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The Conjuring has become one of the biggest, most successful horror franchises of all time. But believe it or not, it took a considerable amount of time to get the first film made. We’re talking almost 20 years here. The true story involves something even scarier than ghosts: litigation! Let’s take a look at the backstory that eventually brought The Conjuring to the big screen.
The “True” Story
The Conjuring bills itself as inspired by a true story, and whether or not you want to believe that is up to you. I personally am not a believer in ghosts (even though I love ghost stories), so I don’t believe anything supernatural was really going on. But here’s what we know for sure. In 1970, Roger Perron and his wife Carolyn bought a farmhouse in Harrisville, Rhode Island, where they planned to raise their five daughters: Andrea, Nancy, Christine, Cynthia, and April. The Perrons would ultimately live in the house for 10 years.
During their time in the house, the Perrons claim they were tormented by the supernatural, including “a spirit called Bathsheba.” The spirit was thought to be a real woman named Bathsheba Sherman, who lived in the house in the 1800s. The Conjuring movie presents Bathsheba as a witch who murdered her children, but while the real Bathsheba’s children did die young (none of them lived past the age of seven), there’s zero evidence to back up the whole “witch sacrificing her kids” thing.
The Perron family turned to Ed and Lorraine Warren, a couple who founded the New England Society for Psychic Research. Ed claimed to be a “self-taught demonologist” and Lorraine claimed to be clairvoyant, and the two used these superpowers to investigate the supernatural and also make a name for themselves. In 2011, Andrea Perron would publish House of Darkness: House of Light, which reportedly told the true story of the haunting. But this wasn’t the first account of the haunting of the Perron farm. In 1980, Gerald Brittle, working with the Warrens, published The Demonologist: The Extraordinary Career of Ed and Lorraine Warren, a book that focused on the Warrens’ various supernatural exploits.
The Warren Files
At some point in the 1980s or 1990s – the dates are a bit muddled and unclear – Ed Warren sat down with movie producer Tony DeRosa-Grund and played him a tape of one of his interviews with the Perron family. The Warrens, always keen self-promoters, thought the story would make for a good movie, and DeRosa-Grund agreed.
DeRosa-Grund then wrote a treatment for a potential film himself and took it to Gold Circle Films, the same production company that made another “based on a true story” ghost flick – The Haunting in Connecticut. Golden Circle agreed to make the film, but the deal eventually fell through. But DeRosa-Grund didn’t want to give up. He eventually teamed up with producer Peter Safran, and screenwriters Chad and Carey W. Hayes were brought in to turn the treatment into a script.
While DeRosa-Grund’s treatment focused almost entirely on the Perron family, the Hayes’ siblings came up with the idea of making Ed and Lorraine the main characters. The script sat around waiting for someone to give it a chance. By 2009, the script ended up in a bidding war with six studios. Summit Entertainment won out, but the deal fell through and New Line Cinema swooped in. By 2011, the movie was in pre-production, and James Wan was brought in to direct. Up until then, the script was being referred to as The Conjuring. But New Line decided to change the title to The Warren Files. And here’s where things get a little messy.
What a Twist!
New Line eventually changed the title back to The Conjuring, but in the meantime, DeRosa-Grund, who still “retained the TV and other rights, including comic books, to the property” under The Conjuring name, pitched a Conjuring TV show to Lionsgate. Lionsgate said yes to the show – and when New Line got wind of this, they weren’t happy. They claimed that since their Conjuring movie would arrive before Lionsgate could make a Conjuring TV show, the Conjuring TV show couldn’t use that title.
New Line then “threatened legal action against DeRosa-Grund and Lionsgate for using the title for a TV series,” and pressured “DeRosa-Grund to scrap the series plans.” New Line and DeRosa-Grund ended up in arbitration over the matter. But that wasn’t the end of the legal matters. Gerald Brittle, who wrote the previously mentioned The Demonologist, filed a lawsuit against Warner Bros., New Line, and director James Wan, claiming the film and any sequels “infringed upon an exclusive contract he had with the Warrens to make any works based on the subject of his book.”
Brittle wanted nearly $1 billion out of the lawsuit, and in 2017, rather than let this get any further, Warner Bros. settled with Brittle out of court. And here’s where a whopper of a twist comes into play. After the settlement, it was revealed that DeRosa-Grund was actually the “mastermind” behind the entire suit. As Brittle admitted, “Mr. DeRosa-Grund has been controlling this Litigation from the start. Based on a review of text messages between Mr. DeRosa-Grund and my attorney, I understand that he even threatened my attorneys that if they sent information from me without him seeing it first they would be fired.”
All of this is in the past now, and The Conjuring Universe continues to thrive. But it took a long time, and some considerable litigation, to get here.
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