Whether or not the franchise is based on real events is at the centre of the case
The Conjuring film franchise has already had to exorcise some legal demons, but now finds itself at the centre of a $900m (€844m) lawsuit that is rattling its producers.
The popular film franchise, including its Annabelle spin-offs, has become a hugely profitable series, featuring the stories of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren's time spent ghost hunting.
All three films have made more than $890m at the global box office off the back of a combined budget of $66.5m.
But now Gerald Brittle, the author of a 1980 book about the Warrens, claims that he not only had an exclusive deal with Lorraine to the rights to their story, but also that the franchise producers substantially lifted from his book, The Demonologist.
This is not the first attempt Brittle has made in taking on Warner Bros.; according to his lawyer, Brittle sent a cease-and-desist to the studio before it released The Conjuring 2, receiving a response that the films were not based on The Demonologist, rather on “historical facts.”
Film studios engaged in intellectual property battles often used that argument when a case involves real-life people, but Brittle’s team has countered that that defence is inadmissible given that the Warrens’ tales about their own lives were fictitious.
“Lorraine and Ed Warren’s claims of what happened in their Perron Farmhouse Case File, which the defendant freely and publicly admit their The Conjuring movie was based on, does not at all jive with the real historical facts,” writes Patrick Henry, Brittle's lawyer in the 355-page brief lodged in court last week.
“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.”
Another issue that the defendants in the case might well face comes from a tweet sent by James Wan in 2011, posted before the script to The Conjuring was even written:
I watch/read a lot of scary stories. But fuck, THE DEMONOLOGIST, true life account of Ed & Lorraine Warren, is the scariest book I've read.— James Wan (@creepypuppet) November 30, 2011
Brittle is now mounting a fresh case against Warner Bros., New Line Productions, and horror’s hottest director, James Wan, whose career was launched with Saw in 2004.
“It is very hard to believe that a large conglomerate such as Warner Brothers, with their army of lawyers and who specialises in intellectual property rights deals, would not have found The Demonologist book or the deals related to it, or Brittle for that matter,” Henry said.
Brittle’s lawsuit is now seeking damages worth nearly a billion dollars. That figure is based on the franchise’s box office success, as well as an injunction against the release of Annabelle: Creation, to prevent any other future films spun out from the Warrens’ lives being made.