'The Conjuring' Helped Shape Modern Horror – And Its Most Frightening Scene Is An All-Timer

(Welcome to Scariest Scene Ever, a column dedicated to the most pulse-pounding moments in horror. In this edition: The Conjuring reveals its frightening villain with the film's biggest scare sequence.)Few horror movies have shaped the genre over this decade quite like 2013's The Conjuring. Its hugely successful theatrical run proved there was a robust appetite for horror at the box office, inspiring other studios to follow in its wake. Moreover, it marked the birthplace of an ever-expanding franchise that includes sequels, spinoffs, and spinoff sequels in what's been dubbed The Conjuring Universe. It's easy to see why, too. The Conjuring is a chilling culmination of everything horror master James Wan had learned in his career so far. From the nail-biting suspense of the Saw franchise, hard lessons learned in Dead Silence, and reinvigorating haunted houses in Insidious just two years prior, Wan was well prepared to deliver the scares. Boy did he deliver the scares. The Conjuring is a major juggling act of unrelenting terror; the scares come nearly nonstop. There are countless memorable moments that are guaranteed to send a shiver down your spine, but none manage to top the petrifying reveal of the film's central antagonist, the evil witch Bathsheba – played by none other than Insidious' Lipstick-Face Demon actor and film composer Joseph Bishara. 

The Setup

Penned by Chad Hayes and Carey W. Hayes, The Conjuring introduces a fictionized version of real-life paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, played by the amiable Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga. Throughout the decades, their stories of ghost and demonic hauntings became popular and inspired dozens of films, most infamous of which is The Amityville Horror. For this film, the Hayes siblings crafted their screenplay around one of the lesser known Warren cases; the 1971 haunting of the Perron family in Harrisville, Rhode Island.Roger and Carolyn Perron (Ron Livingston and Lili Taylor) have just moved in to a bargain priced farmhouse fixer upper with their five daughters: Andrea (Shanley Caswell), Nancy (Hayley McFarland), Christine (Joey King), Cindy (Mackenzie Foy), and April (Kyla Deaver). Creepy manifestations start happening straightaway, gradually escalating to nightmarish levels of torment. Out of desperation, Carolyn seeks out the Warrens to save her family from the oppressing evil lurking in their home. 

The Story So Far

Before the Perron family could even unpack their belongings, they started experiencing strange phenomena within the farmhouse. All of the clocks stop each night at 3:07 a.m., a period known as the Witching Hour due to peak supernatural action. The family dog Sadie doesn't even last a single night. Birds fly into the side of the house on the regular. Carolyn finds herself dealing with mysterious bruising. That doesn't even begin to touch upon the strange sounds and smells that linger in the middle of the night. Each of the family members deal with their own eerie activity. Carolyn is lured to the dark recesses of the house by disembodied clapping that mimics the "Hide and Clap" game her children play. Christine's feet are tugged by an unseen entity while she sleeps. Little April finds a music box that lets her see and speak with a not-so-imaginary ghostly friend. Andrea's sleep is consistently disturbed by Cindy's strange new habit of sleepwalking into her bedroom and knocking her forehead repeatedly against the doors of her wardrobe. Meanwhile, Roger is picking up extra shifts as a truck driver to support his large family, so he's away from home for long stretches. All of these threads collide in one epic night of horror that closes out the first act with a bang. 

The Scene

Roughly forty minutes in, Carolyn is lured out of her bedroom and downstairs by strange noises. Just as the clock strikes three in the morning, no less. She follows the sound of clapping straight into the basement, where she's promptly locked in by an unseen foe. Upstairs, Cindy once more wakes Andrea with headbanging against the wardrobe. This time Andrea is prepared to cope; her father gave her advice on dealing with a sleepwalker just prior to embarking on his latest work trip. Andrea gets out of bed, coaxes Cindy away from the wardrobe without waking her, and is just prepared to settle back in bed when the wardrobe's doors rattle on their own. As if someone or something is trying to break out. She slowly approaches, the trepidation clear. From behind her, Cindy jolts up in bed, awake and vigilant as her sister throws the wardrobe doors open. Andrea finds nothing but her clothing. It's Cindy's sudden gasp in fear that causes her to look back and realize that her sister isn't looking into the wardrobe but above it. We follow her gaze upward to see a crouching, menacing figure staring back at her. Its growls crescendos along with the electrifying music stinger, a warning cry as it launches itself at Andrea. The entire house erupts in screams, and the massive scare marks our first real look at the evil responsible for it all, Bathsheba. Her ghastly appearance and the events tied to it prompts Carolyn to seek outside help, effectively setting up the second act in the process.As with many scares in horror, misdirection plays a crucial role in setting up this memorable sequence. Wan spends a lot of time grooming the audience on where to divert their attention prior, so when the scare comes from a different direction it's a complete surprise.  Cindy's sleepwalking is the biggest component in setting this scare up. In her state of subconscious, something is luring Cindy to the wardrobe. She bangs her head against its doors in rhythmic fashion at night, causing the viewer to focus on the question of might be inside of it. When everyone is off at school, leaving Carolyn home alone with youngest daughter April, they play "Hide and Clap." While a blind folded Carolyn is searching for April, clapping draws her to the wardrobe in Andrea's room. We see the doors ominously open and hands emerge to signal Carolyn, but she's kept in the literal dark. It's only when she tears off her blindfold and looks through the wardrobe for April that she realizes with dawning horror something else drew her to that spot.  Again, another visual clue that horror is lurking within the wardrobe. Wan bided his time to condition the viewer to expect the terror to come from inside a piece of furniture that came with the sale of the house. Not above it. Even as the tension is mounting, the camera cuts back and forth between Andrea's approach of the wardrobe, Cindy's dawning awareness and fear, and the dark wardrobe itself. It's shot in such a way that it keeps the top of the wardrobe out of frame prior to the reveal, ensuring the jolt is at its most potent.          The misdirection extends beyond the wardrobe, too. Up until this moment, the major scare could've come from anywhere. Carolyn's battle with the clapping hands that resulted in her basement imprisonment. The putrid entity lurking in the dark corner of Christine and Nancy's room, an entity that had just confessed to Christine that it wanted to murder her family. Each member of the Perron family were targets of varying paranormal attacks. Of all the moments to reveal herself, Bathsheba's shocking appearance above the wardrobe was the least expected. Then again, not much else announces the overwhelming power of your horror villain quite like using the film's biggest scare to make a grand entrance, either.