There are few movie experiences more enjoyable than a good old-fashioned haunted house movie. And new horror The Conjuring delivers rich Gothic atmosphere in spades. The film is released this Friday 2 August.
Insidious director James Wan brings us the true story of real-life Amityville investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. When the Warrens are called to a remote farmhouse to investigate an apparent haunting, they are drawn into the most terrifying case of their lives.
The Conjuring forgoes gore and splatter, instead enveloping viewers in a steadily mounting atmosphere of pure terror in the manner of classics like The Innocents and the original The Haunting.
Hair on the back of your neck standing up? Well, muster enough courage to read the following interview with actors Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor, who play the terrorised Perron family.
How is it to watch a movie like this when you know how the scares are created?
RL: It's scary, really scary.
LT: Yeah, we just saw it the other night and it was my third time, but the first time with an audience and it was a blast. Because it's unconscious, he's operating on an unconscious level. It doesn't matter what I know in my brain.
RL: I kind of compare it to where you get in trouble and your mother sends you to your room and says, 'Just wait 'till you dad gets home.' Just because you know what's going to happen doesn't make it less any scary to wait for it. It almost makes it worse.
Are there lots of ghost stories in Hollywood?
RL: Not on this one. I think a lot of the Eastern cultures have a closer link to some of the spirit cultures. In America, at least, I feel like the Puritans beat that out of us. Anyone who thought they were hanging out with spirits got burned. Or hung. So if you did see that stuff, you learned to shut your mouth about it!
Did you read about the Perrons?
LT: I didn't, because the screenwriters and James had done all that research and work, so I just worked with what they gave me, because whatever was in that script they had decided should be there, and anything that wasn't didn't need to be. So I struck with it. I felt that's what served me best.
But you met the real-life people?
RL: I met them briefly, they came to visit the set but left right away because Carolyn broke her hip the day she was supposed to fly out, and they had to leave. But I really enjoyed talking to them for the time that we had.
Why didn't they leave the house?
LT: We asked James and the writers about that, because we needed to make that clear. Firstly, they put all their money into the house, they're not going to sell it. So they don't have money to get another house, and they have five girls. And I felt like it made sense. Plus there's a part of human nature where you think, 'It's going to change. It'll be different. It's not always going to be like this.' Not denial, but a diminishing or rationalising until finally it was too much. For them it took 10 years, but we condensed it for the movie.
Have you had any paranormal activity in your life?
RL: I was at a party in Silverlake and I was talking to a guy who said his mother was a medium and he woke up one night and he was levitating above the bed and there were four spirits holding the corners of the sheet and shaking him up and down. I said, 'Okay... I don't know what to say to that. I must just be the wallflower of the spirit world. Nobody has ever come and hung out with me,' and at the moment I said that, a candelabra started shaking and fell down, and the lights flickered on and off. It was the Northridge earthquake! The funny thing about that is everybody relaxes when they go, 'Oh, okay, so that's just the bowels of the Earth heaving and threatening to swallow you up...' Like somehow that's more comforting! I don't know why.
LT: I was at a house that wasn't nice in Rhode Island - a state that maybe we shouldn't go to, given this film - and I don't know what it was, I can't explain it, but up to that point, I always thought I wanted to have a ghost experience, but I really don't want to after that.
James was saying most of the movie was shot in sequence. How did that help your acting experience?
LT: I wish everybody did it that way. I know it's expensive, but I think it helps everybody from the crew, everyone. It helps you have a sense of the story as it's playing out. So if it's like a house of cards, what you did in that scene will help and build another. Everything gets richer and deeper in a way.
RL: It's much easier to shoot. Usually you do all the car scenes on the day you want to shoot that. This one was both, because James felt it was important and also because there's a lot of little subtle things happening where we get broken down over the course of the film and the girls get sicker and sicker, the pictures break, so the house gets messier. To try to go back and forth and recreate all of those little things would've been just too hard to do. But I'm grateful for the way it works. It's a lot easier.
How would you describe the mood on set?
LT: It was funny and focused. If some of the practical effects weren't working, which happened a lot, and we'd say it looked ridiculous. We'd laugh and work on it. But if you know James and you know what he's like, he sustains that energy throughout. I love working with him because he's so creative.
In real life, would you want to know if your house were haunted?
LT: I'd want to know. And then I'd say I'm getting out!
RL: I would want to know and at the very least I'd want to charge rent. If they're going to stay here, they're going to do the dishes, cook once a week.
Is it fun to see it with an audience, see them jump?
LT: It's so fun. I can watch horror by myself and it's fine, I do Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby every November, and it's fine, but being with everybody makes you feel like you can get through it together. You have a friend to help you if it gets bad.
When you have a child, do you still see these kinds of movies?
LT: Yeah, if they're good I do.
RL: Well, I have a child, and I don't see any movies! I'm hoping some day I'll see them again.
LT: I love them, but not any horror movies. I'm not so into the genre that I'll see anything. I don't see gore.
RL: I think The Shining is the one for me. I think it depends on how old you were when you see 'em. There's something about being a certain age and seeing a horror movie that gets under your skin.
Were the Perron kids okay afterwards?
LT: I don't know. One of them wrote a book.
RL: They seem like they're doing as any of us are doing. But I don't know how that is!
LT: I think the kids have a hard time.
Did you keep any mementos from the set?
RL: I usually do keep something, but this time...
LT: Props was coming to us and we were, 'get away! Go!'
RL: Props was just trying to get rid of that stuff!