Horror is often derivative — and that’s not always a mark against it. When you’re telling a story about a haunted house, you’re bound to borrow (whether consciously or not) from your predecessors. But The Conjuring feels especially recycled, perhaps because it uses so many established horror tropes. While the film is well made and occasionally scary, it’s not breathing new life into the genre. Here are some of the movies that set the stage for The Conjuring.
1. The Haunted House: The Amityville Horror
To some extent, all haunted house movies recall The Amityville Horror — or The Haunting of Hill House, or any number of other classic haunted house films. The Conjuring is a special case, because Ed and Lorraine Warren — the real-life demonologists portrayed by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga — also investigated the house that inspired The Amityville Horror. Many of the details of the hauntings are the same, from the clocks stopping at the time of a murder to the youngest daughter befriending an evil force to a secret basement room. Even The Conjuring’s ’70s setting recalls The Amityville Horror, which was released in 1979.
2. The Evil Doll: Child’s Play
Chucky wasn’t the first evil doll — and perhaps The Conjuring’s Annabelle owes more to The Twilight Zone episode “Living Doll” than to Child’s Play. Either way, the influence of past works is clear, and it’s irritating, because The Conjuring isn’t a movie about an evil doll. This is a haunted house film with an evil doll shoved in for added thrills. Yes, there are one or two genuinely frightening moments involving Annabelle. (You can read Freud’s essay on “The Uncanny” for some analysis as to why dolls are so damn creepy.) But overall, the doll is an unnecessary addition that could have been replaced with something truly original.
3. The Paranormal Investigators: Poltergeist
And not just any paranormal investigators, but kooky ones. OK, Ed and Lorraine are relatively normal — as normal as devout Catholic demonologists can be — but their team of investigators, including a horny teenager and a skeptical cop, are the closest thing to comic relief The Conjuring offers. This, coupled with the fact that the haunting itself (particularly the moving furniture) mirrors that of Poltergeist, makes the whole thing seem rather familiar. As the investigators split up and experience their own paranormal activity, you might remember that Poltergeist did the same thing, with far more effective scares.
4. The Ghost Child: The Orphanage
Aside from the evil spirit of a dead witch, the main ghost in The Conjuring is a little boy. Again, this is an example of the film throwing everything on screen and seeing what sticks — why does a movie about a haunted house and an exorcism need an extra ghost? The child feels very much like the ghost in The Orphanage, especially since both appear during seemingly innocent games, are mistaken for living children, and disappear into secret rooms hidden in walls. But while The Orphanage was praised for a lack of cheap scares, The Conjuring tries endlessly to make its audience jump.
5. The Exorcism: The Exorcist
Again, there are many, many movies about exorcisms, but The Exorcist remains the best and the most frequently copied. In The Conjuring, Ed and Lorraine make a point of noting that they will be exorcising the house, and not anyone in it. And then, toward the end of the film, they’re suddenly tasked with exorcising a person. The demon voice and levitation are, of course, classic Exorcist — but the real problem here is how unfocused The Conjuring really is. A story about a haunted house, demonologists, a dead witch, a ghost child, and an evil doll is now about an exorcism. It’s enough to make your Pazuzu-possessed head spin.