Taissa Farmiga in ‘The Nun'. Image Credit: Supplied

Few horror movie franchises have been so viscerally effective in repackaging old-school cliches with such chilling precision. A mere hide-and-clap game becomes a tool for suspense in this universe, with creaky doors, dark corners and vengeful demons used with sophisticated artistry to deliver the frights.

Perhaps what has worked so effectively well for The Conjuring universe across its various films is the interplay between fact and fiction. It is well known the first few cinematic outings were based on case files dug out of the basement of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren.

Director, writer and producer James Wan has effectively used these real-life stories through his running narrative, planting Easter eggs at every turn and, perhaps, making a case for a successful viral marketing campaign that was best seen during the release of the Blair Witch Project in 1999.

With The Nun poised for her solo outing this week, Gulf News tabloid! sifts through the paranormal folklore and the pop culture that is peppered through the timeline of this Conjuring universe.

The Nun

Releasing: 2018
Set in 1952

Any demonic lore worth its mettle needs an origin story seasoned with a malevolent spirit lurking behind closed doors, while haunting a derelict mansion that has yet to discover the benefits of electricity. The Nun appears to hit the jackpot as it floats down the same yellow brick road that would years later unleash the wrath of Annabelle on to the world.

The year is 1952 and the hills are alive to the sound of terror as a young nun commits suicide in a cloistered abbey in Romania. A priest with a troubled past and an apprentice on the threshold of her final vows are sent by the Vatican to investigate, but their faith is tested when the demonic Valak shows its true face under the habit of The Nun. And it won’t leave until blood is spilled.

Interestingly, Valak, Volac or Ualac, is a name right out of the Biblical story of King Solomon.

While the demon may have a place in mythology, Wan has previously said in interviews that The Nun was inspired by a spectral entity that demonologist Lorraine Warren claimed had haunted her.

Annabelle: Creation

Released: 2017
Set in 1955

Based on the story of a Raggedy Ann doll that came into possession of the real-life Warrens from a nursing student, Annabelle makes for a formidable addition to the growing dollhouse of horrors in the Conjuring cinematic universe. The creation story of the eponymous doll has all the trappings of a bone-chilling story that unspools with pent-up ferocity.

Set three years after Valak let loose its reign of terror in Romania, a young nun and her winsome orphaned wards face off a demonic doll sequestered in the Mullins family home. The Annabelle doll, once created for the entertainment of young children, appears to have the last laugh when an evil spirit possesses its porcelain parts while lying in wait for a human host.

As the body count rises, the evil spirit homes in on young orphan Janice (Talitha Bateman) who will grow up one day to set off the chain of events that unfold in the next film in the Conjuring universe.

Valak also makes several cameos in this film: The first in the background of a photo of the young nun, Sister Charlotte, who is pictured with her three siblings in an old monastery in (drumroll) Romania; and the second when it appears in the films post-credit scene, promising more death and destruction in the Conjuring universe.

Annabelle

Released: 2014
Set in 1967

The ending of Annabelle: Creation ties in perfectly with the opening sequence of this 2014 film. Janice, as we know, has now been adopted by the Higgins family and goes by the moniker Annabelle — naming herself after the evil doll of course. Set nearly 15 years after the events that unfolded in the Mullins family home in 1955, Annabelle 2.0 — who is now a follower of the cult the Disciple of Ram — pulls a Freddy Kruger on her adoptive parents one night and kills them.

However, before she can chalk up the body count further, the Form family that lives next door thwarts her nefarious plans and Annabelle is killed off in a dramatic manner, even as a drop of her demonic blood splashes into the eye of a doll in possession of an expectant Mia Form (Annabelle Wallis). Riveting stuff.

In the days following the death, several paranormal occurrences play out in the Form family home, forcing the couple to move into an apartment in Pasadena. But the evil doll follows them home, with its eye firmly on the prize — a human host in the form of Mia’s baby, Leah.

Things come to head one night in a long and convoluted climax where a bookseller and friend of Mia’s leaps to her death, doll in hand, hoping to make the ultimate sacrifice and save the Forms.

Alas, six months later, the doll is seen in an antique shop being purchased by a mother as a gift for her daughter Debbie, one of the nursing students from the prelude of the first film, The Conjuring.

The Conjuring

Released: 2013
Set in 1971

Director James Wan transports viewers to 1971 and into the home of Roger and Carolyn Perron, who once lived on a farmhouse in Rhode Island with their five daughters. Faced with violent demonic occurrences, Carolyn calls on paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren — famous after investigating a case involving an evil doll — to help rid the house of its wilful tenant.

The Warrens (played by Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson) discover the house once belonged to the witch Bathsheba, a supposed relative of Mary Towne Eastey who was sent to the gallows during the Salem Witch Trials in 1692. Bathsheba sacrificed her child to the devil and killed herself in 1863 after cursing all who would set foot on her land.

Following a successful exorcism, the Warrens return home with a music box to add to their collection of items saved from previous cases. The film ends with the box inexplicably opening and playing music until the screen fades out.

Interestingly, the film also has a fleeting mention of a new case the Warrens have been asked to take on, which would later go on to be known as The Amityville Horror.

The Conjuring 2

Released: 2016
Set in 1977

Director James Wan threw viewers a curveball by leaping over the infamous Amityville case of 1976 that put the Warrens on the map. Rather than flush out a story that sparked several books and films in its wake, Wan packs the Warrens off to England to face off the Enfield Poltergeist — who in the Conjuring universe is the demon Valak.

First appearing is Lorraine Warren’s visions during the Amityvlle haunting, Valak appears to be taunting the paranormal investigator, even as the demon hops across continents to haunt the Hodgson family. Crafty, this one.

The Warrens fight off the forces of evil and appear to condemn it back to hell. After returning home, Ed adds a zoetrope toy owned by one of the Hodgson children to their growing collection of items, placing it next to the music box from the Perron family and the Annabelle doll.

Speculation is rife, the next film will see the Warrens battle it out with Annabelle, who is possessed by the evil spirit Ram. Could Ram get a leg up from Valak, you ask? Well, we can only just wait and watch.

Don’t miss it!

The Nun is out in the UAE on September 6.