Yesterday I watched the ‘based on the true story’ film The Haunting in Connecticut.
First, a short review
To be honest, despite the poor reviews the film was received, it wasn’t all that bad. It was just average, and for a supernatural horror film, ‘average’ is pretty good these days. In my opinion, it was one of those rare horror films that actually got better as it progressed. In the first half or so, the attempted scares were your stock standard ‘boo’ moments and the bloody, visceral shocks you’d expect to see in any regular PG-13 horror. I don’t know why, but for some reason I found myself actually frightened a few times in the second half, and that’s a rarity for me nowadays. I even forgot how insanely and ridiculously stupid and non-sensical (even within the confines of the film’s own logic) everything was. And for that, 3 out of 5 stars!
Fact or Fiction?
After I got home, I started wondering just how much of the film was really ‘based’ on the true story? Was it even a true story to begin with? Which characters existed and what parts of the film actually happened in real life?
And so I turned to the trusty old Internets for some answers. The results were…interesting.
The film is ‘based’ on supposedly true events that happened to the Snedeker family in 1986 when they moved into a house that turned out to be a former funeral home. Naturally, spooky stuff started happening. Their oldest son, who was 13 at the time and being treated for Hodgkin’s disease (the ‘Matt Campbell’ character from the movie) started behaving strangely and their 17-year old niece said she was fondled by unseen hands. The mother, Carmen Snedeker (the ‘Sarah Campbell’ character from the movie), also claimed to be the victim of demonic sexual assaults. There were many other alleged disturbances (such as water to blood, putrid odours, crucifixes going haywire or disappearing etc) but these were the most serious.
Eventually, Carmen Snedeker brought in Ed and Lorraine Warren, the infamous old ghostbusting couple that covered the ‘Amityville Horror’ haunting. The Warren’s nephew, John Zaffis, also joined in for observations. They became convinced that the house was haunted by demons. A Catholic priest was brought in and the spirits were exorcised, and things went back to normal after that. The Snedekers left two and a half years after they moved in.
With help from the Warrens, the Snedekers’ story was first brought to light by the book In a Dark Place: The Story of a True Haunting by Ray Garton, a horror fiction writer, and was also the subject of an episode of the TV show A Haunting titled A Haunting in Connecticut. From what I’ve read about the book and the TV show, both were incredibly frightening.
I wanted to know how credible the true story behind the movie was, so I dug a little further.
What John Zaffis said
John Zaffis is the nephew of the Warrens that were brought in by the Snedeker’s for help. Here is the full article he wrote about the Snedekers and their funeral home house.
In short, he discusses some of the background and events detailed in In a Dark Place and talks about his own experiences in the house. Here’s an extract:
This is the case where I had my first encounter with a full formed demon and it is something to this day that I will never forget. I was sitting at the dining room table when it started to get ice cold in the room, at this point I knew something was getting ready to happen. I tried to get the other researchers or family members to respond to me by calling out to them but they did not. I knew at this point this was meant for me to experience alone. I had gotten up and walked into the hallway and looked up at the top of the stairs, I began to smell something like rotting meat which was all over this area and it was unbearable. As I continued to look up the grand staircase, I started to see something begin to form, as it slowly descended down the staircase. It was the ugliest thing I had ever seen, it had come to the last step on the staircase and it said to me “do you know what they did to us, do you know”? That was enough for me, I left the home and did not return for three days. I do not think I’ve ever encountered anything that has scared me as bad as that, I would not speak to anyone for days after the encounter, but I did go back to work on the case, the family needed our help.
Sounds pretty scary, right?
What Chip Coffey said
Chip Coffey is a self-proclaimed ‘psychic, medium, spiritual counselor and paranormal investigator’ who became involved with the Snedekers when the TV show was made. Here’s his blogger site.
Coffey also wrote an article about the haunting in Connecticut titled ‘Demons from the dark’ which mirrored a lot of the things said in Zaffis’s article. Here it is anyway.
Carmen Snedeker’s website
Carmen Snedeker is still around and she has her own website, which was surprisingly difficult to find. Follow this link to visit the page.
I must say, had I only seen Zaffis’s and Coffey’s articles, I would have found it all pretty convincing (maybe not convinced, but it would have been convincing). But Carmen’s website smells funny – from the smiling ‘star-shot’ portrait to the shameless promotion of herself, advertising for supernatural investigators (including Zaffis), her touring lectures about the hauntings and (here’s the clincher) the brand new book on the haunting she is working on with Zaffis and Coffey! Now they don’t sound so convincing anymore.
Carmen also mentions the feature film, which she believes “will bring a new understanding of what went on in the house”. Clearly she had no idea of what the Hollywood producers had in mind.
From Carmen’s website, the Snedekers’ story began to completely fall apart.
What Garton said about his own book
From first publication of In a Dark Place, author Ray Garton has been savaging his own ‘non-fiction’ book and the Warrens. I’ve found numerous examples of him condeming what he wrote as, effectively, made up. By him. Fiction.
Probably the most complete account comes from his interview at Horror Bound Magazine (see entire interview here - worth a read because it’s quite funny and interesting – and has some good advice for aspiring writers at the end):
A little aside here. Back when I was reading about the Warrens, they were ghost hunters. Every house they investigated had at least one ghost, and there was always a spooky story behind it. But after The Exorcist was so wildly popular, first as a novel and then as a movie, Ed and Lorraine stopped encountering ghosts and began to uncover demon infestations. And it seems that wherever they went, people were being sexually molested by demons. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it?
Carmen Snedeker was an unemployed wife and mother who was running an illegal interstate lottery business, about which she asked me numerous times to tell no one. I never met the son, who was said to be ill, although I was allowed to talk to him on the phone once, supervised by Carmen. When the boy began to talk about drugs and told me that he didn’t hear and see strange things in the house once he began taking medication, Carmen ended the conversation. As I gathered all the necessary information for the book, I found that the accounts of the individual Snedekers didn’t quite mesh. They just couldn’t keep their stories straight. I went to Ed with this problem. “Oh, they’re crazy,” he said. “Everybody who comes to us is crazy. Otherwise why would they come to us? You’ve got some of the story – just use what works and make the rest up. And make it scary. You write scary books, right? That’s why we hired you. So just make it up and make it scary.” I didn’t like that one bit. But by then, I’d signed the contract and there was no going back. I did as Ed instructed – I used what I could, made up the rest, and tried to make it as scary as I could. The book was called In A Dark Place: The Story of a True Haunting.
As soon as it was published, I started telling my story, knowing full well that it would not be too popular with the Snedekers or the Warrens. I was right. Carmen Snedeker, now Carmen Reed, has denounced the book. She claims they had little involvement in it, which is a lie. Since the release of that book, the Discovery Channel has aired a “re-enactment” of the story called A Haunting in Connecticut, which, of course, presents the Snedekers’ story as hard cold fact. Now a feature film based on the story is going to be released soon called The Haunting in Connecticut. I suspect the movie will begin with the words “Based on a true story.” Be warned: Just about anything that begins with any variation of this phrase is trying a little too hard to convince you of something that probably isn’t true. Last I heard, Carmen is working on a new book, to tell the real story – apparently they’ve settled on one. I don’t know if Carmen runs her little interstate lottery operation anymore, but now she’s claiming to be some kind of psychic healer. She says she’s always been a psychic healer, although I didn’t hear anything about it in Connecticut back in the early ‘90s.
These days, John Zaffis is the “investigator” being used to make this cockamamie tale look like something remotely resembling legitimate. Zaffis is the nephew of Ed and Lorraine Warren. He was around back when I was working on the book. He didn’t do much, just stood around. Lorraine told me he was learning the business. He told me a story about something he saw in the former funeral home – some kind of “fully formed demon,” or some such nonsense.
During my stay in Connecticut, Ed, Lorraine, and Zaffis repeatedly told me they had videotape of supernatural activity they’d shot in the demon-infested former funeral home (which I never visited because the current owners claimed the Snedekers were full of it and wanted nothing to do with the Warrens’ little dog and pony show). They assured me I would see that footage. Throughout my visit, they kept telling me the videotape was coming, that they were having trouble finding it, but they’d show it to me. By the end of my visit, there had been no sign of any videotape. After my experience with the Warrens, I talked to a couple of other writers who’d written books for Ed and Lorraine – and their stories were nearly identical to mine.
I found another message board thread on dejanews where Garton posted, and he had the following things to say about the Warrens:
I spent several days with the Warrens during that time. I spent time with them in their home and ate with them and went on long drives with them. Of the two, Lorraine is the sanest. She’s an “enabler”. Years ago, before their career in the “supernatural” began, Ed suffered from mental illness. It was bad enough to keep him from working, and the only way he could make money was to hand paint haunted houses on dinnerplates and sell them door to door. Once Ed decided that Lorraine was “psychic”, selling the haunted house plates eventually led to “investigating” haunted houses. At first, they found “ghosts”. But after the tremendous success of THE EXORCIST — both the novel and the movie — ghosts suddenly became demons. If you go back and trace their career, you can see the sudden change. Almost overnight, all ghosts were really demons trying to possess residents, and sooner or later, the demons anally raped someone. It never fails, every damned time, the Warrens’ demons bend somebody over a bed or a sink and beat down the back door, if you know what I mean. From my time spent with the Warrens, I learned from Ed that their job is not really to “investigate” so much as it is to take the stories told by these families — most of whom are dealing with REAL problems like alcoholism, drug addiction, mental illness, and/or domestic abuse, problems that are buried by their supernatural fantasies, which are supported and made tangible by the very eager Warrens — and arrange them into a saleable package that will make a good book, and hopefully a movie.