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In director James Wan's haunted-house horror movie The Conjuring, Vera Farmiga plays real-life paranormal investigator Lorraine Warren and Patrick Wilson portrays her late husband, Ed. The Warrens investigated thousands of alleged hauntings, including those which would inspire 1979's The Amityville Horror and 2009's The Haunting in Connecticut.
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Lorraine, who claims to have clairvoyant powers, met Ed at the age of 16 when the pair went on a date. In the course of the evening, she saw a vision of the athletic teenager as a much older man. ''I said, 'I'll spend the rest of my life with him,''' she recalls. They married two years later and were only separated when Ed died in 2006 at age 79.
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The Warrens would frequently find out that a purported haunting had a non-supernatural explanation. ''They'd say, 'You don't have a ghost — your house is warping because of a water leak,''' says Conjuring director James Wan, whose other credits include Saw, Insidious, and its forthcoming sequel. ''But every now and then there would be really messed-up stuff.''
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In October, 1973, the Warrens began to investigate the alleged haunting of Roger and Carolyn Perron and their five daughters who claim to have been visited by an array of entities after moving into a farmhouse in Harrisville, R.I. ''These were spirits who had an attachment to the property,'' says Andrea Perron, the oldest of the Perron children, who was 12 when they started living in the house. ''Eight generations of one extended family had lived and died at the farm and some of them had never left. My mother did historical research and found that virtually every [entity] we were able to name had, as living beings, either died by their own hand or died so traumatic a death and so sudden a death that they didn?t seem to know they were dead.''
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In The Conjuring, the Perrons are played by Hayley McFarland, Kyla Deaver, Shanley Caswell, Joey King, Mackenzie Foy, Ron Livingston, and Lili Taylor who plays the much-tormented Carolyn. ''I was in my bedroom, about 5 o'clock in the morning when I had the first visitation,'' recalls the real-life Carolyn Perron. ''I opened my eyes and saw the most frightening thing I have ever seen in my life. It was a very tall woman. Her head was like a sack of cobwebs with little tendrils of hair hanging out.''
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In real life, the Warrens? investigation of the Harrisville case came to an end when Roger Perron ordered them to ''get the hell'' out of the house after a dramatic séance in which Carolyn began speaking a strange language and levitated in her chair. ''The only time I was ever truly frightened was during the séance,'' says Andrea Perron, who has written a three-volume history of her family?s haunting called House of Darkness House of Light. ''There are no words to adequately express that event.''
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In the years following their investigations in Harrisville, the Warrens would look into many more alleged hauntings but Ed never forgot the time they spent with the Perrons. The Warrens' son-in-law Tony Spera says he would often talk about how ''the bewitched farmhouse in Rhode Island'' would make a good film. ''Out of all the cases, that?s the one Ed wanted to make into a movie,'' says Spera. ''What's being made into a movie? THAT one. I think he's working from beyond to make this thing happen.''
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On the ground floor of Lorraine's house in Monroe, Conn., is the Warren's Occult Museum, a collection of artifacts the pair retrieved from hauntings. The items include a doll named Annabelle which also features in The Conjuring and which, Lorraine claims, gives off such bad ''vibes'' she refuses to even look at it.
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Among the other artifacts in the Warren Occult Museum is the skin of a tiger, which — so the story goes — killed 33 people in India while possessed by a demonic spirit.
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Before Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga shot The Conjuring the pair visited with Lorraine Warren at her home in Connecticut. While Wilson braved the Warren's Occult museum, Farmiga did not. ''Patrick's just like Ed, he's the more practical of the two of us,'' says Farmiga. ''I had read all the stories about these articles. I didn't go down.''
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Over time, the Warrens have drawn a legion of critics who dispute the allegedly scientific nature of their investigations. Dr. Steven Novella, an assistant professor of neurology at the Yale School of Medicine argues that paranormalists such as the Warrens can exacerbate the problems of people whose belief in the supernatural may actually be rooted in mental illness. ''They'll say, 'Yes, your child is possessed by a demon.' That's the worst thing you can do to somebody with a delusional problem,'' says Novella. ''It's like saying, 'Yes, the CIA really is monitoring you through the fillings in your teeth.'''
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Even today, at the age of 86, Lorraine Warren still goes out on cases. ''I feel I have an obligation,'' she says. ''I think that's why I was given the gift.''