THE DEVIL ON TRIAL on Netflix is a documentary exploring the case featured in The Conjuring 3. This isn’t a courtroom drama or documentary but looks at the family living through it. And also the role Ed and Lorraine Warren played. Read our full The Devil on Trial documentary review here!
THE DEVIL ON TRIAL is a new Netflix documentary with a runtime of just 1 hour and 21 minutes, so it doesn’t drag the topic out for too long. Personally, I very much enjoyed the final third. This is where a more nuanced and alternative take on the well-known story comes in. For me, this is what documentaries should always do, so I commend this one for including that.
The documentary explores the case featured in The Conjuring 3: The Devil Made Me Do It (find our review here). We’re hearing from the man who was possessed by the devil as a child. Or, maybe I should say, most of his family believes he was possessed – including himself. Obviously, hearing these first-hand accounts of what happens is what makes it worth checking out.
Continue reading our The Devil on Trial documentary review below. Find it on Netflix from October 17, 2023.
The Devil made me do it
In The Devil on Trial, we get the story that came before the well-known demonic possession defense strategy known as “The Devil Made Me Do It”. Yes, the very same case covered in The Conjuring 3, which is also something that is mentioned in the documentary. The defense was used in a murder trial and was an unprecedented legal strategy.
The defense had audio tape recordings of someone who was supposedly possessed. Not the man on trial, mind you, but someone who was present during the exorcism of said child. This person – in an attempt to help the possessed boy – invited the devil to take him instead. If anyone rewatched The Exorcist recently, this will undoubtedly seem familiar.
Months later, he kills a man, but has no recollection of doing it, so clearly it was the devil.
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Not that this is mentioned in The Devil on Trial documentary. However, I do want to point out that The Exorcist came out in 1973. This murder happened in 1980. In other words, the whole “taking over the demonic possession from someone else” isn’t exactly innovative.
In any case, I did enjoy that this documentary included firsthand accounts and actual recordings of the alleged devil possession. I mean, we hear the firsthand accounts in interviews and also the tape recordings. However, quite often, the two don’t exactly match. Also, some of the most interesting things told are never backed up with these tape recordings.
Everyone gets their say – except for the murder victim
Personally, and as someone who is skeptical, this struck me as strange when more of the tape evidence wasn’t shared to back up claims. Mind you, I am not skeptical about the paranormal or supernatural. But I am very much a skeptic when it comes to demonic possession. Nothing in this documentary changed my mind, but I never felt like it tried to either. It presented facts, which is exactly what it should do.
And then we have The Warrens. Of course, they have become a huge part of this case which is also why the third The Conjuring movie was about this case. The actual The Conjuring movies in the franchise are always about cases covered by Ed and Lorraine Warren.
Ed and Lorraine Warren first became involved to help with the possession of the young boy. Then with the trial of 19-year-old Arne Cheyenne Johnson in 1981. Johnson claimed he was under the influence of demonic forces when he murdered his 40-year-old landlord, Alan Bono.
And all we hear about Alan Bono is that he was murdered. Almost anyway, and a bit more of a focus on the victim (or those who knew him) would’ve been nice. Just a few minutes could’ve been enough. I get that this wasn’t the focus of the documentary, but it did revolve around him being murdered, so he is a key figure in all of this.
Another side of Ed and Lorraine Warren
With the self-professed demonologists and paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren on his side, the press was eating it up.
By this time, The Warrens were already famous. Their fame came with the infamous haunting in Amityville, Long Island, several years prior. Before this documentary is over, we also hear how the family feels that The Warrens exploited their case. Not least in financial ways, which they still reap the benefits of with The Conjuring movies and the attention they continue to bring.
Personally, I love how Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga portray Ed and Lorraine Warren. Maybe that’s why I find it so weird to see the real people. They are not at all as likable. Nor is their spooky house or “room of possessed objects” nearly as creepy. In fact, it’s quite tacky.
Watch The Devil on Trial on Netflix now!
Chris Holt (The Hillside Strangler mini-series) is the documentary filmmaker behind The Devil on Trial. Until that final third of the documentary, I felt like I had heard most of it before. However, getting this additional firsthand account was a game-changer. I ended up really enjoying this production and how it covered the subject.
As already mentioned, this isn’t a courtroom documentary, which I was pleasantly surprised by. The focus is squarely on the family that experienced possession. I especially liked how the final third of The Devil on Trial documentary focused on one of the older brothers. He didn’t believe his brother was ever possessed. Basically, he shares a very different take on the events.
This Netflix documentary deals with “what happens when assumptions about reality are in direct conflict with strongly held beliefs”. This is something I find fascinating. If you’re intrigued by Ed and Lorraine Warren or just demonic possession as a topic, then you should definitely watch this on Netflix.
The Devil on Trial premieres on Netflix on October 17, 2023.
The Devil on Trial explores the first — and only — time “demonic possession” has officially been used as a defense in a US murder trial. Including firsthand accounts of alleged devil possession and a shocking murder, this extraordinary story forces reflection on our fear of the unknown.