Feb 15, 2023 I Brent Swancer

The Warrens, The Conjuring, and a Bizarre Court Case to Prove Ghosts Are Real

There is perhaps no better-known duo of ghost hunters than American paranormal investigators and authors Ed and Lorraine Warren. The two made for quite the eccentric couple to be sure, with Ed a self-taught and self-professed demonologist and Lorraine claiming to be clairvoyant and a light trance medium, and it is perhaps this colorful pedigree that made them so popular. Upon founding the New England Society for Psychic Research (NESPR) in 1952, the pair went on to investigate what have become some of the most infamous haunting cases there are, including the haunted Annabelle doll, the Amityville haunting, and the Enfield poltergeist, among others, authoring many books about the paranormal and about their private investigations into various reports of paranormal activity along the way. The often controversial duo would claim over the course of their career to have covered well over 10,000 cases, and their exploits would go on to be the inspiration for numerous TV shows and films, with some of them smash hits that would make them household names. They would also feature heavily in one of the stranger court cases the film industry has ever seen, pitting their stories against a film studio finding itself forced to somehow legally prove that ghosts and demons exist. 

In 2013, the hit American supernatural horror film The Conjuring was released, directed by James Wan and written by Chad Hayes and Carey W. Hayes. The film is based on a case that the Warrens investigated concerning the Perron family of Rhode Island, whose rural farmhouse was allegedly held under siege by supernatural forces in 1971. The Conjuring stars Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga starring as Ed and Lorraine Warren, and follows their struggles with the unfolding paranormal horrors around them. Although the movie takes a lot of creative liberties with the supposed facts of the real Perron family case, it was not only a smash hit with audience and critics alike, grossing over $319 million worldwide against its $20 million budget, but would launch a whole series of films set within The Conjuring universe and bring Ed and Lorraine Warren to worldwide fame. However, the movie would not be without its behind the scenes issues, and some of these are more bizarre than others.

Ed and Lorraine Warren

The Conjuring was long plagued with legal problems since well before cameras even began rolling. Although the first treatment for the story was penned way back in the 1980s or 90s by Ed Warren himself in collaboration with movie producer Tony DeRosa-Grund, which was then crafted into an actual script, deals with studios fell through and the project remained idle and on ice. A bidding war, as well as a lengthy pair of rights disputes also drew the film's production out, until finally in 2011 New Line Cinema had picked up the movie and director James Wan was at the helm. However, more trouble erupted when it came to light that DeRosa-Grund and Lionsgate had agreed on a TV series that would use the Conjuring name, which the producer had pitched while The Conjuring had been briefly renamed as The Warren Files. New Line and Warner Bros. then changed the name back and pointed out that the film would be released before the TV series and that they should retain the right to The Conjuring name, resulting in a legal battle that was so intense that New Line and Warner Bros. wouldn’t actually win the rights back until 2015, three years after the movie hit theaters. After that things would get weird.

In 2016, Gerald Brittle, author of the 1980 book The Demonologist, which chronicles many of the Warrens’ paranormal investigations, came forward claiming that in 1978 the Warrens had signed away their rights to him, meaning that he had exclusive rights to ‘create derivative works based on the Warrens’ cases’, and so Lorraine Warren had no right to grant Warner Bros. permission to use the old case files when making The Conjuring movies without his say so. Brittle claimed that he had an exclusive “no compete” clause that forbade anyone from making derivative works based on the Warrens’ cases without his explicit approval, something that Warner Bros. and the New Line affiliate were apparently well aware of when they entered into their own deal with the Warrens in the 1990s for a film based on their work and Brittle’s book. Brittle came on hard, asserting claims for copyright infringement for each of the first three Conjuring movies, trespass to chattels, conversion, tortious interference with contract, statutory business conspiracy and false advertising under the Lanham Act, to the tune of an eye watering $900-million-dollar lawsuit. This isn’t even the weird part yet.

Warner Bros. of course contested the claims, saying that they could not be pursued for infringing on the copyright because the Warrens’ case files about paranormal and supernatural activity were not fabricated fiction but rather based on historical facts and true stories. This put them in an awkward predicament because now they were asserting that all of the fanciful-sounding elements of the Warren cases were fact and had really happened as described, in short that the paranormal and the events told by the Warrens were real. This was at a time when the Warrens were already a bit controversial, facing criticism that they had highly exaggerated or just plain made up their repetoire of cases. Indeed, in as early as the 1990s there was much criticism towards some of their tales, with an investigation by the New England Skeptical Society (NESS) coming to the conclusion that the cases were "at best, as tellers of meaningless ghost stories, and at worst, dangerous frauds,” and saying:

It's all blarney. They have... a ton of fish stories about evidence that got away. They're not doing good scientific investigation; they have a predetermined conclusion which they adhere to, literally and religiously. It takes work to do solid, critical thinking, to actually employ your intellectual faculties and come to a conclusion that actually reflects reality. That's what scientists do every day, and that's what skeptics advocate. They [the Warrens] claim to have scientific evidence which does indeed prove the existence of ghosts, which sounds like a testable claim into which we can sink our investigative teeth. What we found was a very nice couple, some genuinely sincere people, but absolutely no compelling evidence.

Ed and Lorraine Warren

In their stance of claiming it was historical fact, Warren Bros. were essentially now claiming that it was all real, and that such evidence did indeed exist. Brittle’s attorney Patrick C. Henry II would counter:

Lorraine and Ed Warrens claims of what happened in their Perron Farmhouse Case File, which the Defendants freely and publicly admit their The Conjuring movie was based on, does not at all jive with the real historical facts. This is a pattern of deceit that is part of a scheme that the Warrens have perpetuated for years … There are no historical facts of a witch ever existing at the Perron farmhouse, a witch hanging herself, possession, Satanic worship or child sacrifice.

This put the studio in the uncomfortable position of now having to either prove that ghosts really exist and that the events in the Warrens’ files really happened as described, or that they never had any knowledge of the book The Demonologist before they began work on The Conjuring. Either way they were in a tight spot. Warner Bros. continued on, trying all manner of legal avenues including whether someone has a monopoly on recounting true-life events and people, and the matter of the statute of limitations, but the court was having none of it, and U.S. District Court Judge John Gibney Jr. would state:

The Court declines the parties’ invitation to wade into the truth or falsity of the Warrens’ paranormal escapades or to parse the resulting similarities between the works at this stage of the case. This type of analysis, which bears on evidence presented and factual determinations, is better suited for summary judgment or trial.

In the absence of any proof of the paranormal in the end, while Brittle wasn’t completely successful with all of his charges, his copyright infringement claim stuck, and Warner Bros. would settle out of court without going on to what would no doubt have been a bizarre trial worthy of becoming a movie itself, and robbing us of the opportunity to see someone try to prove that the events of the Warrens’ case really happened. A summary of the results of the case on Loeb and Loeb LLP reads:

The court granted the motion to dismiss Brittle’s “property-based” state law claims — trespass to chattels and conversion — holding that these claims were “not qualitatively different from the copyright infringement claims” and thus pre-empted by the Copyright Act. With respect to the “contract based” state law claims — tortious interference with contract and statutory business conspiracy — the court denied defendants’ motion to dismiss based on the statute of limitations, ruling that both the choice-of-law analysis and determination of when the claims accrued required factual development. Finally, the court dismissed the Lanham Act false advertising claim, which was based on the alleged falsity of the films’ representation that they were based on “true stories.” The court reasoned that Brittle’s book made the same representation, contradicting Brittle’s allegations that he suffered injury as a result of the allegedly false advertising, a necessary element of the claim.

Scene from The Conjuring

This would not even be the end of the whole bizarre tale. Not long after settling out of court, Brittle made the eye-opening claim that he had been a pawn of the producer Tony DeRosa-Grund the whole time, and that he was the one who had actually orchestrated the lawsuit. This version of events revolved around an incident in 2013 in which DeRosa-Grund claimed that the Warrens were hiding Ed’s decades-long affair with a woman named Judy Penney, that had begun when she was just 15 years old, and Brittle claimed that the producer had “been locked in his own ugly legal battle with Warrens for years.” According to Brittle, DeRosa-Grund had been the puppet master behind the entire lawsuit, including hiring lawyers, funding the litigation, drafting the complaints, responding to discovery and instructing attorneys not to produce documents, as well as shady dealings such as making threats if they sent information from me without him seeing it first, deciding which communications and documents were revealed, and telling Brittle not to turn over certain emails to his own lawyers. DeRosa-Grund denied this, and claimed that these allegations were designed to deflect attention from his pursuit of uncovering the ugly truth about Ed Warren’s affair. He would tell The Hollywood Reporter:

Mr. Brittle was never a “puppet”. On the contrary, it was he that in exchange for a revised agreement he entered into, with our company in 2015 for an option on his life rights, and The Demonologist book, demanded that Evergreen be contractually obligated to provide legal financing and services to him for his own personal litigation against New Line. These documents have already been produced. New Line’s campaign against me and Evergreen is pure retribution because I was the whistle-blower that put New Line on notice regarding the sexual predation by Ed Warren and the then 15 year old Judy Penny, to which the studio not only did not investigate those claims, they said they did not want to know.

Since I first apprised New Line of this in 2013 (and other related incidents of sexual predation related to the Warren family) they have then and continue to “paint” me and Evergreen with a knowingly inaccurate brush. They have and engaged engaged in litigation with us to keep those stories out of public view. (We fully expect stories engineered to blunt the story of Ed Warren’s sexual predation that THR had the courage to publish after a month of investigating it. People should take baseless stories for what they are, inaccurate and designed to deflect the attention from the real story, Ed Warren and the cover up of his sexual predation and pedophilia.)

For proof you only have to go as far as the studio’s JAMS claims against us which include, a claim that we violated our producer agreement restriction on doing independent publicity when we encouraged Ms. Penny, the victim of Mr. Warrens sexual predation to come forward and tell her story. Not only do people in power manufacture false accusations against those very victims who make accusations of sexual predation and similar wrongdoing, they also do it to those that try to help these victims in order to keep it all in the dark and away from public scrutiny.

Interestingly, all of this is not the first time Brittle has been locked in legal disputes over his work. In 2006 he was sued by Carl Glatzel, the brother of David Glatzel, who in 1981 was an 8-year old boy who was allegedly possessed by demons and was investigated by the Warrens. During the exorcism, Arne Johnson, the boyfriend and later husband of Deborah Glatzel, Carl and David’s sister, alleged that a demon left the boy and entered him during an exorcism and caused him to murder his landlord, Alan Bono. You can read an article I wrote on the case here. Brittle would write about the case in his book The Devil in Connecticut, but Glatzel claimed that the story told by Brittle was inaccurate, and that he and the Warrens had blown things out of proportion and stressed demonic possession when according to Carl it was largely due to mental illness. He claimed that the Warrens and Brittle had twisted and warped the events into a tale of the supernatural that had caused the family mental anguish and harassment, and that the Warrens had exploited his family for monetary gain. He sued Brittle, but the case was ultimately thrown out. 

Weirdly enough, the Glatzel case was the subject of the third Conjuring film, 2021’s The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It. Also interestingly is that when Brittle took the book out of print because of the lawsuit he made the claim that the book was true, which is the opposite of what he was saying in his 2016 lawsuit against Warner Bros. concerning “The Demonologist.” Brittle would say at the time, “I did it (discontinued the book) because I was fed up with the case, fed up with Carl Glatzel. It just wasn’t worth it to me. It had no bearing on the fact that the book was true.” Which is it Brittle, are the Warren cases true or not? Too bad Warner Bros. never went to court to clear that up. It is all a pretty strange chapter in film history, and the sad part is that we never even got to see the trial go through and see anyone prove that ghosts exist and the Warrens were the real deal. 

Brent Swancer

Brent Swancer is an author and crypto expert living in Japan. Biology, nature, and cryptozoology still remain Brent Swancer’s first intellectual loves. He's written articles for MU and Daily Grail and has been a guest on Coast to Coast AM and Binnal of America.

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