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The Entire Conjuring Universe Story Finally Explained

Cultivating a successful film franchise isn't an easy task, especially when it comes to the horror genre, but Warner Bros. struck gold with 2013's "The Conjuring," which has since developed into the most successful horror franchise out there. James Wan's film 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. Most of these tales 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 spin-offs and sequels are added to the ever-growing Conjuring Universe, 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 Nun." Released 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." The Conjuring Universe version of 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." As fans of the franchise know, Valak goes on to become a major recurring villain in the story of the Conjuring Universe.

1943 - 1967, Southern California: Here comes Annabelle

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 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.

1956, Tarascon: Valak returns for round 2

"The Nun II" picks up only a few years later, as Sister Irene hides out in Italy following her battle with Valak. But, after catching wind of a mysterious series of deaths (including that of a priest in France), not to mention an eerie vision of a distressed Frenchie/Maurice, the nun gets permission to investigate these bizarre happenings. Sadly, Father Burke has passed away, but joining Irene this time around is Sister Debra, a nun who lacks faith. Of course, this all leads to Valak's triumphant return.

Upon Sister Irene's investigation, she learns that Valak is after a Catholic relic, the eyes of Saint Lucy — a Christian martyr who was supernaturally kept from burning alive, a quality her descendants share — which happen to be hidden in the French boarding school where Frenchie currently works. With the help of a young girl named Sophie, Irene uncovers the relic, which the Valak-possessed Frenchie takes for himself soon after.

At full strength, Valak attempts but fails to burn Irene alive, revealing that Irene is a descendant of St. Lucy herself (the movie also hints the same about Lorraine Warren, who likewise has strange visions). After Sisters Irene and Debra pray fervently, Valak is seemingly banished back to hell, and all seems well. Except it's not: the movie ends with a flash-forward to Ed and Lorraine Warren receiving an interesting call, likely teasing Frenchie's inevitable re-possession, or maybe something even more sinister...

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 exorcizing 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, Connecticut: 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 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. Understanding that, the three girls set about trying to get the doll back in her glass prison, hoping that will stop the haunting.

The thing is, the girls have to find her first, and she isn't exactly happy about the prospect of 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. Naturally, Ed and Lorraine aren't too happy when they get home.

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.

1981, Connecticut: A new threat emerges

A few years later in "The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It," the Warrens document the exorcism of a young boy named David Glatzel. Unfortunately, the evil spirit in David overpowers Ed and makes a deal with Arne Johnson, the young man dating David's older sister Debbie. Arne offers himself up in David's place, and the demon accepts. Though Ed sees this happen, he loses consciousness for over a month, giving the demon-possessed Arne just enough time to murder his landlord.

The Warrens seek to prove in court that Arne was possessed, leading to a landmark court case — just like it was in real life, the murder trial becomes the first time demonic possession has been used as a defense in America. Eventually, Ed and Lorraine learn that David was possessed only after first being cursed by an object built by Isla the Occultist. This leads them to Father Kastner, a retired priest who has previously dealt with the Disciples of the Ram. It turns out that he's also the secret father of the Occultist, who he accidentally exposed to occult practices.

To save Arne, the Warrens destroy the altar that Isla built, expelling the demon before it can do any more damage. Unfortunately for Isla, the demon returns to its former master, killing the Occultist and dragging her soul to Hell. Arne ultimately gets sentenced to five years for manslaughter,  and he marries Debbie while in prison.

What's next for the Conjuring Universe?

Where is the story of the Conjuring Universe going next? James Wan's planned spin-off "The Crooked Man" has unfortunately been canceled, but there are a few other projects in the pipeline that fans of the franchise will no doubt be looking forward to. At this point, it's unclear if there will be another installment of "The Nun" series, given the 2023 sequel's mixed reviews. But since we know how the battle between the Warrens and Valak ends, there may be no need for one. Nevertheless, there is still hope for more "Conjuring" spin-offs in the future. 

Speaking of the Warrens, Ed and Lorraine's story isn't done just yet. A fourth "Conjuring" film, titled "The Conjuring: Last Rites," is currently in development, with Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga returning as everyone's favorite paranormal investigators. Produced once more by James Wan and Peter Safran, "Last Rites" looks like it could potentially be Ed and Lorraine's final Conjuring Universe adventure. No matter how it plays out, it'll be great to see them tackle the forces of evil yet again.

Additionally, a Conjuring Universe TV series is also in the works over at the streaming giant Max, which may be another spooky avenue for the Warrens' most hideous adversaries to rear their ugly heads. Given how early in development the series is, we don't know much more than that.