Watch the Real Demonic Possession That Inspired ‘The Conjuring 2’

Documentary footage from 1978 shows what really happened.
The Conjuring 2
By  · Published on June 8th, 2016

The Enfield Poltergeist is one of the most famous and well-documented ghost stories in history, which is why it’s surprising that it’s never been turned into a theatrical feature film until now. The Conjuring 2 is based on the case of the Hodgson family, who in the late 1970s allegedly experienced hauntings and demonic possession. But as with any movie inspired by true events, there are some discrepancies made for the sake of drama and in this case for scares.

In the nearly 40 years since reports began from the Hodgson home in England, many TV documentaries have been produced, plus a 1992 “live” mockumentary inspired by the events. Last year, the British miniseries The Enfield Haunting beat the Conjuring sequel to straight adaptation of the case with Timothy Spall starring as the paranormal investigator portrayed in the newer film by Simon McBurney. While Ed and Lorraine Warren did travel overseas to observe the poltergeist activity themselves, they weren’t as significant to the story as Hollywood would have us believe.

However, the biggest difference between the real story and The Conjuring 2 is with the demonic voice that spoke through 12-year-old Janet Hodgson. There is a scene in the new sequel in which Janet, played by Madison Wolfe, sits on a sofa with her older sister, Margaret (Lauren Esposito), and is interviewed for a news program. And the supposed demon briefly possesses her, talks in a ghastly voice, and pleas that he wants the family out of the house. Check out a clip below.

For enhanced horror and drama, the scene has the lights flickering and objects in the room seem to shake, while the demon talks through the young girl. Note that Janet’s mouth is moving during the whole thing, an interesting choice for the movie considering it’s always been a big deal for the case that Janet’s lips did not move as the demon(s) spoke and that was either proof that it was not Janet herself speaking or evidence that she was doing a ventriloquism act, depending on your level of belief or skepticism.

You can see the actual scene play out sporadically below in footage from a 1970s BBC Scotland special.

See how Janet’s overbite and constant hand motions over her face help to obscure whether she’s doing the voice herself. Also the voice is not nearly as amplified or scary, there are no flickering lights, the voice doesn’t seem to possess the girl, as it comes and goes with no pain towards Janet, and she kind of appears to be having fun with the whole thing. Stuart, as this demon is named (there were other voices with other names), even tells a knock-knock joke referencing the show Doctor Who. Yet no urging for anyone to leave his home. Also, instead of Margaret answering the question about the haunting, how “you never get used to it,” in real life Janet answered that it’s “not a haunting,” after which Margaret told her to shut up.

There’s very little else of visual evidence of the Enfield Poltergeist, save for some photographs that show no proof plus the famous still pictures of Janet levitating in her bedroom. But there are more audio tapes of barking and knocking and voices employing Janet as a vehicle, such as the one heard in a viral video promoting The Conjuring 2 here:

Whether or not you believe the Hodgsons really had a poltergeist or it was a hoax devised by the two sisters – Janet later said under hypnosis it was all their doing – you won’t be influenced either way through the new movie, which is purely entertainment. As a bit of an appendix, however, you can see the real Janet speak on the matter, still insisting it was real, in new interviews done as part of the marketing of The Conjuring 2:

For the whole story, real or not, I recommend the British TV documentary program Interview with a Poltergeist made in 2007 and viewable below in full. Watch it before seeing The Conjuring 2 this weekend.

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Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.