THE DEMON MURDER CASE is a television movie from 1983 that purports to tell the tale of a young child possessed by a demon (or 42.) What separates it from the standard possession tale is the fact that a close friend of the boy’s family ends up killing a man and proclaiming that he was effected by the demon as well. It became the first case in which possession was suggested as a potential defense in court. (Iâ€™ve used the possession excuse myself to explain many indiscretions and I can tell you, much like my Big Bird alarm clock, it only works part of the time.) Ultimately the man responsible for the murder spent five years in jail and the possessed child was reportedly successfully exorcised. Although the story made worldwide news at the time it has since nearly evaporated from the public consciousness.
I actually caught this telenastie back when it originally aired and, being the lightest touch imaginable when it comes to possession films, it had my imagination running around like a cat with firecrackers tied to its tail. (Please do not test out that analogy.) The idea of an evil entity not only jumping hosts but also forcing a person to kill against his will is frightening alone, but what got to me was the kidâ€™s description of the instigating demon. The boy describes him as being burnt black from head to toe, with sunken eyes, a plaid shirt and ripped jeans. As an afterthought he adds that the being has cloven feet, â€œLike a deer.â€ Thatâ€™s some pretty vivid stuff and who could make something like that up? (Oh, and did I mention ED & LORRAINE WARREN are involved?)
Phillyâ€™s own KEVIN BACON, CLORIS LEACHMAN, THE THINGâ€™s RICHARD MASUR, EDDIE ALBERT and, Aunt Johnâ€™s dream date, JOYCE VAN PATTON are all in the cast. As far as the direction goes this is pretty rudimentary stuff, but due to the subject matter it needs only touch a few bases to be effective anyway. Distorted camera angles go a long way when depicting a tortured soul and there is just something legitimately disturbing about a grizzled adult voice coming out of a child and wailing, â€œYouâ€™re all going to die!â€ Sure, I fell asleep a tad during the boring second half, but when I did, I had bad dreams, bad dreams with hooves!
So get this, shortly after T.D.M.C. originally aired my family got transferred to beautiful Brookfield, Connecticut. It was hard starting at a new school and I was spending loads of hours by myself with only my stinky brain to keep me company. One day at a grocery store I spied a horror paperback called THE DEVIL IN CONNECTICUT which I convinced my mother Cartman-style into buying for me (â€œBut muuuumâ€¦â€) It wasnâ€™t long before I realized that not only was this book based on the same tale as THE DEMON MURDER CASE, but that I was now living in the very town where it all took place. Further still, while my family was waiting for our house to be finished our Dog â€œMistyâ€ was staying at the dog kennel where the actual murder happened. (Cue Tubular Bellsâ€¦)
I never finished reading the book because it was just way too damn scary and like I said above, I was a light touch. What sticks out about it though was that somewhere on or in this paperback it said something about the demon vowing to return and possess someone else and kill once again. (I no longer have the book so if that is a bit off I apologize.) Looking around Brookfield, at its well scrubbed and robust inhabitants, I surmised one thing; if anyone was going to get possessed around here it was going to be pasty little ginger-ghoul me. I swore to keep a keen eye out for burnt people with hooves and pre-grunge fashion tastes…
This case is often confused with another one that was recently made into the film A HAUNTING IN CONNECTICUT and both do involve the WARRENS, the parapsychologist couple made famous for their work in Amityville. Interestingly, the kid who was allegedly possessed in Brookfield is all grown up now and says it was all a big fat hoax adding that he was exploited and then ostracized. (As someone who drove past his house in a car full of howling teens on Halloween, I can attest to the fact that his family was indeed given the BOO RADLEY treatment. ) Still others like LORRAINE WARREN claim that these dismissals are only being made to sell yet another book and that there is plenty of documentation to support the more supernatural version of events (not that you are allowed to see it.).
As much as this story haunted my youth, Iâ€™m honestly a little saddened by the idea that it was probably just a bunch of flimflammery concocted to keep an accused murderer out of jail and attempt to score another Amityville style financial bonanza. As with that more famous case, I am left wondering which is the more frightening truth, rampant supernatural demonic activity or soulless garden variety greed? Burnt faced men with hooves are still a scary idea, but at least such a creature is not so low as to try to pinch your wallet. The good news is, if it was all a sham, that means I can sleep at night knowing that the reason I personally never got possessed during my stint in Connecticut was because there never was a demon in the first place not because I wasnâ€™t worthy material as Iâ€™ve sometimes feared.
SUPER FREE BONUS REVIEW: A HAUNTING: Ep. â€œWhere Demons Dwellâ€
In its translation to television many details and characters are lost in THE DEMON MURDER CASE, but it is small potatoes compared to the storyâ€™s reworking into an episode of the Discovery Channelâ€™s supernatural reenactment show A HAUNTING. Upon first viewing it is almost unrecognizable as the famous tale of the first murder ever committed in Brookfield, Connecticut. This is mostly due to the fact that the murder itself is never even mentioned.
The episode â€œWhere Demons Dwellâ€ works just as good as any other for daytime creeps, but it ups the ante in the questionable truth department tenfold. Like a video version of the telephone game, some ideas are expanded (an old well is blamed) and some are dropped completely (like a man being stabbed to death and his attacker blaming a demon.) Considering that this case owes its notoriety to the murder itself makes this a head scratching omission. Taking into account that the man who committed the act is one of the talking heads recounting the tale, I just think that maybe somebody might have thought to bring it up.
Also glaringly absent is the viewpoint of the now grown boy who was once considered possessed, who claims to have never been approached for his side of the story (probably because he now says it is all baloney.) I of all people have no idea what the ultimate truth is or even if there is one, but it does seem to me that one should always consider the source. Something tells me though (a voice in my head?) that if the entire truth ever could be known that the least interesting character in this bizarre family drama just might end up being the devil himself.
I saw an episode of A HAUNTING where they showed the psychic defeating the demon ghost of a child killer and, thus, releasing the dozens of ghost children from the murder’s lair into heaven. It became apparent to me they had ditched the narrative during these final moments because at this point they were just making it ALL up. It’s a classy show.
However, I am PASSIONATE about WHOOPSIE DAISY. “Wow WOW Whoopsie!”
I have the Demon Murder Case but haven’t watched it yet. It’s on my to watch pile though, so hopefully soon…
I think possession movies can definitely be served better on the small screen. Something about less is more can really work in favor of supernatural storytelling. You mentioned distored angles and I think sometimes artistic merit can be achieved when forced to play it small. But I’m all about the small screen, so you know, I’m biased and stuff…
Nice review. There you go, getting me all interested in stuff again!
Every time I hear the name “the Warrens,” my mind says “oh god, them again” and I go back to reading thanatos.net. Am I jaded?
OMG, Big Bird alarm clock! The one with the big green key? Holy sesame, that’s a mild trauma of its own. My sister had one of those and I had to listen to that loop so often that I ALMOST memorized it and now not being able to quite recall it drives me nuts. “Hellloooo, it’s me, Big Bird! It’s time to get up! Something something grover something! Go to the kitchen and get the knife! The BIG one! They’re still groggy and they won’t be expecting it! <click-whirr> Helllloooo, it’s me, Big Bird….”