Hodgson’s nearby relative) wherein it is clearly asserted that activity is taking place at the time of the broadcast.’ It is not clear whether he is confusing the Warrens’ visit on 16 June 1978, when a live radio interview was conducted by telephone from the Burcombe house (as noted in Grosse’s report of 4 July 1978), or whether there was a second broadcast.
However , in addition to outlining the Warrens’s findings, Brittle attempts to claim some sort of priority for the Warrens’ short investigation; he claims in his letter that there were ‘pertinent discrepancies of fact’ between the two books which could cause Playfair problems. One was that the case had not come to an end in April 1979, as Playfair’s book indicated (obviously that would have made the phenomena the Warrens had said they experienced there the following August problematic), hence Playfair’s account was ‘at variance with the real facts.’ Further, while Grosse and Playfair talk about poltergeists, what the Hodgsons were experiencing was ‘an inhuman spirit’ (i.e. a demon), and it was still around because Playfair and Grosse had not ‘permitted’ an exorcism, despite having been told ‘on numerous occasions’ that this was necessary, though Mrs Hodgson had now asked Ed Warren to arrange one.
There were more discrepancies Brittle continues, but these were the major ones, and any comparison of the two books, he suggests, would show Playfair’s work in an unfavourable light. What Brittle seemed to find particularly galling was that the Warrens were not referred to at all in This House is Haunted, and he even claims its title was taken from something said by one of the spirits Mr Warren recorded in August 1979: ‘This house is haunted. Kill the ghosties.’ So, bearing in mind the manifest deficiencies of This House is Haunted when compared to The Demonologist, what could Playfair do to go some way to rectify this unfortunate state of affairs? Brittle has a suggestion: perhaps an epilogue could be appended to future editions ‘which would reflect the actual status’ of the activity, in effect acknowledging that the Warrens’ assessment had priority over Grosse and Playfair’s. Brittle is confident the Warrens would allow their names to be used for such a purpose. He concludes by offering helpful remarks on how Playfair might improve the ending of his book by examining its references to Tourette’s syndrome, a connection that, Brittle argues, would be demolished by ‘academic theologians’ in the United States and possibly lead the Hodgsons to sue Playfair for ‘slander’ (presumably he meant libel). One has to admire Brittle’s chutzpah (Tourette’s stayed in).
Playfair and Grosse, to whom the letter had been forwarded, both replied in dismissive terms, Playfair on 22 July 1980 and Grosse two days later. The former pointed out that his book’s subtitle: ‘An investigation of the Enfield poltergeist’, indicated that it was about Grosse’s investigation, not the Warrens’ (incidentally I notice that by the 2007 edition of his book the subtitle had changed to ‘The investigation into the Enfield poltergeist’, so perhaps Playfair was paying attention to the Warrens after all, but not in the way they would have preferred). Playfair adds that as the book had gone to the publishers well before August 1979, it would hardly have been possible to incorporate the Warren’s visit in that month. As to the case having ended, he did not state so categorically, only it might be over and the poltergeist seemed to have gone, both true statements. The exorcism? ‘When you have had time to read the book’ (ouch) Brittle would see that Mrs Hodgson had specifically said she did not want one. The title? It was in a remark made by Mrs Hodgson, again reported in the book. Finally Playfair confirms he met Ed Warren only once at Enfield, and while he found him ‘amiable’, he adds, as he reiterated in the recent interview he gave discussing The Conjuring 2, that Ed spent most of it talking about money.
Grosse was similarly brief, claiming priority as a member of the SPR to be the lead investigator in a difficult case occupying ‘many months’. Sensibly he noted that definitive statements about the cause of the phenomena could not be made with confidence as there was still no consensus on the causes of poltergeists. Ed Warren’s conclusion was therefore only his opinion. Grosse himself was not ‘privy’ to any phenomena as described in Brittle’s letter in August 1979, so did not feel able to comment. He did say that he had asked John Burcombe about the broadcast from his house, and Mr Burcombe had told him that, to the best of his recollection, no ‘activity’ had occurred during it, contrary to the assertion in Brittle’s letter. Brittle responded on 5 August 1980. He had already replied to Playfair, he said, but unfortunately this letter is not among Grosse’s papers. All he had to add to Grosse was that he was not impressed by the ‘policy statements’ he had received, obviously giving up as a bad job his efforts to piggyback the Warrens on This House is Haunted. He noted that he had learned from multiple sources, not only the Warrens but also exorcists, ‘professors in the Catholic church’, and witnesses themselves, that a poltergeist is often actually ‘a demonic spirit entity’. This appears to end Mr Brittle’s engagement with Playfair and Grosse.
Putting together Grosse’s report and Brittle’s letter, it looks like the Warrens were present in the Hodgson’s house for a maximum of four days, assuming Brittle’s dates are correct; it is unlikely to have been more because the Warrens would have told Brittle of any extra visits. That brevity is in marked contrast to the lengthy investigation conducted by Grosse and Playfair, and one can understand that the pair might have felt patronised, and insulted (though too gentlemanly to say so explicitly) that the Warrens had swanned in for a few days and crudely attempted to impose an interpretation fitting their pet perspective, one at variance with Grosse and Playfair’s experiences, while maintaining (if Brittle’s original letter reflected their views) that their analysis rendered This House is Haunted ‘incorrect to some degree’, as Brittle condescendingly put it.
Needless to say the suggested epilogue was not appended to any edition of This House is Haunted and no reference to the Warrens’ visits was included either. Playfair did however take on board Brittle’s comments about Tourette’s, though not naming him, in the Afterword to the 2007 edition. He noted that ‘some critics thought I jumped to a premature conclusion when I suggested that the “poltergeist syndrome” was a rare variety of Tourette’s syndrome…’ before going on to discuss similarities and differences between the two. The Warrens are not mentioned at all, and The Demonologist is not in the reading list, despite it containing a chapter on Enfield, ‘The Enfield Voices’.
Back to The Conjuring 2. Playfair’s Darkness Radio interview was the subject of an article by Greg Newkirk on the Week in Weird website (‘Conjuring the Truth: Enfield Poltergeist Investigator Says Ed and Lorraine Warren Never Investigated Case’, 7 January 2016) in which he considers the issue of why a Conjuring sequel would use Enfield as its basis when the Warrens’ contribution to it was minimal. The reason, he concludes, is because the Warrens probably did not own the media rights to many of their own cases, having sold them; hence Warner Bros, the studio that made The Conjuring, had to mine Brittle’s book, in which Enfield briefly appears (as does the case forming the basis of the Conjuring spin-off Anabelle). The legal situation is extremely complex, but it does shed some light on why the forthcoming film chose Enfield, a case associated with the SPR rather than the Warrens, and also hints that perhaps there might not be too much life left in the franchise if the producers have to scrape the bottom of the barrel ever further to claim they are using ‘real life’ material. At least the Hodgson family should gain financially from the project, even if they struggle to recognise its content.
What little information there is about The Conjuring 2 is worth a brief examination. The trailer begins with a title: ‘Enfield, London, 1977’, and a voiceover with Lorraine asking Janet a series of leading questions that will have serious researchers cringing in disbelief. Obviously the 1977 date is wrong because the Warrens did not visit the house until June 1978. Pushing the date back implies the Warrens’ involvement covered the same sort of period as Grosse and Playfair’s, but this is incorrect (we’ll leave aside the fact that the trailer’s opening in the garden is autumnal, with leaves everywhere, and the Warrens visited in June and August). The bulk of the trailer, apparently filmed through dirty pond water, has the Janet actor wearing a red nightie with white piping, as made famous by Graham Morris’s photographs, but the pop posters so prominent in the Enfield photographs have been replaced by a large number of crosses dotted around the walls. These rotate upside down after ‘Janet’ finds herself pinned to the ceiling, and to cap it all she is menaced by a supernatural being that seems to have been borrowed from the first Conjuring. A title at the end proclaims ‘The next true story from the case files of Ed and Lorraine Warren’ but if Lorraine Warren has documentary evidence to support such outlandish occurrences it should be produced, along with signed witness statements of the sort Playfair obtained at Enfield to demonstrate that they agreed with the content of This House is Haunted.
Just as Playfair does not mention the Warrens in This House is Haunted Brittle does not mention Playfair and Grosse by name in The Demonologist, but SPR researchers have been cast in The Conjuring 2: Grosse and Anita Gregory (both of whom are now dead). Gregory also had a walk-on role in The Enfield Haunting as an incredulous sceptic, so perhaps watching that programme was part of James Wan’s homework before he directed the Conjuring sequel. Gregory was highly critical of the Enfield case, attributing the phenomena to the acts of naughty children, so presumably she will stand in The Conjuring 2 for those ridiculous parapsychologists who still haven’t learned the lesson from Tobe Hooper’s Poltergeist that an attempt to formulate a mundane explanation for obviously demonic activity is stupid and will end badly. Playfair (alive) isn’t in the Conjuring 2 cast list. At least there will be some nod to Grosse’s investigation in the film, but it will be interesting to see how he is depicted in relation to the Warrens. James Wan said of The Conjuring 2: ‘The haunting that afflicted the Hodgson family is probably one of the most documented paranormal cases in the world.’ That’s true – just not documented very much by the Warrens. The film is due out this summer (pushed back from a 2015 release).