Based on the real life 1970s case of The Enfield Haunting (itself the subject of a recent Sky TV movie with Tim Spall and Juliet Stephenson), James Wan’s The Conjuring 2 **** positions itself as another demonic escapade for Ed and Lorraine Warren, the original Amityville ghost hunters.
We could be looking at a long-running franchise here. The first Conjuring was one of the best horrors (by which I mean best-performed and most scary) in recent years, helped by the chemistry and convictions Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as the leads.
Here, they are lured to London by the church, to help out a family in a north London council house, the Hodgsons, who think daughter Janet has been possessed by a poltergeist, the spirit of Bill Wilkins who used to live in the house and died there in an armchair.
The real-life case was great tabloid fodder at the time and many believed it was a hoax perpetrated by the girls and their mother in order to get a new house off the council.
Those claims are re-iterated in this movie, but the prolific Wan is firmly on the side of the devil, or at least the horror movie genre.
And as such he delivers brilliantly. I was in bits, jumping and yelping all over the place at the shocks and roars, the creepy cellar bits, the behind-you jump scares, the flickering telly stuff. I’m rubbish in front of a proper horror, and this one, like its predecessor, has all best traits of the finest 70s horrors that made me cower as a youngster.
The Conjuring films are far preferable to the vicious Saw movies that made Wan’s reputation and fortune, but his directing skills and characterisation reach a maturity when focusing on the family relationships that are haunted in the Conjuring series.
The production design is impressive, tapping into British TV and films of the period to get the dankness just right, if a little exaggerated. Australian actress Frances O Connor is good as haunted mum Peggy Hodgson, although she does go a bit much on the accent, doing a sort of Sally Hawkins impression.
But overall, I was scared out of wits. I liked Simon McBurney as Maurice Grosse (the part played by Spall on Sky) and the effects were well used and restrained, the geography of the house well-established- which is always necessary if you’re going to have people slamming through walls, floorboards and ceilings and have doors slamming tight shut – and the creepy music is kept to the right levels, humming low when needed and ratcheting up to just loud enough to drown out my own squeals (I hope – Wendy Ide, my colleague and friend was sitting next to me and laughed at my rubbishness as I jumped out of my seat.)
The 70s paraphernalia was neatly used, from acrylic tank tops, to Austin 1300s and Vauxhall Vivas on the street, footage of Maggie Thatcher and the Goodies on TV and even a sequence which suggested the creepy voice in the wall was coming from a poster of David Soul.
The Warrens themselves are the heart of these films. I remember with a shudder their basement repository of weird collectibles back at their home, which has already spawned the offshoot movie Annabelle about the creepy talking doll they have locked in a cabinet. This film ends with a relic from their north London adventure finding a place on their shelves, but I’m sure we haven’t seen or heard the last bump in the night from their collection.