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The entire Conjuring Universe story finally explained

Cultivating a successful film franchise isn't an easy task, but Warner Bros. struck gold with The Conjuring. James Wan's 2013 horror flick didn't just do well with critics. It was a hit at the box office and paved the way for a seemingly endless number of profitable films. And most of these tales (aside from The Curse of La Llorona) are based on the exploits of Ed and Lorraine Warren, real-life paranormal investigators who worked during the better half of the last century. Over the course of their 50-plus-year careers, they documented numerous supposed hauntings, and their work inspired Wan to create this creepy franchise.

But as more Conjuring spin-offs and sequels are added to the ever-growing series, keeping track of the whos, whens, and wheres can get a little confusing. While Wan has always contended it's been his intention to build an entire world based on Ed and Lorraine Warren's many case files, the films they're based on jump around chronologically. Luckily, we've made sense of who's who in this tangled web and when everything in this terrifying franchise takes place. From freaky nuns to haunted houses, here's the entire Conjuring Universe story explained.

1952, Romania: Meet the Nun

Chronologically speaking, The Conjuring Universe all starts with The NunReleased in 2018, this freaky film takes place in 1952, at the Abbey of St. Carta in Romania, where Father Burke and a novitiate, Sister Irene, have been dispatched by the Vatican to investigate the suicide of one of the abbey's nuns. After a bit of research, they discover the nuns have been spending most of their time praying in shifts to keep a nun-shaped evil entity from hitchhiking its way out into the real world on a human host. 

As it turns out, the abbey was originally built by a duke during the Middle Ages who was more interested in demon worship than Catholicism. He managed to raise the demon Valak but was stopped by a group of Christian knights who were able to seal Valak, at least temporarily. With the help of a nice local man named Frenchie, Father Burke and Sister Irene finally banish Valak back to Hell, thanks to an ancient artifact filled with the blood of Jesus Christ. Or, at least, they think they've beaten the demon. But as it happens, Valak manages to hitch a supernatural ride out of town on Frenchie's back. 

Who or what is Valak?

The Valak character in the Conjuring Universe may have taken its inspiration from a demon named Valac, which is described in Aleister Crowley's The Lesser Key of Solomon as a "Child with Angel's Wings, riding on a Two-headed Dragon." So, the Conjuring Valak is clearly not a child, and it doesn't have angel's wings. Whether or not it rides a two-headed dragon is up for some debate, since who's to say that the dragon didn't get left behind when Valak crossed over from Hell. 

One very specific thing that's mentioned in both mythologies, however, is their connection to snakes. Like Crowley's Valac, who's known "to tell where Serpents may be seen," the Valak of the 1950s Romanian monastery has its own tie to the biblical reptile, along with a much more impressive title: "the Defiler, the Profane, the Marquis of Snakes." And as it turns out, Valak will be a recurring character and an overarching villain of the Conjuring films, even making a brief cameo in Annabelle: Creation. And speaking of haunted dolls...

1943 - 1967, Southern California: Here comes Annabelle

Technically, the story of Annabelle the demon doll starts in 1943 with Annabelle: Creation, when a dollmaker named Samuel Mullins and his wife Esther lose their seven-year-old daughter, Annabelle, in a freak car accident. About 12 years later, in 1955, the Mullins decide they've spent enough time without a child, so they open their doors to a group of orphaned girls and the nun tasked with their care, a woman by the name of Sister Charlotte.

When one of the orphans, a handicapped girl named Janice, stumbles upon a porcelain doll in a locked bedroom, she unwittingly releases a demon that wreaks havoc on the house and its inhabitants. It's soon revealed that following their daughter's death, the Mullins had been tricked into letting a demon take possession of one of Samuel's dolls, and it's now decided to try and find a human host. 

By the end of the ordeal, the demon has succeeded in possessing Janice, who escapes and — now going by the name Annabelle — winds up being adopted by a nice family in Santa Monica, where she grows up, runs away, joins a cult, and then returns to murder her adoptive parents. Talk about a downbeat ending.

1967, Santa Monica: Annabelle comes back

As it turns out, the nice family that adopted Annabelle lives next door to John and Mia Form, the main protagonists of 2014's Annabelle. John has given his wife Mia an antique porcelain doll as a gift for their unborn child. But after Janice/Annabelle and her boyfriend kill her parents, they move on to the Form residence, where Annabelle immediately takes a liking to Mia's antique. "I like your doll," she whispers before slicing her own throat and transferring the demon back into its original home.

Terror sets in as the demon doll decides that Mia would make a nice soul sacrifice. The couple is helped by a local bookseller named Evelyn and their parish priest, Father Perez, the latter of whom tries to take the doll to Ed and Lorraine Warren, but is attacked before he has the chance. Willing to sacrifice her own soul to save her newborn daughter, Mia tries to jump out of her window with the doll. Luckily, John and Evelyn arrive in time to stop her, and Evelyn takes the doll ... and Mia's place.

In the end, an unsuspecting woman buys the doll from a toyshop as a gift for her daughter, a nurse. Yeah, this isn't going to end well.

1968 - 1971, Massachusetts: Annabelle, the Warrens, and Frenchie are finally all together

Here's where we finally get our first introduction to Ed and Lorraine Warren. That nurse, whose very nice mother had given her a very hideous doll as a present, is now at the mercy of the demon spirit trapped inside the toy, and she needs the Warrens' help in exorcising the thing. After all, this isn't the spirit of a seven-year-old girl who wants to play. There's only Annabelle, and she wants your soul. So the Warrens take the doll off the nurse's hands (it's what Father Perez was trying to do a year ago, anyway) and move on to their next case.

In 1971 in Wakefield, the Warrens are teaching a class on demonology at Massachusetts Western University. During the lecture, they play footage of a possessed man named Maurice, who Ed explains killed himself after attempting to shoot his wife. "Not even an exorcist could bring him back," he says. Maurice is a French-Canadian farmer who, by this point in time, had been possessed for nearly two decades. Does he sound familiar? He should, since Maurice is Frenchie, the nice guy who spent some time in Romania in the '50s and came home with a demon nun as a souvenir. 

1971, Rhode Island: Things get extra creepy in The Conjuring

One of the attendees at the Warrens' demonology lecture is Carolyn Perron, a wife and mother whose family has recently moved into a Rhode Island farmhouse. And unfortunately, they're now being tormented by a malevolent, clap-happy spirit. After some digging, the Warrens discover the house was built on land that once belonged to a witch named Bathsheba, who sacrificed her week-old child to the devil before hanging herself, and then spent the following century possessing and killing future residents. 

Ed and Lorraine suggest the family move into a motel temporarily, while they try and get the Catholic Church to agree to an exorcism. But Bathsheba has already set her sights on Carolyn, and the now-possessed mother brings her kids back to the house to kill them. The Warrens show up in time for Ed to perform a rogue exorcism on his own, and the curse of Bathsheba is lifted, leaving the Perrons with a livable farmhouse and the Warrens free to move on to a new case.

1972, California: Annabelle returns to the Conjuring Universe one last time

When Ed and Lorraine Warren are needed on an overnight investigation, they hire a girl named Mary Ellen to stay over and keep an eye on their daughter, Judy. This turns out to be a terrible decision, because not only do the Warrens at this point in time have an entire room devoted to possessed objects in their home, but Mary Ellen has a friend named Daniela who really wants to speak to her dead father.

Daniela drops by the house uninvited and does what any girl in her position would do. She finds a way into the Warrens' artifact room, disturbs Annabelle, and unleashes every ghost and demon the Warrens have trapped in their basement ... sort of. It's explained in Annabelle Comes Home that the doll isn't actually possessed. She's a "beacon for other spirits," more or less a conduit for anything trying to get loose. The goal is to put her back in her case, which will calm the rest of the artifacts, but the girls have to find her first, and she isn't much in the mood for being locked up again.

The girls spend the night essentially playing hide and seek with a bunch of possessed objects (the Bride, the Samurai, the Ferryman, and a Feeley Meeley board game) before Annabelle is returned to her case once and for all.

1973, Los Angeles: La Llorona enters the story

The Curse of La Llorona doesn't really have a whole lot to do with the world of the Warrens and their room of artifacts. It's actually based on a tale from Latin American folklore about the "Wailing Woman," who drowned her two children and whose spirit continues to haunt the riverbank, in search of kids she can drag to a watery grave.

Anna Tate-Garcia is a social worker who gets mixed up in the La Llorona mess when she takes the sons of a woman named Patricia Alvarez to the police, unwittingly allowing the wailing woman access to kill them. As a result, Anna's own children are targeted by the spirit, so Anna seeks help from Father Perez, the priest from Annabelle who obviously has some experience with evil beings. He tells her about a former priest named Rafael Olvera who can banish the entity. They finally do, but not before Patricia tries to hand Anna's kids over to La Llorona in exchange for her own. In the end, Anna keeps the necklace that once belonged to the wailing woman. 

In a deleted scene, it's revealed that she hands the necklace over to Rafael, who knows some people on the East Coast that "handle this sort of thing."

1976 - 1977, England: Valak comes back for The Conjuring 2

Valak makes its return in 2016's The Conjuring 2, the film that sees Ed and Lorraine Warren finally defeat the Marquis of Snakes (maybe?). Beginning in 1976, the couple is investigating the infamous Amityville murders, and Lorraine has a vision where one of the murdered DeFeo children leads her to the basement, and she comes face to face with Valak and a vision of her husband's death.

Lorraine continues to see visions of the demon nun, even as the pair travel to Enfield, England, where the Hodgson family has been experiencing paranormal activity. The eldest daughter, Janet, is particularly susceptible to the haunting, which manifests itself as both the home's previous owner and as the Crooked Man, essentially a giant creepy skeleton with a fondness for bells. When it appears as though the entire haunting is a hoax put on by the family to gain fame, the Warrens pack up their things to leave.

But Lorraine soon realizes that Valak has been behind the entire thing, and they return to the house in a last ditch effort to save a possessed Janet, who at this point is trying to jump out a window. Ed grabs her, but almost falls to his death in the process, leaving Lorraine to go head to head with Valak herself. She succeeds in banishing the demon by using its name and pulls Ed to safety.

1980s, America: What's next for the Conjuring Universe?

The Conjuring 3 may have just started filming in June 2019, but we already know at least a few things about its story. In December 2018, James Wan told Bloody Disgusting that the third film would indeed be based on one of the Warrens' actual case files, as opposed to one of their haunted artifacts. "It's this guy who was on trial for committing a murder," he said. "I think it's the first time in America's history where the defendant used possessions as a reason, as an excuse." During the early 1980s, Ed and Lorraine Warren did, in fact, work on a case in Brookfield, Connecticut, in which a man on trial for murder claimed to have been possessed by the Devil at the time.

Wan's statement is further confirmation of what Conjuring series producer Peter Safran told JoBlo in May 2017 about the film. "There are some [cases] that maybe aren't as well known, but they spent a fair bit of time researching and were part of [them]," he said. "Clearly, we can't do another haunted house movie, right? We can't do another supernatural possession in a house, with a family in peril." So instead of a creepy mansion, it looks like we're getting Satan instead.