Conjuring a Grudge: Haunted Houses On FIlm

Written by Luke Greensmith

Originally published on June 22nd, 2021


This episode’s topic feels to me like modern cryptids, in that it feels strange I haven’t tackled it yet.


Now, bit of a disclaimer, talking famous haunted houses means we’re inevitably going to end up crossing paths with Ed and Lorraine Warren. I’m not going to tackle the real life Warrens head on here. I hold that they are dangerous frauds, and I was very surprised to find that this was still controversial with people defending the couple. I am not arguing that there are no such things as spiritualists or otherwise the topics they tackled and even raised awareness of, but they are not the cute heroic couple of The Conjuring movies. If I talk the Warrens, it will probably be some sort of live show where it can be opened up to a wider discussion and not just be me preaching, but I’m going to mostly avoid them where they pop up here today. Anyone who can’t wait to tackle such a debate head on feel free to approach me on social media to have a discussion, but it’s a can of worms I will be side stepping here. This disclaimer out of the way, let’s look at some of the most famous, or rather infamous, haunted houses from around the world.


SECTION BREAK – A Famous Fraud


Okay, this is kind of the elephant in the room, so let’s get it out of the way. I’m talking about The Amityville house, very well popularised in the film series The Amityville Horror and popping up in The Conjuring 2.


So the story goes the new family move in after a family mass murder vacates the property, and weirdness follows. The walls bleed, a demon pig is talking to the children, there may well be a bloody passage to hell in the basement. Calling a priest in to bless the house results in the house kicking a priest’s ass. The family must flee in the night from the house they can’t afford, then cash in on the story.


The house they can’t afford, and the cashing in after, are the big red flags here. So, too, are the Warrens popping up, but I promised not to get into that.


So, case closed, open and shut, successful occasionally vaguely racist to indigenous peoples horror fanchise all in good fun from this point.


Right?


Well… The house may be both the location of a fraudulent case, AND also haunted in unrelated ways. It’s weird, but bear with me.


The original incident that did, in fact, happen. The shooting of the family by a family member, has some outstanding weird details. No neighbour noticed the gunfire at 3am, although some report the family dog barking. The family inside the house did not appear disturbed by a family member going from bedroom to bedroom with a rifle. Every murder victim died face down in bed with no sign of a struggle, and while in court the killer claimed to have drugged them no traces of drugs were found during forensic investigation. The killer, who will not be named as they don’t deserve any recognition, did happily die in prison this year, so good riddance there. But these details regarding the unheard sounds and how 6 family members all died face down with no actual sedatives found in toxicology reports is a disturbing mystery, speculate what you will there.


Then the scam occurs. Pay that no mind, that’s a different documentary, let’s skip forwards to something supernatural and disturbing instead.


After the home was empty, and before it was inhabited again with no further issues reported going forwards, multiple paranormal investigations followed. Nothing reported in the scam was found, since that was made up. Something else happened, though.


Google, if you dare, The Amityville Ghost Boy Photo.


I can’t look at that damned thing in broad daylight without goosebumps. The house was empty, and well trodden by quite the carnival of people trying to catch paranormal activity to verify this, and this photograph is taken. It just plain looks, and feels, wrong. What appears to be a child peeking out around a corner, that is photographed exactly wrong to make it creepy as hell.


The Amityville horror as we know it, inciting incident and following pop culture presence, is a heavily debunked fraud. What came before and after it is weird as all hell though, before it settled back into just being a house.


SECTION BREAK – A very angry witch


1817. A family begin to see strange animals. Distorted giant birds and dogs would appear to watch people about the property. At night there would be the sounds of dogs fighting, but no one could ever find them to break them up. Gnawing sounds at their beds would disturb the family in the night, as did the sound of chains being dragged through the house. The head of the house found his mouth falling into paralysis at times, the youngest daughter began to be slapped and pinched so hard she would be covered in bruises.


Eventually a friend trying to help came to the realisation that everything was down to single spirit, and they began to talk to it to find out what it wanted. The more they talked to it, the more articulate it became, even beginning to hold entire conversations. Asked who it is, the spirit responded that it was "Old Kate Batts' witch,"


And from there the Bell Witch was well and truly on the haunt.


Responding to being called Kate, apparently liking this as part of the Bell Witch becoming more talkative, the entity made many claims. The first and simplest being “I am a spirit; I was once very happy but have been disturbed." But also such wild claims as how they were linked to an ancient indian burial ground on the property. Something which prompted the son Drew Bell and a friend to go on a fruitless treasure hunt around the property, which I can’t help but feel was a bad idea even if it wasn’t just the Bell Witch screwing with them.


The Bell Witch, or Kate as it liked to be called, seemed to be a poltergeist with a constant presence once it got fully up to speed. Able to successfully answer any attempts to test it, reciting anything used to challenge it and able to mimic family members from around the world. Eventually the Bell Witch escalated in its haunting, and declared it was going to “Kill old Jack”, the name it had given John Bell Sr. The Bell Witch emphasised this murderous announcement with a barrage of threats and curses that resulted in afflictions upon the family until finally John Bell Sr died from being poisoned. At his funeral wake the entity would celebrate by singing old drinking songs over the attempt of anyone to say something nice about the deceased.


While this is quite old now, I’m spotting a commonality here. A turning point where they turned something minor into something major. When faced with a malevolent entity out to choose violence, they named it and went on to keep acknowledging it. Based on a pile of stories I’ve encountered over the years I would suggest NOT doing that. Everything always gets worse from that point.


You may feel some sympathy for the Bell family at all this. Counterpoint: The Bell family had slaves, so screw ‘em.


While at time of recording closed due to COVID concerns, there are tours available of the farm and the Bell Witch Cave beneath it. Assorted reports of hauntings have persisted across the two centuries and change running to the modern day if you want to go explore the property. Even the surrounding area still has weirdness going on, my favourite being from the 1960s.


This story came up in the 80s from a local gas station owner called H. C. Sanders. He came forth with the story from his youth that he had a break down across the road from the Bell Witch Cave and as he began the long walk to get help he noticed a strange looking rabbit appear from the woods to follow behind him. If he sped up, the uncanny looking rabbit-thing would speed up with him, eventually the strange creature freaked him out to the point he began to run in a panic. Which, of course, the rabbit-thing kept pace right behind him. Eventually defeated by exhaustion the poor man gives up and sits down on a log to catch his breath. The weird rabbit-thing proceeds to jump up on the other end of that log, look him in the eye and speak. It said “Hell of a race we had there, wasn’t it?” before heading back into the woods.


That part of Tennesse definitely seems to be a nexus of weirdness centred on the old farm with its Bell Witch Cave beneath. If anyone has their own experiences from there I would love to hear them!


SECTION BREAK – Probably very fake, but interesting


Back to The Conjuring 2 with this one, let’s talk The Enfield Poltergeist.


This is an odd one, that thanks to pop culture osmosis most people probably have an idea about it. It wasn’t just the more recent Hollywood horror either, but there have also been plenty of assorted dramatic adaptations and documentaries of the haunting. Even news reports from the time.


I think what really resonated here was how normal the home was. It was just a random council house in London, Government subsidised living for poorer families. Yet the story goes that the teenage girls of this otherwise indistinguishable affordable home began to be disturbed in the night by what’s basically a classic case of a poltergeist. Weird noises, items being thrown, even the girls being thrown out of bed! Evidence began to pile up, with photos of the girls apparently being levitated and one of the girls speaking in a strange voice that was supposedly that of the cantankerous old ghost of the former occupier.


This is a weirdly contentious case. It’s supposed to be fake, but it caught a lot of attention and has a fair proponent of supporters whom sceptics would clap back against saying they were being too credulous. Ed Warren popped up at one point to insist it was a demon, which is why this became The Conjuring 2, but he was far from alone. Everyone wanted a piece of this.


But the teen girls involved are also recorded laughing it all off as a fake.


This is one of those odd ones that some haunted stuff happened around what’s reported as a hoax, such as what should be reliable third party observers like police responding to calls of a disturbance going on to swear they saw a chair in the kitchen move on its own. It could simply be mass hysteria escalating out of control, but it also had a lot of investigators convinced something was going on in that otherwise innocuous house.


If you ascribe to the theory that teen girls going through puberty can manifest a poltergeist, I guess this works both ways in a meta sense. Either a poltergeist came to bother the teen girls involved, or the teen girls involved faked a poltergeist. Either way there’s a direct correlation between teen girls and a poltergeist here.


SECTION BREAK – Oh, good, The Grudge is based on a real story.


Who else here remembers being terrified by one Ju-On: The Grudge movie or another? Well, good news! It’s not only based on folklore of Japan, it’s also based on a real haunted house: The Nagayo Yellow House.


It thankfully isn’t quite as theatrically devastating as the fictional Saeki House of the movies, but that’s something of a cold comfort. So the story goes, anyone who so much as sets foot on the Yellow House property would go mad, or even die. It’s so simple there’s no real elaboration on that. It was a spiritual Chernobyl, don’t go play there or it’ll make you ill. I’ve covered Onryo, or the vengeful spirits of Japan, way back on Episode 14: Case Studies in Death Curses, but I’ll chuck in a quick refresher as I go through the steps to get to how notorious and feared this Yellow House became.


An Onryo is a dangerous spirit to the point of being unstoppable, and part of this is their Ju-On, or grudge. Even with the Onryo itself moving on or being forced to move on via exorcism, the Ju-On can remain. It’s like a spiritual contamination, and by coming into contact it can be spread to other people and places. Think of it like an invisible oil that causes bad luck and sickness. An Onryo and its accompanying Ju-On is no laughing matter, they’re a paranormal disaster should something so unfair and terrible occur to create one.


We then specifically have the urban legend of Kakayo. Kakayo Saeki of the movies is now an extensively fleshed out horror movie monster with over two decades of story instalments beginning with student short films by the original director in 1998, and new series instalments as recent as the Ju-On Origins series on Netflix in 2020. But there was an original, much simpler Kakayo, who was a regional Urban Legend that inspired the film Kakayo.


Which is then further combined with The Nagayo Yellow House. Simple but striking, it was an abandoned house in a neighbourhood that people would tell stories about. To enter it is to fall ill, sometimes to die. It’s hard to really expand on that outside of fiction structuring a narrative around it. The recent Netflix series is more a collection of Japanese urban legends, and the original Nagayo Yellow House gets some references in presentation and use of colour. But there’s something about this minimalist yet devastating haunted house which is enough. To come in contact alone is enough to doom you, the best you can hope for is sickness with only temporary madness. What is this lingering, invisible Ju-On doing to people that your only option is to avoid it?


Thankfully the house was so notorious it straight up got knocked down and turned into a parking lot. I have not as yet managed to find if there’s a cursed parking lot in Nagayo, but so far where exorcists have failed a bulldozer with a tarmac chaser has succeeded. Digging under the modern material tomb to touch the original foundation would probably be a bad idea, and I worry what’s going on with the rest of the debris from the demolition, but it does seem that levelling it and sealing the remains may actually do the trick. Which is good to know, because an Onryo’s Ju-On is frankly terrifying.


SECTION BREAK


That’s all for this episode. From the discourse surrounding The Conjuring 3 I know there’s definitely some Warren supporters who won’t be too happy with me. It’s definitely something I want to address in such a way as people who disagree with me get a voice too, we’ll see if we can do something fun as conventions reopen in the near future for that. I’m open to friendly discussions online as well in the meantime, I’m not trying to cause arguments here, but there’s a lot to discuss on that particular topic which exists outside of any wider belief in the paranormal.


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