Warren talk an exercise in spookiness

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NAUGATUCK — I went into Lorraine Warren’s lecture Thursday night a firm believer that when we die, we return to dust and our souls will never reemerge. When I left Naugatuck High School after about two hours of pictures and video from supernatural investigations and exorcisms spanning five decades, I was at least open to the possibility of the existence of a supernatural world analogous to our own.

Regardless of my own skepticism, the well-packed auditorium clearly felt differently at the outset. When Tony Spera, Warren’s assistant and director of the New England Society for Psychic Research, asked how many people in the audience thought they’d seen a ghost in their life, at least half of the students attending raised their hands.

“Let’s get out of here, Lorraine,” he quipped at that point, “This place is super haunted.”

Warren and Spera kicked off their talk with a forthright disclosure of their beliefs.

Though their work in paranormal investigation and demonology is ostensibly rooted in the Roman Catholic faith, they contend it is possible for a person’s spirit to remain in our world after bodily death.

“When we pass away suddenly,” Warren said, “it is difficult to accept death.”

They seem to chalk up the supernatural phenomena they experience to either these spirits or the work of the devil.

Warren claims to have psychic powers and to be capable of seeing the aura she and Spera say surrounds all living things.

“Lorraine can tell a lot about you” through your aura, Spera said, including your faith, beliefs, emotional well-being and health.

At this point I wondered if Lorraine Warren could see in my aura that I thought this was all a bunch of nonsense.

But as she started discussing the two cases she’s now working on, her presentation seemed increasingly honest, relevant, and coherent.

She told attendees of the troubles of a nearby home that is supposedly haunted. In the owners’ story, a 16-year-old girl is studying at the kitchen table when a vision of a man dressed in a pinstriped suit and hat appears on the other side of the table, walks around to where she sits, and, upon turning his gaze upon her, fades away.

“I’ve never seen a man so terrified,” Warren said of the homeowner, who she said has contacted the Catholic clergy for a blessing or exorcism of the house after this and other incidents.

Warren says in about 75 percent of the cases she’s worked on, the victims had previously “opened a door” to the netherworld through the use of Ouija boards, tarot cards, or other occult media.

“Do not keep an Ouija board in your home,” Warren said. “Bury it.”

I’m not sure Milton Bradley would agree with this sentiment, as they have mass-produced an inexpensive plastic Ouija board for consumer-level sale for more than 30 years. Many of us can conjure up some adolescent memory of toying with one at a slumber party of yesteryear, raised-hairs on our necks, trying to pinpoint who, if anyone, was nudging the plastic planchette along. And there were always the one or two who were too scared to be in the same room.

And Warren, it seems, would say that they were the smart ones.

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Spooky slides and a grainy aesthetic

The meat of Warren’s presentation was a slideshow of photos from homes and graveyards which supposedly fell prey to supernatural influence after some causal incident involving the occult or psychic meddling.

Though some of the photos were less convincing than others, several were undeniably unnerving. And the low-budget charm of the whole affair lent it an air of credibility rather than of cheapness. Lorraine Warren was not trying to impress with a slick digital presentation or atmospheric presentational devices.

The grainy photos clicked past in an antiquated 35 mm film slide projector as Warren related the stories behind them: Union Cemetery in Easton, Conn., where the notorious White Lady haunts locals and passing drivers; Dudleytown, Conn., the remains of which have been condemned by state police, where a deathly silence is said to descend upon visitors as the chirping of birds and the buzzing of insects abates as one nears the hamlet; a home in Milford, Conn. that sits upon the site of a civil war encampment, inside of which a photo showing the distinct image of a Civil War officer was taken more than a hundred  years after the war; Carousel Gardens in Seymour, where the spirits of the original 19th-century inhabitants are said to haunt the home still. Perhaps the most convincing photo of the night, coming at the tail end of some relatively unimpressive photos of vague mists and white orbs, was a forming of these dubious phenomena into a distinct, clearly-demarcated, three-dimensional rendering of a beautiful young woman’s face and upper torso, right down to ghostly wisps of hair and a clearly-defined bone structure about the face.

Maybe the spookiest aspect of the presentation is the fact that most of these photos were taken long before the age of Photoshop and simple digital manipulation of photographs and video. None of the photos appeared to be tampered with.

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The horrors of a national news story

Perhaps the most famous case the Warrens worked on was a possessed home in Amityville, N.Y., in southern Long Island. The investigation there inspired the 1977 book “The Amityville Horror” and the dramatic film adaptation of the same name in 1979 (remade in 2005).

Hollywood funnyman Ryan Reynolds starred as Frank Lutz in a 2005 remake of the 1979 original, which starred James Brolin. Neither film did well with critics.
Hollywood funnyman Ryan Reynolds starred as Frank Lutz in a 2005 remake of the 1979's "The Amityville Horror," which starred James Brolin. Neither film did well with critics.

“I don’t want anyone here to believe that that case had any falsehood to it,” Warren said of Amityville.

In the cold November of 1974 Long Island, Ronald DeFeo, Jr. discharged seven rounds from his Marlin Model 336 rifle, murdering the six family members living with him in the three-floor Dutch colonial home.

A little more than a year later, the Lutz family moved in and stayed only 28 days before leaving, claiming to have been terrorized by paranormal phenomena while living there.

Warren said this case was more personally affecting than any she’s ever worked on, and even claimed that a supernatural entity followed her and her late husband Ed, who was a demonologist, back to their home.

“People ask me if I’m afraid,” Warren said, “… I’d be a fool not to be afraid in some of the homes we go into.”

One slide showed the positive polygraph results on Kathleen Lutz from when she was questioned about her experiences in the house. Warren said George Lutz also passed a lie-detector test.

“George Lutz was not a wimp,” Warren said, suggesting the supernatural phenomena they claimed to have witnessed was perhaps more bloodcurdling than the experiences of other clients. “He was a former marine, a black belt in karate, and a motorcycle guy.”

The phenomena the Lutz family supposedly encountered, while dramatized in the 1979 film, were numerous and, indeed, rather menacing.

George Lutz said he woke inexplicably every morning at 3:15 and went to check the boathouse. Later he learned this was about the time of the DeFeo murders. On one such occasion, he claimed to have seen a pair of glowing red eyes peering out of a window; later it was suggested that the eyes belonged to “Jodie,” a demonic, pig-like imaginary friend Lutz’s 5-year-old daughter, Missy, had developed while living there.

Lutz said he was often awoken by the sounds of the front door banging closed or the sound of what he called a “German marching band tuning up;” upon investigating he would find his dog and the rest of the family sleeping soundly and no evidence of the sounds’ sources.

A foot-long crucifix which Kathleen Lutz hung in a closet started revolving of its own volition until it was upside down and gave off a sour smell. Locks, doors, and windows of the house were found unaccountably damaged. Enormous cloven hoof tracks were discovered in the snow on the property, and the house was plagued by swarms of flies, despite the winter weather.

Lutz claimed to have been regularly haunted in the bedroom, where she would feel as if she was being embraced by an invisible force, and once allegedly levitated two feet off the bed.

Warren said the Lutzes slept in the same bed that DeFeo’s parents were sleeping in when they were murdered.

She showed one particularly shocking photo from the Amityville case—a grainy black-and-white shot from the stairwell showing the distinct image of a young boy, eyes aglow in the black of night, peering out of a hallway. Warren attributed the apparition to John Matthew DeFeo, who was 9 when murdered by Ronald DeFeo.

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An exorcism

And if all this wasn’t enough to send waves of shivers up the spines of NHS students, parents and teachers, Warren closed her appearance with a video of an alleged exorcism, of Massachusetts farmer and Canadian native Maurice Theriault.

Warren and Spera warned of the graphic nature of the video, and dozens of students filed out, apparently overwhelmed by the rest of the presentation and unprepared to watch.

Theriault was, it seemed, blessed with superhuman strength at a young age. The man was endowed with an average build but was capable of lifting things no young or grown man would be able to lift with ease. Warren showed one photograph of Theriault hefting a stone statue the size of a grown man which must have weighed 300-400 pounds. And he didn’t appear to be straining.

Though this phenomenon in itself is not particularly troubling, Theriault also suffered from spontaneous bleeding, and, according to Warren, he was capable of “being in two places at once.” Witnesses reported seeing him in one place and then another only seconds later—but he’d still be in the original spot if they tried to follow the second Theriault.

He and his family enlisted the help of the Warrens, who eventually ruled the case a possession and called in a Catholic Bishop to read from the Rituale Romanum, the only Roman Catholic text to include a rite of exorcism.

And this is the video NHS students saw Thursday night before heading home through the early frost and damp darkness of a deranged New England October.

The video depicts Theriault sitting in a chair, surrounded by supporters, while the priest reads the Latin rite aloud. Theriault hunches in pain, and blood dribbles inexplicably from his mouth and eyes. A contusion forms mysteriously on his forehead and oozes blood. After a minute or two of this, Theriault begins to stare, agape and unblinking, into the vague distance.

The priest implores Theriault’s demon of his name.

“I am what I am,” replies Theriault from a distance.

When asked a question in Latin, the ancient language relegated only to scholars, the diocese, and the occasional English idiom, Theriault, whom Warren said had a third-grade education, replies in Latin.

“How many are you?” the priest asks.

“The only one.”

Theriault’s eyes roll back into his head, and the video ends.

The screen goes black, and it takes a few minutes for staff to get the lights back on. In the interim, from the pitch black of the auditorium, students hoot and holler, probably more out of displaced fear than disrespect.

And as I drove home alone through the frostbitten, desolate country roads of Prospect and Cheshire, as ominous autumn began—early this year—to give way to the dead hollow of bitter winter, I realized that what made Warren’s photographs and stories so foreboding was not necessarily the content, but the lack of alternative explanations and the implications of Warren’s hypotheses, which are supported to some degree by her evidence—that we are not alone in our cosmic realm, that disquiet spirits do roam the earth, that the devil, or the Devil, is a real threat to our spiritual well-being.

We all know that chilling feeling of being “spooked,” of feeling as though we are not quite alone in a dark room in the night. We can’t ever quite put our fingers on the cause; as children, there were ghosties and boogie-men in the cold corners of our bedrooms, under our beds, hiding in our closets. As we grow up, we assume it has to do a lack of sleep, or the food we’re eating (“You’re just a bad bit of potato, Jacob Marley!”), or maybe it’s just us losing our ever-loving minds. But Lorraine Warren, the alleged psychic, the ghostbuster, if you’ll forgive the expression, the firm believer in a spiritual world existing on a different frequency than our own, attempts to put her finger on this feeling.

And her explanation is far from the most comforting one.