The 2013 horror film THE CONJURING was an account of married paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, played respectively by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, looking into a case of demonic possession tormenting the Perron family. The film, directed by James Wan and written by brothers Chad and Carey W. Hayes, was based on the real-life Warrens’ and Perrons’ account of those events.
The Warrens were also the first researchers on the scene in the notorious Amityville case, and they later went to England to look into what is known as the Enfield Haunting. This is the subject of THE CONJURING 2, which has a release date of June 10 from Warner Bros. The main creative team is back, with Farmiga, Wilson, director Wan and the Hayes brothers scribes all returning. Wan is a credited writer this time around, crafting the story and the script with the Hayes brothers; David Johnson worked on the screenplay separately.
Carey Hayes gets on the phone from his home office in Malibu. In the background, the family dog Huckleberry loudly greets Hayes’ eldest son.
The Hayes siblings have written a lot of horror in their day. Hayes explains, “I think Chad and I have always been horror fans. When we were in the TV world, we did action movies, we did dramas, we did mysteries, we did Disney Channel movies, so very much across the board in our early career, no real horror movies, until we did our first feature years ago, which was DARK SIDE OF THE MOON, a very small, independent movie.
“HOUSE OF WAX launched our horror career. We went in on a general meeting to Joel Silver’s company, and they had that title, HOUSE OF WAX. ‘We’re looking for writers – if you guys have a good idea, let us know.’ And we said, ‘We do!’ And when that movie got made, we were given another script by Joel’s company called THE REAPING that was looking for a rewrite, and the only thing Chad and I really liked about it was the ending. We said, ‘Keep the ending, and change the lead from a male to a female, and then we’d be interested.’ [Hilary Swank] came onboard to do that after her second Academy Award.
“Then we got on another script, scary thriller called WHITE OUT. It was Antarctica. That was a fun movie to write, because we knew nothing about Antarctica, and it’s fun to research and educate yourself. And then we did a couple of writing assignments in between, and then when THE CONJURING came along, that was a big one for us.”
The first CONJURING project, Hayes relates, was brought to the brothers’ manager by producer Peter Safran. “It was just a little synopsis of an idea initially. It was very interesting, because it was a true story about people who moved into the wrong house, but Chad and I went, ‘Whoa, the case investigators were Ed and Lorraine Warren,’ and we had known a lot about them, and so we said, ‘We’re interested in doing this movie, but not from the parents’ point of view – we want to do it from the Warrens’ point of view. What scares the people who are coming to the rescue? What’s their life like, how does it disturb them, why do they want to help people, what’s their relationship like?’ And the fact that Ed and Lorraine had investigated hundreds, if not thousands, of cases, it gave us an opportunity to tell more than just one story.”
This meant that the seeds of THE CONJURING 2 were already being planted as the first film was being written. “We saw it definitely as a franchise opportunity,” Hayes acknowledges, “because of all the cases we found out they were part of, so we had the other stories backed up in case the movie did well, but you have to have a successful first movie in order to make it a franchise.”
THE CONJURING was in fact so successful that it spawned the possessed doll spin-off Annabelle, which is getting its own sequel. The Hayes brothers are on those films as co-producers; Hayes says that both of them have been too busy with other projects to be any more hands-on. Meanwhile, based on pre-release screenings, “Chad and I were hired to start CONJURING 2 before CONJURING 1 even came out.”
There was discussion as to what the sequel should be, Hayes relates. “Sequels in my mind have to be as good if not better than the first movies. And so we thought, all of us, collectively, as a team, ‘What is the story?’ Lorraine’s the first one to tell you, ‘I answer to only one person, and that’s God.’ We thought, ‘Wow, it’s interesting,’ because when they investigated Amityville, which was a year after the Perron case, they were accused of being charlatans and had all sorts of fallout, and they ended up going to England and taking on the Hodgson case, to get out of the country for a little bit, because there was just so much going on, and at the same time, it paralleled – a lot of people didn’t believe what was going on there [in the Enfield Haunting] as well.”
This seemed logical chronologically. The Amityville case has already been well-dramatized and besides, Hayes points out, “Ed and Lorraine were the preliminary investigators in that case, but the story was more about what happened in the house, not what happened with Ed and Lorraine, Although we delve into Amityville in the opening of CONJURING 2.”
CONJURING 2’s Seventies British setting was also appealing, Hayes adds. “For me, one of the reasons was to bring in a different flavor, meaning horror isn’t just located in one place. Scary stories happen around the world. What we loved bringing in to this movie were all the elements of the time in England, what’s going on socially, politically, musically, because it adds ambience, and it makes you feel like, we’re grounded with Ed and Lorraine, but it was really fun to be able to tell a story in a different country.
“In today’s day and age, you see every gadget possible, with ghost hunters and all these people moving around houses, and they didn’t have any of that. So for us to keep in the Seventies, when nobody was aware of any of that stuff, made it just more organic, made it more heartwarming for us, that you didn’t depend on the gadgets to help you conquer. And it’s really, again, a family in need, and another family helping that family.”
In terms of researching the story, Hayes says, “James talked to Peggy [Hodgson, played in the film by Frances O’Connor], and I think also talked to Janet Langdon [played by Madison Wolfe], but we weren’t there [at that time]. Most of our information came from Lorraine, but the Enfield Haunting in England is also well-documented, and what happened to [the Warrens] in the States as well. Ed Warren, when he was alive, really stood up for what he believed in. And what we loved about it is, he was a simple man who, literally, his sharpest tool in the shed for fighting the paranormal was his faith in God.”
The film recreates some situations from the survivors’ accounts. “We embraced everything that we came across in our research, because there are a lot of really cool things that happened. The key when you write these movies is, you deal with timelines. It may have taken place over a longer period, and you’ve got to scrunch it down to an hour and a half and some change. Of course, there are some things that you want to add to it, you’ve got to fill some gaps, but like the Perrons in THE CONJURING, it’s a true story, it’s an amazing story. And you talk to Janet – she’s an adult today, but she had this voice coming out of her, and they put water in her mouth and taped over her mouth, and she would still speak in that voice and spit the water out when she was done. Try to talk with water in your mouth – you can’t.
“There are plot points that happened of different [apparitions], one in particular, in the house, and who was really behind it, what was behind it? The core of our CONJURING movies is always that family element, whether it’s the Perrons going through financial hardship, Peggy trying to navigate four kids through a normal life, and keep it as normal as possible, and teenagers are going through their normal stuff, and then there are hiccups. And then there’s the crack, and it starts opening up, and – I say ‘fun’ in the movie sense. It’s fun to watch, because that’s the wound opening up that you get to mend by the end of the movie.”
Regarding the prospect of diluting suspense by knowing that the Warrens survived to tell the tale, Hayes points out, “You can have a police officer who went through the most grueling moment of his life, shot in the line of duty, dragged through the streets and all of that, and he’s okay, but at the same time, you’re on that journey of what happened. It’s suspenseful. It’s the same with Ed and Lorraine. Lorraine’s alive today, Ed died of natural causes. But at the same time, their history and what they went up against was physically challenging to them. Especially Ed. He got hurt pretty bad a few times. It attacked them on all sorts of different levels, and in CONJURING, [there is a line] every time Lorraine does one of these cases, it takes a little bit from her. It’s just a little more taxing on the mind, the body and the soul.”
There are actually a number of things that scare Hayes, he acknowledges. People always ask that, ‘Don’t you get freaked out and scared?’ When I’m writing, I don’t. But if I’m home alone and I hear a little weird thing, ‘Okay, what is that?’”
When Hayes and his brother were in India, researching a film, Hayes relates, “For the first time in my life I ever looked into the eyes of somebody possessed, and it was the most bone-chilling look from that individual that I’d ever seen. It was dark black eyes that just gave me chills. And I went, ‘Oh, this is not good’,” Hayes laughs. “I can honestly say that I felt something completely unholy looking at me. Our producer left. He couldn’t stay.”
Worse, the movie never got made. “The writers’ strike happened, finances went away.”
Hayes says he thinks he’s been able to put that kind of feeling into THE CONJURING films. “I hope so. I think when you have somebody that gets scared, we can relate to what that must feel like. When you see something in something that just fries your banana and wracks your world, and unsettles you, how do you move forward from that? [The Hayes brothers] had a house on Beverly Glen after college, and Chad saw a ghost in the house. He had never seen a ghost, I’ve never seen a ghost, but he saw this ghost in the house. I’m like, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, sure, right.’ Four or five months later, we run into the woman who actually owned the house before she sold it, a French actress named Corinne Calvet [The Sword and the Sorcerer], and she says, ‘Oh, my gosh, have you guys seen the ghost in the house? He’s a kind of short, overweight, bald guy?’ And Chad freaked out. That’s exactly what he saw. She says, ‘Oh, he’s a friendly ghost. He was quite friendly to me, when I was there.’ I’m going, ‘Oh, my God.’ We never saw him again. I never saw him the entire time I was there, I never even felt a weird presence, but Chad woke up and there he was, sitting in the room.
The Hayes siblings have their writing process fairly well shaped. “We break the story together. Before we write a movie, we have to be able to tell somebody the story. And once we can tell that story A to Z, we will go and outline that story. Once we have an outline broken into three acts, if Chad’s drawn to Act One, he’ll take that, and I’ll take Two, and then we’ll split Three, and then we’ll put it together and then read it, and each make notes on our read, and then sit down and compare our notes, decide which notes we’re going to do, and then implement the notes. Then we reverse. If you took the first part the first time, you take the second part. We get our voices intertwined. There are certain scenes where I go, ‘Oh, my God, I’ve got to be the one to write that scene, I’m so jonesing to write that scene,’ and he’ll go, ‘Oh, great, because I want to write this other scene.’ And then there are the other scenes that neither of you want to tackle just yet” he laughs, “and then you’ll save those for last. But our process is, get through that first draft as fast as possible, don’t let any scenes hold you up. If you’re not getting the scene, you write, ‘Okay, the dog attacks the bicycle rider here, I don’t know what’s said or what else happens,’ but then you move on. So instead of letting one scene hold you up before you progress, just get it all on paper and then you don’t have to think about it any more, at least until you do another pass.”
With CONJURING 2, director Wan joined actively in crafting the script. On the first film, Hayes notes, “James was not involved when Chad and I did the script, James came on board after Warner Brothers bought the script. He was the first director we went out to. So during the first movie, we had a very strong collaboration with him, and he was full of ideas, and he really wanted to help write the second one. And we went, ‘Yeah, sure, why not?’ Because James is a good writer. It’s a little bit of a different process, because of him being involved from the beginning, from stepping in with his ideas. Because before, he had his ideas – it wasn’t a Page One rewrite, it was adding to what we had, or subtracting a few things, or changing the pacing. This was embracing ideas all the way around. It was a slower process for us. I don’t mean that in a bad way, it was more slow as far as, now you have one more element, so it’s really digesting what we have and building on that.”
For the kinds of scares in THE CONJURING 2, Hayes observes, “James has a style of scares in how he shoots it, so this movie is full of those, but I think it has them on a grander scale. There are bigger stakes here, so you are more invested. It’s kind of like we’re tying CONJURING, Amityville, and CONJURING 2 all together.”
While the first CONJURING 2 was not particularly gory, it had some memorably ghastly imagery. Here, too, Hayes says the new movie will outdo its predecessor. “This is a bigger movie in every sense, and it’s not just for the effects sake, it warrants what it is. It’s another fun ride, it really is. It’s such an awesome franchise we’ve got going.”
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Article: Exclusive Interview: THE CONJURING 2 screenwriter Carey W. Hayes talks new sequel