The biggest shame of the “Devil Made Me Do It Case” is that Satan, and his legion of 43 fellow body-squatters, never got to take the stand. Given the voices we hear in Discovery+’s new Shock Docs: The Devil Made Me Do It, they might have made quite the impression on the otherwise largely indifferent court. For all the evil, Mr. Burns-style, laughter which emanates from the throat of the young possessed boy, a demon might have given the case the one thing it needed most: a hostile witness.
“I’ve always believed in the devil,” we hear again and again from survivors, eyewitnesses, investigating officers, even skeptics. But the Catholic Church never even looked at the evidence Ed and Lorraine Warren pounced on. Local priests from St. Joseph’s parish didn’t wait for Vatican blessings to perform several “lesser exorcisms” on such ungodly goings-on. Everyone preached to the choir. This is all preamble to the actual judicial proceedings which give the case its name, and the documentary ambles a little too long before attorney Martin Minnella blows his opening statement.
The advance press for Shock Doc: The Devil Made Me Do It promised audiences would be “getting to the very heart of evil and to where the actual terror lies.” The documentary is a companion piece to Warner Brothers’ feature The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, focusing on the more frightening claims and ghastly conclusions of horror cinema. While the studio is not involved with the TV project, they both treat the Warrens’ version as gospel.
Hearing directly from the people who went through the initial rituals of dispossession almost makes them believable. There are no visible tongues in cheeks during the accounts, only occasional inappropriate grins. But this is a family which was divided over the incidents. At least one lawsuit was filed by a family member claiming the entire scenario was orchestrated at the expense of a mentally ill 11-year-old boy. The ecclesiastical accoutrements were added by the bible-thumping, hymnal-humping Warrens to put the fear of god into the thrusters propelling the trajectory of their divine mission.
The Brookfield, Conn., case was the biggest thing to happen to the pioneering paranormal team since The Amityville Horror. Arne Johnson and Debbie Glatzel appear to be the perfect couple. They are normal, upwardly mobile, and community minded. He’s a tree surgeon described as an all-American kid. She’s a dog groomer. She doesn’t specialize in the hounds of hell, but when the murders happen, it is on the grounds of a kennel.
In the summer of 1980, the pair found a dream house in the woods near where they live. While fixing it up, Debbie’s younger brother David is alone in a room. He feels something push him onto a bed. He sees an old man with pointed ears, jagged teeth and black eyes, in a torn plaid shirt and blue jeans, and hears him say “Beware.” Because demons always give advance notice.
David continues to see the man, and on consequent visions remembers the skin as burned and black looking, and the feet resembling a deer’s cloven hooves. David has episodes which get more violent, abusive, and dangerous. His mother Judy Glatzel had heard about the Warrens, and thinking it’s simply a ghost, brings them into her home in Monroe, Conn. Ed and Lorraine don’t take long to pronounce the visions as inhuman and evil. The wandering demonologists hear tales about a talking toy dinosaur, witness David levitate, and predict an as-yet-uncommitted murder.
The killing, when it finally happens, is traced to the final “exorcism,” when Arne challenged the demon to leave David’s body and enter his own. “Take me on instead of him,” Johnson commanded the demons during the heat of the cosmic battle. He gets flak for the obvious social gaff, but the next morning, everything is fine. The sun is shining. Some birds are chirping. The Glatzels are able to breathe rather than pant and gasp. No one appears to have black sludge behind their eyelids. But Lorraine Warren will have none of that. She scolds Arne until he believes he’s the devil himself.
Five months later, Johnson pulls a five-inch buck knife and stabs his landlord, Alan Bono, to death. The witnesses remember Arne sounding “like the Hulk,” and the music was too loud. Arne later claims to have no recollection of the incident, but does recall the volume of Bono’s stereo. While it may be true Arne Johnson was possessed, the Warrens made the possession religious, and the suggestion made Johnson vulnerable. Their pronouncement, after calling in anyone they could find with a turned-around collar, was a curse as powerful as any left-hand pathology.
Ed and Lorraine Warren, who are fairly nonplussed by the supernatural, nonchalantly blame the killing on the Evil One, or the Father of Lies, which the family affectionately calls “The Beast,” which entered Arne and twisted his very features into that of a madman. In a more recent interview, Joe Lamarelli, the Brookfield Police Department Patrolman who was the first on the scene, says Arne “was no Charles Manson.” But when he calls dispatch for backup the devil gets his due.
Lorraine called the Brookfield police four months before the murder to warn about upcoming problems, and is the one to make call the day after the murder to say Arne was possessed. In interview after interview, Lorraine, family members, and clergy say they could see it in his eyes. Arne could not be guilty of murder. They always knew he was innocent, even when he’s found guilty of manslaughter and sentenced from 10 to 20 years.
But we get ahead of ourselves. This is by design, because, after all the buildup, horror and suspense, the media circus and People magazine, the point of the documentary goes by so fast, we almost miss it. The documentary even throws in vague recollections of overheard rumors of “bad things happening to jurors,” like family members getting hit by cars to prolong the inevitable. The Warrens use the lord’s name many times over the course of the Shock Doc, but ultimately always in vain.
All of the movies based on Warren investigations bear the “based on a real story” seal. But the very premise that the “devil made me do it” case was the first demonic defense used at trial is a stretch. The defendant’s lawyer changed the plea before the judge finished rolling his eyes. The Warrens never got to swear on a Bible in court.
Shock Docs: The Devil Made Me Do It sticks to the ghost stories which make horror movies like The Conjuring 3 sustain life. The events leading up to the murder are breathlessly told. The narration is filled with surprised gravitas as each unbelievable layer unfolds. The dramatic recreations segue organically between archival footage and talking head recollections. But it is only one side of the drama. Did the most famous supernatural investigators play fast and loose with the rosaries? Did they spike or water down the Holy Water? Only the Warrens’ agents at the William Morris Agency know for sure. The devil is not the personification of evil, as Lorraine explains. But the face of Satanic Panic continues to serve as a muse for the masters.
Shock Docs: The Devil Made Me Do It debuts Friday, June 11 on discovery+.