Conjuring the Enfield Poltergeist
Four months after Sky’s mini series ‘The Enfield Haunting’ was aired in the UK, filming started in California on a feature film version of what became one of the best-ever recorded cases of poltergeist activity.
Called ‘The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Poltergeist’, the film was allegedly based on the experiences of the American ghost hunters Ed & Lorraine Warren who, I understand, turned up on the doorstep of the Enfield house in Green Street a year or so after the activity peaked.
Described as a ‘supernatural horror film’, this sequel was directed by James Wan, the man responsible for ‘The Conjuring’ which was also based in the experiences of the Warrens. It was released by Warner Brothers on 10 June 2016.
Although filming started in Los Angeles the previous September, it switched to London two months later for studio work in Watford and scenes at The Warrington pub in Maida Vale and Marylebone station. Although these locations had nothing to do with reality, they worked well as the 1970s retro material was convincing.
There were two distinct sides to the film, one of which had religious overtones. That aside, Conjuring 2 was more entertaining than the Sky version, which in TV terms rarely exceeded mediocrity. For authenticity, Janet and Margaret Hodgson, the two women who as teenagers were the focus of the poltergeist activity, were flown to California, so the actresses Madison Wolfe and Lauren Esposito could learn something about the individuals they were playing.
While the demands of TV, film and popular culture generally leave little room for truth or objectivity, time is probably the most effective destroyer of reality. And in September that reality will be 40 years old.
So what were the facts? When a reader’s repeated telephone calls resulted in Daily Mirror photographer Graham Morris and I driving to Enfield late in the summer of 1977, we had no idea what we were getting into. Neither did we think we’d both be played by actors in Sky’s 2015 mini series.
On that first visit Graham was hit by a flying Lego brick and still has the scar to prove it. We returned on the following and on subsequent nights, and because of the Daily Mirror’s understandable scepticism, took another reporter with us. This was George Fallows, who worked with me on the story and later did a lot to help the Hodgson family who were struggling to deal with the strange goings on as well as the media who descended in droves after we broke the story.
George and I talked things through and he contacted the Society for Psychical Research who summoned investigator Maurice Grosse, who was played by Timothy Spall in the Sky TV series and by Simon McBurney in the Warner Brothers film. Both George and Maurice have since passed on.
Graham took some great pictures, including the one above which shows Janet Hodgson, the younger of the two girls and the one most affected. George and I put together the story which appeared on pages one and two of the Mirror on 10 September 1977. Follow this link to see the original, but scroll down until you see the headline ‘The house of strange happenings’.
This was quite a breakthrough as our story was believed to be the first on the paranormal to appear in the paper since 1929 when the Mirror was famously duped by the charlatan psychic Harry Price at what he dubbed to be the most haunted house in England, Borley Rectory near Sudbury in Essex. I believe his story is being made into a film, too.
Neither Graham, George nor I realised that our Enfield visits were the beginning of what became one of the best documented modern instances of alleged paranormal activity. Although Janet and her sister later admitted to some fakery, there is no doubt that unexplained things happened, although not to the extent that TV mini series or feature films might have you believe.
Graham Morris may be one of the country’s best known cricket photographers, but people are still asking him about that Lego brick, and me, too.
Guy Playfair’s 1980 book ‘This House is Haunted’ was honest and objective, but contains errors. I corresponded with Guy, but never met him; he sadly died aged 83 in April 2018. There have been several TV documentaries, but as truth always gets in the way of entertainment, these have not always followed the fine ethical line between fact and fiction.