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The Conjuring VS Insidious

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: Laura Keating
We're pitting the two scariest ghouls (and their movies) in the horror industry against one another. The Conjuring versus Insidious, Bathsheba against the Red-Faced Demon, Annabelle vs Valak, franchise vs franchise! Which one of these scary movies is the best one? What's going to be the thing that gives one the edge over the other? Is it the characters or the scares? Let us know what you think in the comments below!
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They have a lot in common, but which one has more audiences jumping? Welcome to WatchMojo and today we’ll be pitting “The Conjuring” against “Insidious.”



While they’re both horror heavy-hitters, in this showdown we’re going to determine which one is more likely to make your skin crawl. As we will be discussing major plot points for each film and their corresponding franchises, a spoiler warning is now in order.





Round 1: Plot Originality



“The Conjuring” has a classic haunted house set up: a family moves into an old farm house for a good price. Not long afterwards, strange things begin to happen, with bad smells, peculiar noises, small physical attacks, and tragic animal behavior plaguing the family. It’s creepy, but sort of common ground. Even the fact that the film is allegedly based on real events doesn’t add much originality (after all, one of the most famous haunted house stories, “The Amityville Horror,” pioneered that back in 1979). It’s only after the Perron family contacts Ed and Lorraine Warren, the famous couple who claimed to be experts in the field of hauntings, that things get really interesting. James Wan's masterful directing makes everything feel fresh, but it is still pretty well-worn territory.



“Insidious” similarly starts off feeling like your standard haunted house story, and not a terribly surprising one at that. But by the end of the first act, it’s clear that this film will be doing something very different. While a little cheesy at times, there is no doubt that the plot is original, throwing in astral projection and alternate realities alongside the classic fare of ghosts and demons. This borderline-fantasy element elevates the material to something much more surprising and fun.



So what’s our advice for an original haunted house story? Go bigger when you’ve got a haunted home - and that’s exactly what “Insidious” does, so it wins the first round.



WINNER: The Conjuring 0 / Insidious 1



Round 2: The Characters



Ed and Lorraine Warren, the couple at the heart of “The Conjuring” franchise, were (and are) actual demonologists. Right away this adds extra appeal; a scary story is just that much scarier when it’s grounded by real people. Film Ed and Lorraine may not be entirely accurate portrayals of the famous ghost-hunting pair, but they sure are fun to watch. The chemistry between Patrick Wilson’s Ed and Vera Farmiga’s Lorraine is delightful, and their characters’ mutual respect for each other's skills and shared passion for their uncanny trade makes them one of the most interesting couples in the horror film genre. They care about each other and so too the audience cares about them and what happens to them.



In “Insidious,” we spend an increasing amount of time with the mother, father (also played by Patrick Wilson), psychic medium, and even the little boy in the coma. However, they all feel pretty stock, cut straight from the ‘scary movie family handbook,’ and ultimately forgettable (to the point where the other two children, one just a baby, are entirely overlooked from the mid-way point onward with no change to the feel of the family dynamic). Even the stand-out character of Elise Rainier, the psychic skilled in the ways of astral projection, feels like a modern take on Zelda Rubinstein’s Tangina Barrons, from “Poltergeist.”



Families come and go, but it’s the demonologist duo of Ed and Lorraine Warren that sets the cast above the rest.



WINNER: The Conjuring 1 / Insidious 1







Round 3: The Ghouls



In the first “Conjuring” film, the ghoul at work is revealed to be Bathsheba, a witch who swore allegiance to the devil after killing first her child and then herself. Since her death, she's been terrorizing anyone who has moved onto the property that was once a part of her land. You don't see much of the witch at first, with sounds, described bad smells, and damaged furniture more or less alluding to her presence before the climax. While a witch is a different take from the usual ghost or demon, her actions and ghostly machinations are pretty standard fare.



In “Insidious,” there is a whole cavalcade of ghosts jumping up and scaring people or otherwise being spooky jerks, but the stand-out of course is the Red-Faced demon. From its first jump scare to its bizarre tailoring scene - set in what appears to be the hotel lobby of S&M Hell, as it gleefully sharpens its killer nails and listens to an appropriately crackly, old-timey record - the Red-Faced demon makes an impact. While not as ominous or perhaps as frightening as the witch in “The Conjuring,” he makes a bigger, more unique statement.



Sometimes a bold new character design can really put new life into an old ghost. We’re giving you the win this time, Red-Faced Demon, so please.. don’t hurt us.



WINNER: The Conjuring 1 / Insidious 2





Round 4: Continuing Franchise



The “Conjuring” franchise has expanded considerably since the original film was released in 2013. The 2016 sequel, simply dubbed “The Conjuring 2,” follows Ed and Lorraine to England to investigate claims of a poltergeist-bedeviled family. Side characters and spooks have even gotten their own film treatments, like Annabelle, a creepy doll in the Warren's care getting her own series of movies, and the sinister nun/demon Valak getting in the habit (see what we did there?) Even if the filmmakers wanted to stop with the spin-offs, with a whole Warren Occult Museum to choose original topics from, The Conjuring Universe has a lot of fodder left in it to keep churning out original stories for years to come.



The first “Insidious” film may have added its own original elements to the demon/haunted house genre, but it’s gotten somewhat repetitive. There is always someone stuck in the Further, an appearance by Elise Rainier to assure the characters that “she doesn’t do that anymore” (and then her promptly going on and doing it), as well as the making of a rescue in the Further. The first three films set themselves up for sequels, with the endings left as open-ended bait to be grabbed by studios. However, as the overarching plot goes along (either forward in sequels or backwards in prequels), the concepts begin to wear thin. Recycling ideas and trying to retroactively tie moments from earlier films to later entries to give it a broader sense of continuity, rather than making them feeling expanded, tends to take away from any punch the earlier films had.



Where “The Conjuring” adds fire and burns brighter, the “Insidious” franchise is starting to feel watered down. That means we’re giving this round to the former, rather than than the latter.



WINNER: The Conjuring 2 / Insidious 2







Round 5: The Scares



In “The Conjuring,” the scares are a slow build, with the film employing a lot of good camera work and lighting to give it the feel of a classic 1970s chiller. The audience is only allowed tantalizing glimpses of what lurks in the house, with much left to the imagination – which tends to be way more terrible than anything put on screen! With a ghost/demon potentially waiting behind every darkened doorway, the audience is kept on edge while the story is allowed to progress and the characters to develop naturally. This shadowy dread builds steadily so that when the big scares arrive at the end, the audience is ready to scream, and the huge climactic fight between good and evil, delivered with all the huge panache James Wan loves, feels like a real pay-off.



In “Insidious,” the subtle scares very quickly give way to upfront ghosts. Little is left to the imagination. In one scene, a ghost boy - who doesn’t really look ghostly at all - literally jumps out of a cupboard. Later, a whole mob of ghosts try to push their way out of a closet… because nothing stops incorporeal spirits like a wooden door. While the film provides several good jump scares, with so many ghosts on screen it’s no longer surprising. Even if they look creepy, you start to think of them more as people in costumes than spooks, which tends to take the viewers out of the experience. By the end, while you’re concerned for the father and son as they try to escape the Further, you're not terribly scared anymore.



Horror is the one place where you really want to be kept in the dark – it’s scarier there! And “The Conjuring” knows how to do it right!



WINNER: The Conjuring 3 / Insidious 2







A little something to add to the Occult Museum, “The Conjuring” is the winner with a 3-2 count.

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