To know horror is to know demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, famed paranormal investigators whose cases inspired The Amityville Horror and popular franchise The Conjuring and whose life influenced horror films since the 1970s. Yet when the real Warrens enter the screen in DEVIL’S ROAD: THE TRUE STORY OF ED AND LORRAINE WARREN, as part of the Travel Channel’s Shock Docs series premiering September 7th, it’s a little startling. In 2013, the James Wan (Saw, Aquaman) directed film adaptation of Warren case film “The Perron Family” featured the first appearance of the Warrens in theaters as portrayed by Patrick Wilson (FX’s Fargo, Aquaman) and Vera Farmiga (A&E’s Bates Motel, Godzilla: King of Monsters). The eventual franchise is also known for shadowy rooms, twisted nuns, demons poking up from behind, and “Annabelle” a porcelain-possessed doll with a demonic smile (as opposed to the real “Annabelle”, a Raggedy Ann doll locked away in Warren’s occult museum). So the visage of the real Warrens, appearing as any pair of older neighbors one might find in any small-town America, is a stark reminder that the true story of Ed and Lorraine Warren isn’t about proof. It’s about belief.
A lot has been written and shown on the work and life of Ed and Lorraine Warren. A 1991 made-for-TV movie (The Haunted), many books, countless media appearances and a “school” for paranormal investigation known as the New England Society for Psychic Research (NESPR). Meeting at a movie theater when Lorraine was 16 and Ed 17, the couple wed after Ed’s military tour when he was 19. Lorraine had claimed clairvoyance since she was a child, a quality Ed (a devout believer) recognized early on and together they explored the “open door” to darkness. DEVIL’S ROAD: THE TRUE STORY OF ED AND LORRAINE WARREN presents the personal history of the Warrens with past photos and recordings that are at once both quaint and bizarre. The history of the Warrens could just as easily be any couple that fell in love and built a life but, with their story, is always a reference to the paranormal.
DEVIL’S ROAD delves deep into the Warrens most infamous cases, notably Amityville, the Perron Family, the Smurl Family, and the Snedecker case with recordings created by the Warrens, media footage, current interviews with the “Haunting Victims”…and lots of spooky editing. Fans of the old school Unsolved Mysteries of the ’90s will feel right at home with the time dilated re-enactments, smokey overlays, and tense score. But what’s missing is the ending to these cases. And for a good, binge-watching reason. A lot of praise has been said of the Warrens as well as much criticism. All of their cases have been under scrutiny including, probably the most prolifically, the Amityville Hell House of which (allegedly) the haunting was completely fabricated (though George Lutz, original owner during the home possession, maintains it all happened). The Perron Family case, on which The Conjuring is based, is presented in the doc as though it happened over a matter of days or weeks when the entire experience was over a decade up to Carolyn Perron witnessed in a demonic fit that led to husband Roger kicking the Warrens out of the home. Allegedly (“allegedly” is a big word in paranormal), the events surrounding an assumed succubus attacking The Smurl Family occurred only from around August 1986 to October 1986 with the family moving out in 1988. Accounts of the Snedecker Family’s haunting (of which the 2009 film The Haunting in Connecticut is loosely based) is highly disputed at the very least on the family involved not keeping their story straight. Basically, every case ended with the interest around it, not with a grand show-off of good versus evil.
DEVIL’S ROAD: THE TRUE STORY OF ED AND LORRAINE WARREN mentions none of these lackluster endings to these famous cases. The true story of Ed and Lorraine is very sparse on the years of criticism aside from mentioning how frustrating it was for the couple and those close to them that some people wouldn’t just believe.
And that’s the point, isn’t it? The supernatural and the paranormal will never be believed in a true, scientific way. That’s the deal on taking things on faith. You don’t get solid proof. Now, there are some issues with that. Enter Arne Johnson, convicted of stabbing his landlord to death and the first court case in which the defense submitted “demonic possession” as proof of innocence. DEVIL’S ROAD presents this section evenly without abjectly picking sides and, in the end, “demonic possession” is not accepted as a defense on the basis of it being impossible to prove and therefore infeasible in a court of law. Much criticism lobbed at the Warrens falls under hoaxes or being over-imaginative but, from the way they are presented in DEVIL’S ROAD, it’s hard to imagine that the Warrens couldn’t have considered that being allowed to give testimony “proving” demonic possession as a defense to murder would open the door to countless people attempting the same defense for similar crimes. It seems they literally believed they were doing the right thing in this particular case. Then there’s the “never before seen footage of an exorcism” boasted by the doc from the first minute. Not the dramatic table- flipping, moody, candles blowing out by themselves exorcism one might expect after decades of the Warrens work interpreted on film, the rare exorcism footage shows a very normal kitchen with normal warm lighting and a table surrounded by family, the Warrens and the Warrens’ team with a young woman seated at the head. The spooky score rises again with the narrator foretelling the action before the young woman gives out a little shout and is immediately held down on the table. There’s more but what sticks out is NO information is given about this family. Who they are, where they came from, how old this young woman is, and it begs the question… is this demonic possession? Or a neural atypical misdiagnosis as was common in the 70s, 80s, and 90s? The, allegedly, possessed woman never speaks beyond shouts and moans until the “demon” is, allegedly, dispelled.
And with that, I demonstrate how engaging DEVIL’S ROAD: THE TRUE STORY OF ED AND LORRAINE WARREN truly is. Before watching the documentary, I had no idea about the details I just listed in over 900 words. As mentioned, the supernatural and the paranormal will always have detractors and critics. Which it should, nothing should be accepted on blind faith. DEVIL’S ROAD is engaging, fast-paced, informative and just a lot of fun to get lost in. Maybe it’s all a hoax but Ed and Lorraine, at the very least, have been described as fully devout and completely earnest in their pursuit of the unknown and unexplained darkness that, allegedly, surrounds our dimension.
DEVIL’S ROAD: THE TRUE STORY OF ED AND LORRAINE WARREN premiers September 7th at 9 p.m. ET/PT on the Travel Channel.