ars goetia

The Demons, Dolls, and Dead Guys of The Conjuring–verse, Ranked

We judged the Warrens’ supernatural foes by three criteria: Do they slay? Do they fit in thematically? More importantly, how’s their merch selling? Photo-Illustration: Vulture. Photos: Warner Bros.

The extended Conjuring cinematic universe, which we’ll call The Conjuring–verse, is a film series in which traditional marriage is the strongest tool forged by man to fight the Devil. In this film franchise, nothing is as strong as the love between paranormal investigators Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga). Not ghosts, not demons, not The Nun II, in theaters now.

There’s always tension between the fictional Warrens (perfect, loving, exquisitely attractive spouses bound together by Catholicism and pure Christian love) and their real-life counterparts (not movie-star hot, possibly exploiting the vulnerable and superstitious for financial gain, and allegedly not keeping the covenant of their marriage — Ed Warren reportedly took an underage lover, Judith Penney, who lived with the Warrens for decades). This tension is only underlined by the filmmakers’ insistence on using pictures of the real Warrens and their demon-banishing clients in the credits of most Conjuring-verse movies.

The “based on a true story” of it all becomes all the more insane when you take into consideration the actual rep of the Catholic Church, plus ’80s satanic panic, both as exploited by the Warrens and its resurgence in these days of QAnon. The Conjuring–verse positions the Catholic Church as the only defense against supernatural foes that will kill children, dogs, and even Academy Award–nominated actress Alfre Woodard (who co-stars in Annabelle). In the real world, Alfre Woodard can take care of herself. All this weight on the suspension of disbelief makes The Conjuring–verse one of the most politically and metatextually rich franchises in film history. It has the vibe of religious propaganda but the craven commercialism of Warner Bros. Discovery. Absolutely fascinating.

The commercialism comes into sharp focus when you look at how almost every film in The Conjuring–verse sneaks in new demons for the purpose of future spinoffs. The haunted doll Annabelle was introduced in The Conjuring. The Nun from The Nun first appeared in The Conjuring 2. Annabelle Comes Home was a spinoff factory with the Warrens’ spooky totem museum coming to life and promising films about the Ferryman, a werewolf, and a haunted TV. The franchise is absolutely crawling with demons — and therefore crawling with opportunities to make a buck.

The problem with ranking The Conjuring–verse demons is that it’s often hard to tell where one spooky-ooky ends and another begins. Take the Nun, for example. The Nun is an identity that the demon Valak takes on earth, but is Valak the same demon behind the Crooked Man? Because when Lorraine banishes Valak in The Conjuring 2, the Crooked Man also dips out, as does the ghost of Bill Wilkins. Were they all Valak, or were they demonic pilot fish swimming around the big guy and picking up his scraps? The Disciples of the Ram group is similarly baffling. Is the demon in Annabelle the same Ram that the cult prays to? Or is the Ram the literal Devil and every demon that comes through in the Annabelle movies and The Conjuring 3 his henchmen/henchdolls?

But maybe these are the wrong questions. Rather than trying to make sense of The Conjuring–verse like a demonologist, we should be looking at it like a marketer. The Conjuring–verse is an exercise in branding, the brainchild of master hucksters Ed and Lorraine Warren. Every object in their haunted museum is a potential spinoff. If a ghost or ghoulie shows up in a Conjuring movie, we should take it as a distinct demon with its own special branding opportunity.

Below, an ars goetia of the The Conjuring–verse, ranked by three criteria: kill count, brand identity, and propaganda potential. Do they slay? Do they drive home the message of this film series, which is that the Devil’s only weakness is a deeply romantic marriage between two Catholics? And perhaps most important of all, how’s their merch selling?


Ghost Priest (Annabelle Comes Home)

Filmic Body Count: 0

In real life, I’d have lots of qualms about the ghost of a priest haunting an elementary school. Let’s just say the optics aren’t great and leave it at that. But in The Conjuring–verse, the Catholic Church has never done anything wrong ever and this Ghost Priest is just kinda watching over the kids? Benevolently?


Bill Wilkins (The Conjuring 2)

Filmic Body Count: 0

Bill Wilkins did nothing wrong! (Spoilers for British kitchen-sink drama The Conjuring 2: It’s Demons, Innit?) Bill Wilkins was a pawn in Valak’s scheme to possess Janet Hodgson. He died of “an ’emorrhage,” as the Cockney nutjob says when talking to Ed Warren, and wants to leave this terrestrial plane. But Valak won’t let him. All the demonic activity in the house is hidden under poor Bill, whose only crime was letting his house get pretty moldy before the Hodgsons moved in.  


Spooky TV (Annabelle Comes Home)

Filmic Body Count: 0

Some of the objets d’haunt in the Warrens’ museum of the weird are too Twilight Zone to carry their own feature. The Spooky TV is one. What if a TV showed you 15 seconds into the future and then …? Kinda stupid when you think about it for even one second, let alone 15.


Samurai (Annabelle Comes Home)

Filmic Body Count: 0

The haunted samurai armor is very scary, and when you walk by it, you hear women screaming in pain and begging for mercy. Upsetting! But you can walk by it — no problem. If a ghost/demon can be vanquished by brusquely striding past, it ain’t shit. I’m not too scared of anything whose kryptonite is gays on an iced-coffee run.


Weird Goat-Guy (The Nun II)

Filmic Body Count: 0

Christianity has associated the Devil with weird goat-guys since Rome converted. Roman mythology had Pan, a big fat party animal and actually pretty fun goat-guy. Early Christians said, “Oh, that guy is the Devil. Stop partying and start getting married!” And that has stuck pretty much ever since. But the weird goat-guy in The Nun II just plays second fiddle to the titular Nun. To go from classical depiction of Satan (a.k.a. No. 1 demon) to a lackey for Valak (No. 62 demon in The Lesser Key of Solomon), it’s a downgrade. And his ranking on this list reflects that.


Murder Bride (Annabelle Comes Home)

Filmic Body Count: 0

A demonic wedding dress is never going to reach the upper echelons of a Conjuring-verse ranking. It’s too off message. What do you mean a wedding can be bad? All (straight) weddings are a blessing in God’s war against the Devil. Shame on you, Murder Bride, for giving anyone pause about entering the holy state of matrimony.


Amityville Demon (The Conjuring 2)

Filmic Body Count: 5 

It seems counterintuitive, but the case that put the real-life Warrens on the map is depicted only in the pre-credits sequence of The Conjuring 2. It’s quite a sequence, but even so, that haunting is just included to build up Valak, the main antagonist of The Conjuring 2 and both Nuns. What’s going on here? Is there some situation in which a different studio owns the life rights to the Lutz family? It’s the only explanation for why such a buzzy haunting gets such short shrift in The Conjuring–verse.


Feeley Meeley (Annabelle Comes Home)

Filmic Body Count: 0

This is a real board game that really existed in the ’60s and ’70s. And that’s horrible. That anyone thought this board game was a good idea is proof that the Devil exists and he whispers awful toy ideas into executives’ ears. See also: that Cabbage Patch doll that ripped out kids’ hair and any doll that wets itself. But because this is a real, cursed board game and not a made-up one like Jumanji, it loses points in this ranking.


Essex Hellhound (Annabelle Comes Home)

Filmic Body Count: 1 chicken 

Sometimes the Essex Hellhound possesses a man. And sometimes he’s a real werewolf. And other times he’s just fog? Sure, he’s the only member of the Annabelle Comes Home crew who kills anything in that movie, but it’s one (1) chicken. He doesn’t even kill the whole coop. Take some pride in your work, hellhound. See something through.


Random Dead Guy (The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It)

Filmic Body Count: 0

This guy ranks somewhat high because autopsy stitches are cool and should be used more often as a motif in horror. This guy did nothing, but he was so gross while doing it. Very wet, very squish. Thanks, The Conjuring 3! We now know that the only thing worse than the word moist is when it can be applied to a corpse.


Crooked Man (The Conjuring 2)

Filmic Body Count: 0

One of the few supernatural encounters in The Conjuring 2 not taken directly from its source material, the Crooked Man was set up as another spinoff character like Annabelle and the Nun. However, CM stalled where the others flourished. Why? I think the Crooked Man lacks the rizz of his other, more explicitly demonic pals. He’s too stripy (Tim Burton vibes) and, honestly, just the straight version of queer icon the Babadook.


Human Witch + Demon Collab (The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It)

Filmic Body Count: 4 (5 if you count her death by demon)

Say what you will about whatever demon was working with the Occultist in The Conjuring 3, but he’s the only demon who managed to touch Ed Warren. During an exorcism (almost routine at this point for the Warrens), the demon possessing David Glatzel gives Ed a heart attack. However, his demonic power stops where blood thinners begin. Also, the possessed people have one trick up their sleeve, contortionism, and it gets old after a while.

Sidebar: The Occultist sacrifices people to an unnamed demon. However, she got her demonology training from the Disciples of the Ram, who work with Annabelle. So is the demon that possessed David Glatzel, Jessica, and Arne Johnson the same demon that possesses Annabelle? Or is that demon still in the doll and the one doing all the possessing in The Conjuring 3, like, a co-worker?


Ferryman (Annabelle Comes Home)

Filmic Body Count: 0

The Ferryman is spooooky. No character seems more well suited to a Halloween Horror Nights maze than this guy. The Ferryman crams the Warren home with upright coffins filled with his former victims. Silver dollars cover their eyes, payment for the Ferryman. The scene in which Mary Ellen walks through a maze of corpses only to find one of herself? Literally nightmarish. However, his complete lack of body count in Annabelle Comes Home doesn’t speak well of him. Boy can’t close.


La Llorona (The Curse of La Llorona)

Filmic Body Count: 4

You know who does have a maze at Universal Halloween Horror Nights and has for a few years now? La Llorona. Based on a Mexican folktale, La Llorona is also on-brand for The Conjuring–verse. She’s the spirit of a woman who murdered her own children after her husband cheated. Just like how the Nun takes on that form to mock Ed and Lorraine’s Catholicism, La Llorona stands against everything this series believes about marriage. Obey the covenant of marriage or your boo will become a vengeful spirit and try to kill Linda Cardellini. It can happen to you!


Bathsheba (The Conjuring)

Filmic Body Count: 1 dog, 3 humans  (4 if you count her own suicide)

The bad bitch who started it all, Bathsheba was a witch who sacrificed her own baby to the Devil in order to become a demon herself. Unlike the Occultist in The Conjuring 3, Bathsheba is able to finish her deal with the Devil and haunts her home for centuries after her death. Bathsheba successfully forces one woman to kill her child but meets her match in the one-two punch of Lili Taylor and Farmiga. I think Bathsheba was slowed down when trying to ruin the Perron family because they had way too many indistinguishable daughters. How do you choose which one to sacrifice?


Annabelle (The Conjuring, Annabelle, Annabelle: Creation, and Annabelle Comes Home)

Filmic Body Count: 7

Now, this is a bitch who can move units of product. As a haunted doll, Annabelle has all sorts of merchandizing opportunities that other demons just can’t muster. Cute + creepy = money-printing machine. There are doll replicas, obviously. But also shirts, wigs, makeup, tumblers, Tumblrs, and hair accessories. As a demon, Annabelle was once vanquished by two teens and the kid they were babysitting. As a brand, Annabelle’s infernal power knows no limits.


Valak (The Conjuring 2, The Nun, and The Nun II)

Filmic Body Count: 7 + 1 entire nunnery

Annabelle may be The Conjuring–verse’s most toyetic villain, but Valak is the one who has done the most damage. Before ever encountering the Warrens, Valak took out a convent, murdered some priests, and possessed a very hot Frenchman. Valak also almost got the Warrens to retire — by threatening Ed’s life. Valak came for God’s favorite couple, and that’s why he eventually lost. But if the mid-credits sequence in The Nun II is to be believed, we haven’t seen the last of him yet.

The Conjuring–verse’s Demons, Dolls & Dead Guys, Ranked