On February 16, 1981, teenager Arne Johnson killed his forty year old landlord Alan Bono. Johnson stabbed Bono more than twenty times with a pocketknife. The killing took place in Brookline, Connecticut, it was the first such murder, in the town’s 193 year history. At his arraignment, citing two cases from the United Kingdom, Johnson’s attorney Martin Minella entered a plea of not-guilty by reason of demonic possession. Judge Robert Callahan didn’t permit that as a valid defense. He stated that the defense wouldn’t be able to produce scientific or objective evidence to prove their case. Minella re-entered a plea of not guilty and stated that his client was acting in self-defense. How did things get to that point in Johnson’s life?
In the film “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” Johnson (Ruairi O’ Connor) and his girlfriend Debbie Glatzel (Sarah Catherine Hook) are in love. They have moved in together, and while all is well with the young couple, the same cannot be said pertaining to Debbie’s family. Strange incidents have been taking place with Debbie’s brother David (Julian Hilliard). There is an evil presence inside of him and the further it is allowed to fester, the worse things become. Seeking help, the Glatzel family reaches out to the church. Father Gordon (Steve Coulter) gets in touch with well known demonologists, the Warrens.
Ed and Lorraine Warren are portrayed by two time Golden Globe winner Patrick Wilson (Fargo) and Oscar nominee Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air). The Warrens conclude that David is not faking his possession. They perform “four minor rites of exorcism.,” but the demon inside David is not giving up without a struggle. At one point, Johnson sensing that David might die if he has to fight for much longer, challenges the demon to enter him instead. Unbeknownst to everyone it is an offer that the demon accepts. (As an aside: The real life Glatzels had two other sons, Carl Jr. (15) and Alan (14). Carl Jr. has stated publicly that he feels that the Warrens were frauds, who were taking advantage of the situation with his brother David, who he said had mental illness).
A short time passes after the demon is exorcised from David. Johnson gets into, what at first, seems to be nothing more than an altercation with Bruno (Ronnie Gene Blevins), his landlord. While they argue, Bruno seems to transform into a beast like entity, prompting Johnson to attack the beast until it is dead. Johnson, who had no criminal record, is found dazed and wandering the road by a sheriff’s deputy. The Warrens will once more enter the Glatzel’s lives, this time in an attempt to save Johnson.
The Warrens are taken on twists and turns in their investigation to help prove Johnson was possessed. One of the people they seek help from is a retired priest named Kastner, an expert on the occult. The role is acted by John Noble (Fringe). Through their investigation, the Warrens have discovered that there is an occultist (Eugenie Bondurant) at work. The person has put in motion a sinister plan that has already claimed innocent lives and, in order for the ritual to be completed, more mayhem will need to be unleashed. Can the Warrens figure out who the occultist is and stop them before the person can finish the demonic ritual? (As an aside Noble won a Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actor for his work on Fringe, which ran from 2008-2013. The Saturn Award has been given annually since 1973 by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films).
This is the second film to depict the story of Arne Johnson. The first was the television movie “The Demon Murder Case” (1983). William Hale (The Streets of San Francisco) directed the movie. The teleplay was written by Oscar winner William Kelley (Witness). The cast featured, but was not limited to: Golden Globe winner Kevin Bacon (Taking Chances); Oscar winner Cloris Leachman (The Last Picture Show); two time Oscar nominee Eddie Albert (Roman Holiday), and Emmy nominee Andy Griffith (Murder in Texas). Furthermore, the killing and the court case that followed was written about in the book “The Devil in Connecticut” written by Gerald Brittle. The book was published by Batnam Books on November 1, 1983.
“The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” was directed by Michael Chaves (The Maiden). The screenplay was written by David Leslie Johnson McGoldrick (Aquaman), based on a story written by James Wan (Annabelle). Parts horror, mystery, and thriller, it has a runtime of 112 minutes. The film premiered in the United Kingdom on May 26, 2021. (As an aside: This is the first Conjuring film not directed by James Wan).
The roles of Ed and Lorraine Warren were perfectly cast with Wilson and Farmiga. I hope this film isn’t the end of their portrayal of their interesting real life counterparts. I would like to see more investigations that the Warrens were involved in turned into movies. For fans of the first two films in the series, as well as the other movies that are considered part of the Conjuring universe, this shouldn’t disappoint. As with the previous two Conjuring films, I was hooked from the start.