Warner Bros

Based on the real-life case files of ghost-hunters Ed and Lorraine Warren (played here by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), "The Conjuring" sees "Saw" director James Wan leave gore behind for throwback '70s horror, in both its period setting and old-school aesthetic. But it's not the first haunted house flick to bank on the husband and wife team's help to terrify audiences – their previous investigations-turned-movies also include "The Haunting in Connecticut" and, most famously, "The Amityville Horror."

So while the movie's scares are familiar, they're also remarkably effective, and thanks to strong reviews from audiences and critics, there's reportedly already a sequel to "The Conjuring" in the works. Which means it sounds like the famed paranormal investigators will soon be looking for new ghosts to bust. But what separates a garden-variety spooky house with creaky floorboards and bad plumbing from a movie-worthy one? Follow this handy guide to find out.

1. How close are the neighbours?
The trouble all starts for the Perrons, Roger (Ron Livingston), Carolyn (Lili Taylor) and their five daughters, when the family moves into a secluded farmhouse in Harrisville, Rhode Island, miles away from the nearest neighbour. Looking for a little peace and quiet, they end up with neither. It's understandable to want your space, but sometimes neighbours can fill you in on important details the real estate agent neglected to mention, like a previous owner's penchant for ritual sacrifice.

2. Did anything turn up on the home inspection?
Equally important as a haunted house's ownership history (and history of grisly deaths) is its current condition; so a home inspection is crucial to unearth any nasty surprises. You don't want to move in and then find out about the hidden cellar filled with malevolent spirits. A clairvoyant, Lorraine is able to pick up the bad vibes as soon as she walks in, but by then, it's already too late to get the deposit back.

3. What's that smell/noise/bruise?
Plagued by the smell of rotting meat, intermittent banging and unexplained bruises, the Perrons receive the full poltergeist treatment in "The Conjuring." But just to underscore the legitimacy of their haunting, Wan also shows a hypochondriac couple learning that all the spooky moaning and groaning they're hearing is just the result of a draft in the attic. Here's a helpful home test: drafts don't usually whisper that they want your entire family dead.

4. How cute are your kids?
The cuter, the better when it comes to the horror genre, and the Perrons have five of them in Shanley Caswell, Hayley McFarland, Joey King, Kyla Deaver and Mackenzie Foy (of "Twilight" fame). None dominate the screen time, but everyone holds their own with naturalistic performances. They even provide the movie with its creepiest motif: the "hide and clap" game that gets co-opted by the poltergeist.

5. Is the dog trying to tell you something?
Sadie, the Perrons' family dog, is no Lassie, but credit where credit's due: while their youngest daughter is having a tea party with dead people, Sadie's at least trying to warn Roger and Carolyn. Still, this is Horror Movie 101 here. If the dog doesn't want to go inside, neither should you. Fortunately, not picking up on that clear warning sign is one of the only frustrating horror clichés the Perrons fall prey to.

6. Do you have any rooms that require monthly visits from a priest?
"The Conjuring" works so well in part because it gives equal focus to the Warrens' home life as the Perrons'. And as the prodigious ghost-hunters they are, Ed and Lorraine keep an entire room full of haunted knickknacks and memorabilia from their cases. According to Ed, it's supposedly safer that way, but it also makes their house look like a Pier 1 Imports for demonologists.

7. Would the undead approve of your decorating sense?
Unlike the Warrens, Roger and Carolyn have a more traditional taste in décor. But for some reason, the ghosts in "The Conjuring" hate family photos even more than crucifixes, knocking them down every time they're put back up. The furniture that was left by the previous owners, on the other hand – like the ghostly armoire and possessed piano – could get their own spread in "Better Haunted Homes and Gardens." Kudos to the set decorator.

8. Do household objects seem to have a mind of their own?
Ever since horror filmmakers first learned how to tie an invisible string to a doorknob, movie ghosts have slammed more doors than an angry teenager. But Wan also expands his arsenal of old-school scares with dimming lights, sheets that can stand on their own and clocks that stop routinely at 3:07 a.m., something that's far creepier when none of them are digital.

9. Can you leave the house?
To be clear, some days you don't want to leave the bed, let alone the house. But if it won't let you leave, well, it's a good thing the Warrens make house calls. Still, "The Conjuring" gets around that age-old question of why the hell the haunted don't just pack up and go by explaining that the ghost has latched onto the family itself. And even if you don't necessarily buy that, it's a better reason than the typical one: that they're just stubborn and/or willfully ignorant.

10. Has somebody offered to make a movie about you yet?
The haunted house racket has proved to be reliable business for Hollywood in the past, and as one of the most genuinely creepy and well-crafted horror movies of the year, it's no wonder they're already talking sequels for "The Conjuring." The movie even not-so-subtly hints where the Warrens could go next: back to Amityville. And with Ed and Lorraine as the movie's true protagonists, it opens up the possibility of an entire ghost-busting franchise built around the real-life couple. That's a lot of haunted houses. So we don't blame you if you sleep with the lights on, just in case.



'The Conjuring' Sequel in the Works