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A shared universe of supernatural thrillers inspired by actual paranormal case files sounds too insane to be true, but James Wan made it work with his 2013 hit The Conjuring and its subsequent spin-offs. Now, with the upcoming The Conjuring 3, which possesses the chilling subtitle The Devil Made Me Do It, Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga’s fictionalized iterations of Ed and Lorraine Warren are in for another spooky investigation, this time, apparently, set up as a courtroom drama.
A courtroom drama in the Conjuring Universe? Sounds like quite a novel idea given the previous films, all of which involve either household hauntings, exorcisms, cursed inanimate objects, or all of the above. Yet, if you ask me, a franchise as successful as this would creatively benefit from continuing to delve into some previously unexplored territory.
In fact, there are numerous subcategories in the horror genre alone that either do not get the love that they used to or the Conjuring Universe has yet to try out that I believe would be a fun way to mix things up without sacrificing the traditional “based on real events” methodology of the series. I have five subgenres in mind and suggestions of how forthcoming films in this franchise could be the next best example of each.
Movies about innocents stalked by masked killers have seen their ups and downs, enough so that a semi-parodic deconstruction of the subgenre (1996’s Scream) was needed to bring it back to life. Lately, it seems that a majority of slasher movies must have some gimmick attached to them, such as Groundhog Day-style time warps or deadly traps or the killer being death itself. However, what made John Carpenter’s genre-pioneering Halloween so scary was that its killer had no gimmick, but the very believable sole intention of taking lives in cold blood.
That sense of shocking realism is exactly what the subgenre needs more of these days and the Conjuring Universe could benefit from as well, especially considering its “true story” roots. With countless documented accounts of grisly murders to take inspiration from, James Wan and company could whip up a truly scary slasher to add to the series’ overarching timeline. Not to mention, with true crime more popular than ever these days, I cannot think of a better time to take advantage of the concept.
Hear me out… Admittedly, there have not been too many films in the genre pioneered by George A. Romero that are inspired by true events, considering how those films are, typically, a depiction of the end of days, which has yet to happen. It should be understood, however, that Romero’s definition of “zombie,” referring to flesh-eating corpses, is not the original definition of the word which, indeed, does have an intriguing fact-based history.
According to Haitian voodoo lore, the term “zombie” refers to people brought back from the dead as soulless, mindless slaves to the ones who resurrected them. This phenomena has been depicted on film most notably in the 1932 Bela Lugosi classic White Zombie and in Wes Craven’s Haiti-set The Serpent and the Rainbow, but rarely elsewhere. The Conjuring Universe has a wonderful opportunity to bring this side of the history undead back into the mainstream. May I recommend looking into the profile of someone named Marie Laveau?
You could argue that there are enough (or perhaps more than enough) horror films that attempt to trick its audience into believing that someone actually captured a horrifying incident on camera. Yet, from the intense Cloverfield to lesser-known gems like Hell House LLC, the found footage subgenre can make for some very convincing scares if put in the right hands. In the hands of the Conjuring Universe, I believe the subgenre could see its most believable project yet, especially if the film were set in the '80s or later, when video cameras were more readily available.
With the exception of Barry Levinson’s The Bay (inspired by real parasitic contaminants affecting the Chesapeake), found footage films rarely go further than playing an elaborate game of pretend without even attempting to base their plots on reality (even the folklore at the center of The Blair Witch Project is a fabrication by the film’s creators). To break tradition, all the masterminds behind the Conjuring Universe have to do is pick out another alleged paranormal event, present the story through the literally lens of a hand held recording device, and it’s happy haunting from there. They could even go as far as using those “ghosts caught on camera” clips that float around the internet, which could easily be hoaxes, but are not a bad place to start.
Even those who have trouble buying into paranormal researchers are less inclined to argue with scientific findings. Of course, scientifically proven phenomena is not likely to inspire a good scary movie (unless you count Contagion), but unproven phenomena certainly is. In that regard, you can never go wrong with aliens.
From the memoirs of alleged abductee Travis Walton as depicted in 1993’s Fire in the Sky and countless other “true” flying saucer flicks, Hollywood has had quite a love affair with reported sightings of contact from otherworldly visitors. That being said, I am actually surprised that the Conjuring Universe has not attempted their own take on the case files of notable UFO researchers like Jerome Clark or even the mysterious events that took place in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947. Adding aliens into the mix could also help the franchise gain a whole new audience.
Once again, hear me out… The crossbreeding of horror with humor, albeit proving very successful on numerous occasions, would result in, not only a drastic change in tone, but a huge challenge to pull off appropriately for the Conjuring Universe. That is specifically why I would recommend they gave it a shot.
First of all, plenty of filmmakers have managed to depict true stories that seem unlikely for comedy through a humorous lens and in an admirably tasteful manner, such as Martin Scorsese’s Jordan Belfort biopic The Wolf of Wall Street or Richard Linklater’s Bernie starring Jack Black as a real-life convicted murderer, but I have yet to see a filmmaker make this same attempt with a film that tries to be both funny and scary. It is a bold and potentially dangerous endeavor, but that is just what makes the idea so exciting. If the makers of the Conjuring Universe choose the right story and the right person with the right the vision, they may be able to come out with a truly revolutionary horror-comedy classic.
So, what do you think? Are these horror subgenres just what the Conjuring Universe needs, or are these ideas already horrific enough? Let us know in the comments and be sure to check back for more updates on this shared-universe of “fact-based” thrillers here on CinemaBlend.