Shock Docs - Season 1, Episode 6: "The Devil Made Me Do It" TV Episode Review

Written by Jeff Tolbert

Premiered on Travel Channel

shock docs s01 e06 the devil made me do it poster large

2021, Not Rated
Episode premiered on June 11th, 2021

Carlos Morrow as Arne Johnson
Arielle Mandelberg as Debbie Glatzel

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By now Ed and Lorraine Warren are (again) household names, thanks to the Conjuring film universe. The Warrens’ posthumous celebrity may be greater than their, er… Pre-humous celebrity? At any rate, the loud, jump scare-filled cinematic efforts of James Wan and co. have brought the Warrens back into popular consciousness.

Shock Docs: The Devil Made Me Do It details the events that form the basis for the latest Conjuring film (with which it shares a subtitle). The facts of the case are relatively straightforward: In 1981, Arne Johnson stabbed his landlord to death. He and his family claimed that he did so while possessed by the devil. The plea of “not guilty by way of demonic possession” was rejected, predictably, and Johnson was convicted of first-degree manslaughter.

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The background of the case is steeped in a particular brand of Catholic supernaturalism, which Shock Docs presents with alarming credulity. Arne Johnson’s girlfriend, Debbie Glatzel, and her family lived in Brookfield, Connecticut. Johnson and Glatzel were in the process of moving into a new house, where David Glatzel, Debbie’s younger brother, claimed to have a supernatural encounter. Subsequently, David began exhibiting behaviors that were ultimately interpreted as signs of demonic possession. The Warrens were eventually called in, and during their attempts to rid David of the demons inhabiting him, Johnson intervened, demanding that they take him instead. Apparently, they complied, and Johnson started behaving in ways that indicated that he too was under demonic influence. Eventually, the demons supposedly caused Johnson to murder his landlord, Alan Bono.

Like the previous Shock Docs: "Devil's Road: The True Story of Ed and Lorraine Warren, this one suffers from excessive use of jarring sound effects and fast edits, clearly an attempt to “horror-ify” the story and, perhaps, to echo the aesthetics of the Conjuring films. The thing is, it doesn’t need the cheap theatrics; it’s a dark and disturbing story, whatever one thinks about the supernatural elements, and would have benefited from a straight-faced telling. The legal proceedings are far more interesting than the overwrought demonic stuff: Martin Minnella, Johnson’s attorney (who took the case pro bono), attempted to argue for Johnson’s innocence on the grounds of demonic possession, but this was summarily rejected by the judge. Johnson was sentenced to 10-20 years for a first-degree manslaughter conviction. He was released for good behavior after less than five.

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I’m no expert on the Warrens. I’ve not read any of their writings, nor have I studied the history of their “cases.” Like many people, I learned about them first through the Conjuring films. But it seems odd to me that the Conjuring franchise and related media like Shock Docs are so concerned with making them heroes. Without getting into the question of the reality of the supernatural, the Warrens were self-appointed experts. They were not even clergy, but ordinary people who claimed special insight into the divine and demonic. Notably, one of the Glatzel children eventually sued the Warrens, claiming the arguments of demonic possession were a hoax, and that a book published about the events (with Lorraine Warren’s help) was false and defamatory. It seems risky to me to re-platform them without considering other possible motivations for their high-profile “cases.”

Hollywood has its own motivations, of course, and they’re on full display here. The sensationalism of the “based on a true story” label and companion shows like Shock Docs that hammer it home all but guarantee a healthy box-office return for Wan’s cinematic juggernaut. And The Devil Made Me Do It has the added draw of actually featuring Debbie Glatzel and Aarne Johnson themselves (Debbie died in April 2021), who clearly have a vested interest in promoting their (demonic) version of the story. It also features archival footage of Lorraine Warren, who died in 2019. We hear a lot, in other words, from the believers in the reality of the supernatural. Other voices are necessary to balance the account, and a more impassive, distanced history of the Johnson case, in which there are no heroes, but there certainly are victims—not only the man who lost his life, but potentially victims of the devil, or at least of belief in him.

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Episode: 2 Star Rating Cover
Buy from Amazon US

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Jeff Tolbert
Staff Reviewer
Jeff studies folklore for a living (no, really) and digs the supernatural. He loves a good haunting, and really strongly recommends that everyone stop what they're doing and go play Fatal Frame right now.
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