The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is the third installment in the popular Warner Bros. Pictures franchise, set to release nationwide in theaters and on HBO Max on June 4, 2021. Directed by Michael Chaves (pronounced Chavz, one syllable) and starring series mainstays Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as Lorraine and Ed Warren, the film explores a murder case in which the murderer claimed demonic possession as a defense. The concept itself has is intriguing, and one that had us leaning in with interest.
If you will excuse the “inside baseball” talk, reporting on movies has been a mostly online affair for the past year. Getting an invite from Warner Bros. to venture out into the world and visit Chaves in person at the studios for a socially distanced interview and a preview of the first 11 minutes of the film was an honor and strangely surreal.
Chaves said it best when he mused about realizing there would be a third Conjuring film. “I thought, ‘Oh my god, I can’t wait to see the next Conjuring movie!” then he says, “Oh man, we need to we do it right!”
After being Covid-19 tested and cleared to enter the lot, I made my way to Building 6 where we were to meet Chaves for viewing inside one of Warner Bros. sound mixing spaces. Stepping into a large space that resembled a movie theater we ascended to a platform that had a series of couches and desks, all facing the screen. down a level in front of us was a seemingly endless soundboard that went on for miles.
Chaves addressed the three members of the media allowed in for this session and hurriedly introduced the footage. We were to see the first 11 minutes of the film, logos and all. Understanding that the “Cold Open” has become standard with movies today I knew we were going to see something with some bite. Boy did we.
JULIAN HILLIARD as David Glatzel in New Line Cinema’s horror film “THE CONJURING: THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release. Photo Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures
The new Conjuring film opens with the Warrens consoling a family through possession of their youngest boy while they wait for the priest to arrive for the exorcism. I will refrain from spoilers but the “ISH” hits the fan, the official exorcist arrives, and we witness a gloriously intense scene that sets up the arc of the film. Wind is blowing, dishes are flying, Lorraine is injured and has a connection with the dark side, and the boy they are trying to save twists and convulses on the table in front of the group like a trapped octopus complete with the sound of bones twisting and sinew snapping. I won’t give it all away but, in short, it was great. A nice zinger of an opening.
The lights came up and Chaves turned to the three members of the media. We were ready to chat The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It.
Michael Chaves: We open with the exorcism and it goes horribly wrong. The Warrens, they’re the good guys, they’re supposed to get it right, they’re supposed to solve it. What happens when it goes the other way? If anything, this past year has taught us that things don’t go the way you expect it to.
HorrorBuzz: Yeah that opening was jarring. So you were asked to helm the third film in the Conjuring franchise. Was that a daunting task? How did you prepare?
MC: Yeah totally. I mean, coming off of James (Wan), when I got the script I was over the moon. I was losing my mind. I am a huge Conjuring fan and was like, “Oh my god, I get to direct the third Conjuring film!” Then I was like, ” Wait. James isn’t gonna direct the third Conjuring?” So I share that. I also know that there is a lot of love for this franchise, the Warrens, this horror experience. It was something that was always on my mind. It’s a huge responsibility. It’s not just taking the reigns from the master of horror but it’s also taking the reigns of The Conjuring brand.
You also don’t want to see more of the same. That’s what the spinoffs have done so well. The first Conjuring delivered the ultimate haunted house movie. We wanted that again, over and over, and we got it. But it got to the point where James Wan and the studio said, “Let’s try something different. Let’s shake up the franchise and take it in a new direction.” I swiftly raised my hand and wanted to be a part of that experiment.
A friend of mine, when she saw The Conjuring for the first time, she had this expectation that each case was going to be different. Each case had been a haunted house movie and we just wanted to kick the doors off of that. Up to this point, they had always been going after demons. This is set in 1981, and it was designed as kind of a new chapter in the Warenn’s career.
The 80’s was the ride of the Satanic Panic, the dawn of it. And, true to life, the Warrens, or really, Lorraine, would work with Police departments. In the movie, it’s really an amalgamation of true events. But she really did work with police departments on missing persons cases. That actually became a thing with clairvoyants and psychics in the 80’s so much so that the department of justice put together a handbook. It’s on their site. You can actually go and order it. So the idea that Lorraine is going out and working with detectives becomes an element in the story.
I was also kind of throttled by the fact that this is a case, unlike their other cases. This one is based on a real murder. Somebody lost their life. And we’re telling the story of Arne Johnson who claimed demonic possession. Either way you look at it, you have a real victim who lost his life and you have Arne who was facing the electric chair. So I wanted to tell the truth of that story as much as possible while making it a thrilling horror movie.
At this point, Chaves requested that we see the end credits of the film, in particular, to hear the actual tape recording of the exorcism depicted at the beginning of the film. The lights dim and the clip starts with the expected, “Directed by Michael Chaves”, we then fade to the Warrens in an original interview. We then view credits with the original audio from the exorcism. One word, chilling. Obviously not as sensational as the movie but just as emotionally distressing and wrought with turmoil. The lights come up and we all heave a sigh of relief.
HorrorBuzz: You mentioned taking the Conjuring formula and kicking the doors off of it. What did you keep that worked and what did you bring in that was new.
Michael Chaves: When you come to a Conjuring movie you are expecting it to be scary. You are expecting to face an iconic villain and you are also expecting a family story. You know, a family story with the Warrens and with whoever they’re trying to save. Those are the core things that you need. Those are the things that, if you didn’t have it, would just fall apart.
In this we have Arne and Debbie, they aren’t even a family yet at the beginning of this movie. So Arne becomes possessed and Debbie stays by him. In real life, she was there at the exorcism and she was there at the murder. She testified in the trial. To her last days, she said he was possessed.
HB: Did you get to meet them?
MC: Yeah they actually came to set and it was on the day of the exorcism.
MC: Yeah and they were like, “Yeah that’s not how it happened at all.” (we erupt in laughter) No, just kidding. But we actually played the audio for the actors in the space. At first, I shamelessly thought it would put everyone in the mood. But it had a much deeper impact, even on myself. As I was playing it I was looking around at the actors, and them looking at each other…
Ya know, I go back and forth between being a skeptic and a believer. You cannot deny the emotional terror in that (original audio recording). It is harrowing. TO really think about that, the gravity landed on everybody.
HB: Was the scene at the beginning of the film accurate to the original exorcism?
MC: Yeah, there were elements from the original exorcism that we decided not to include. In multiple interviews of the original incident, people would describe David as having levitated off the table. Now, I love The Exorcist, but that is exactly what happened in The Exorcist. I wanted to deliver something that was unexpected. I wanted it to feel like a situation that got so out of hand that they didn’t know what to do.
There is a great tradition of doing things in-camera. I wanted to do contortions. We got this 12-year-old girl, Emerald Wolf, and she did all of these contortions. The only effects here are where we put Jullian’s face on her.
HB: SHUT UP! What about the twisty part?
MC: That’s her body doing that, and she did it at that speed! We didn’t even speed it up.
HB: That was so great.
MC: Everyone now is so jaded. Everyone thinks it has to be CG. But I wanted people to see this and know the hard work was in it.
There is a scene, I think it’s in the trailer and everyone thinks that it’s CG, but when Lorraine goes into the woods and it’s night and the shadows go around, that is all in-camera. No CGI. We just had this light, and it was on a giant techno-crane and we ran it through the woods and we moved it like the sun was setting.
Everyone from James to the Studio believes in that. It’s not something you have to fight for, to be in-camera. They are expecting it to be in-camera. That’s part of the whole DNA of it. I gotta hand it to them for letting me get away with it.
HB: You mentioned that you are both a skeptic and a believer. What are you now, and what makes you bounce back and forth?
MC: I think it’s… I was raised Catholic, I am not practicing anymore. I think it’s those roots that are bringing me back. I mean, you’re not human if you’re not wondering what else is out there. It’s like recently when the navy released that footage, where they were basically like, this is a UFO, that’s amazing. But now, with everyone coming out of the year we’ve had it’s like…
HB: Not today Satan!
MC: YES! I love that. That was our quote on set almost every day. (laughter) No but as humans, we are curious and that has to intermingle with your faith. I’m always debating about that.
With this installment though things are different. A man actually lost his life. I’m like, what do I choose to believe? You imaging that you are on that jury. When you put your faith on trial it becomes a different story.
HB: Do you believe the Devil really made him do it?
MC: Ultimately, I had to let my own belief take a back seat. What I can say is that the Warrens absolutely believe it. Arne and Debbie definitely believe. The story I wanted to tell was about faith. Sometimes it’s the faith in god and sometimes it’s the faith you put in each other.
With that, we were told that time was up and we needed to finish our discussion. Images of a contorting, possessed 12-year-old boy echoed in my brain as we said our thank yous and farewells. I have to say that I am looking forward to this installment and, from what I could see, it promises to be one hell of a ride.
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It opens in theatres and IMAX nationwide on June 4, 2021 and will be available on HBO Max for 31 days from theatrical release.