There’s nothing creepier than a horror film based on a true story. Before Amityville, there was Harrisville—a haunting so creepy it’s been under wraps for years…until now.
Before the Lutzes moved into 112 Ocean Avenue, in Amityville, a far more sinister and frightening haunting occurred in a farmhouse in rural Harrisville, Rhode Island. Examined by paranormal investigators, Ed and Lorraine Warren, this case became the most exhausting and terrifying case the couple ever encountered, yet little to nothing has been publicly revealed. (There’s not even a Wikipedia entry about it!)
The upcoming feature film, The Conjuring, directed by James Wan (Insidious), takes an in-depth look at this bizarre case from the point of view of the Warrens, using their actual case files to develop the story. But what exactly happened in that farmhouse in Harrisville, Rhode Island and why did it leave such an impact on everyone involved?
It began innocently enough with Carolyn and Roger Perron who relocated their five daughters from the city to the countryside, believing the latter to be a more appropriate environment to raise children. From day one, the family reported paranormal activity in the 200-year-old house where eight generations of families had lived and died. At first, the only activity experienced was at the hands of peaceful spirits who seemed to accept their presence in the home. However, as time went on, darker forces emerged and so began the Perrons’ waking nightmare.
The house was once the residence of Bathsheba Sherman, a lovely young woman who was said to have loved children. But under Sherman’s care, a child was murdered. Blame immediately went to Sherman and though official charges were dropped, the fingers continued to point, resulting in a miserable and isolated life for her . Sherman lived this way until she died under circumstances so mysterious and inconclusive that even the physicians were left aghast. The Perrons believe that it was the spirit of Sherman who wreaked havoc on their family, especially targeting the family matriarch, Carolyn.
The eldest daughter of the Perron family, Andrea, waited more than three decades before deciding to put down in words the turmoil her family experienced at the hands of the malicious spirits at Harrisville. Her book, titled House of Darkness, House of Light (2011), is split into three volumes, which take the reader over the terrifying ten years the Perron family spent at Harrisville.
In her book, Andrea hypothesizes that Sherman’s ghost believed to be the true mistress of the house and was threatened by Carolyn Perron’s presence the most. Sherman initially tried to drive Carolyn from the house and when that didn’t work, began torturing her in a way “no human being should have to endure.”
So what exactly happened? Members of the family would often see the presence of ghosts and would experience short circuits in the house. All of the family members also claim they communicated with ghosts by telepathy described by Andrea “like being in a bubble where air is compressed around you and you’re unable to move or speak or anything else except hear what this spirit is trying to tell you.” Though she had never seen Sherman appear in front of her, Andrea recalls once getting a glimpse of the spirit—during a telepathic trance while her mother was being tormented by her—describing her as having a shrivelled up beehive hair-do covered with vermin and cobwebs.
Andrea’s sister, Cindy, one day decided to exorcise the spirits herself having become sick and tired of the harassment. Her attempts to cleanse the house had the opposite effect and she was brutally attacked. She then continued to face regular assaults from the various spirits until the family left for good.
The Perrons lived in this nightmare for four years before seeking professional help. At the time, Ed and Lorraine Warren were already household names as paranormal investigators having taken part in the Amityville Horror case and the Demon Murder (where Arne Johnson claimed to have been possessed by a demon that killed his landlord, Alan Bono). Ed Warren, a demonologist, and his clairvoyant wife, Lorraine, had established themselves as the best paranormal investigators in North America. Not only did regular people request their services but churches also often sought out their help with troublesome demons.
Unfortunately, while the Warrens were experienced paranormal investigators, their presence and assistance only provoked the evil spirits making life for the Perrons even more terrifying than it already was. Enraged, Roger Perron kicked the Warrens out of his house. In later years, the Warrens have commented multiple times that the Harrisville case was not only the most bizarre, but also the most difficult instance of possession they had come across in their 50 years on the job.
The logical question that comes to mind is why the Perrons put up with the haunted house for ten years instead of just leaving as soon as they could. What’s even creepier is that when the Perron matriarch, Carolyn, did suggest leaving Harrisville, the children would become inexplicably upset and refuse to leave, despite being just as afraid of the spirits as their parents.
For years, the Warrens and the Perrons have tried to have their story told to the world and their wish was finally granted. The Conjuring stars Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga as Ed and Lorraine, along with Lili Taylor and Ron Livingston as Carolyn and Roger. As with all movies based on true events, liberties are taken, but the movie aims to finally show the world a hint of the decade-long horror endured by the Perrons.
The Conjuring movie opens July 15.
—By Sarah Khan