When it comes to the Warrens’ universe, the devil is in the details.
Based on reviews, Swedish director David F. Sandberg’s film Annabelle: Creation is a well-made, professional-grade, jump-inducing horror film that fans of the ever-expanding Conjuring universe will love. Some critics have even gone so far to say that, while they didn’t see the need for another Annabelle film, they were delightfully surprised by this prequel to the prequel, calling it superior to the 2014 film Annabelle directed by John R. Leonetti.
Of course, other critics have pointed out that characters in both films have been thinly written, with scripts being hollow, if not empty. But I don’t believe screenwriter Gary Dauberman, who’s drafted both Annabelle films in the franchise, is to blame. In fact, based on the weak source material he’s been given, you could say he and the directors involved are all goddamn magicians for creating a universe around a Raggedy Ann doll locked in a glass box in a garage somewhere in Connecticut.
Granted, to fully understand the true creation of Annabelle — the supposed conduit for an all-powerful demon — we must revisit my good old friends Ed and Lorraine Warren, and their son-in-law Tony Spera. (Hey, Tony!) You see, Tony didn’t care for my last piece on the Warrens, which I invite you to read, and accused me of not believing in their tall tales because I did not believe in God. To that, I respond:
“The vision of Christ that thou dost see
Is my vision’s greatest enemy.”
But I don’t have it out for the Warrens. In fact, I have a soft spot for them. I grew up loving the ghost stories of my native Louisiana, and I fear that haunted houses are dying off in the digital age. The Warrens are almost the final bastions of this trade, like those last vaudevillians replaced by the talkies. Yet when it comes to the Warrens’ case files, it appears the words “true story” get thrown around a lot. So in terms of Annabelle, let’s work from the original story the Warrens attached to the doll, then work our way “backwards” to the latest installment.
As the story goes, a nursing student named Donna received the Raggedy Ann doll from her mother in 1970 as a gift on her 28th birthday. Supposedly, her mother had purchased the doll at a hobby store (a moment that was re-created at the very end of the film Annabelle). Donna put the doll on her bed and went on with her life. Then she started to notice that the Raggedy Ann doll would change positions and occasionally even move around her apartment. Donna reached out for help from her roommate Angie, who also happened to be a nursing student, and then to Angie’s fiancé, Lou, who appears to have also been living in the apartment.
Soon Donna, Angie and Lou began to find pieces of parchment paper on the floor with messages such as “Help Us,” or “Help Lou” (a defining character trait throughout the Conjuring franchise). Of course, neither Donna nor Angie had parchment paper in the apartment. Even stranger — neither of them appeared to suspect that the person behind these events was Lou, who would have been my first guess.
Still, the situation continued to escalate, with Donna finding what appeared to be blood on the doll’s hands. That’s when the girls decided to bring in a medium. During the séance that followed (here’s a story behind that brand of spiritualism), the medium “revealed” that before their apartment complex had been constructed, a seven-year-old girl named Annabelle Higgins (you’ll want to remember that name) had been found dead in the field upon which the building now stood. The medium claimed that the girl’s spirit remained and had latched itself onto the doll. And now, finding the nursing students to be kind and trustworthy, the girl’s spirit expressed a desire to “stay and be loved.” She also asked for permission to inhabit the Raggedy Ann doll, a request that both Donna and Angie agreed to honor. From there, things only got worse.
Lou had nightmares of the Annabelle doll strangling him in his sleep. Then another waking encounter with the doll left him with claw marks on his chest that miraculously healed in two days. (Seriously, no one thought Lou was making this all up? Did these people even exist?) In any case, the situation became so dire that the trio turned to an Episcopalian priest for help, and he then introduced them to the very Catholic Ed and Lorraine Warren. (As if this tale couldn’t get any stranger, we now have Anglicans and Catholics working together.) But that should bring fans of the first Conjuring film up to speed, as the Annabelle Case Study is the opening scene of the entire franchise.
As if this tale couldn’t get any stranger, we now have Anglicans and Catholics working together.
We’re introduced to Ed Warren, who explains, “There’s no such thing as Annabelle, and there never was.”
“So the doll was never possessed?”
“No, it was used as a conduit to give the impression of possession,” Lorraine explains. “Demons don’t possess things — they possess people. It wanted to get inside of you.”
So to summarize: Annabelle Higgins does not exist; she’s the fabrication of a demon trying to manipulate Donna and Angie in order to possess their souls. A priest performs a blessing on the house and its occupants, and as if the demon is attached to the Raggedy Ann doll like a dog to a leash, the Warrens bring the demon doll “somewhere safe.” In this case, that safe location is their Occult Museum located in their home, where their young daughter, Judy, can fall prey to the demonic forces stored there. Annabelle herself gets a glass box with a Devil Tarot card and a handy sign warning visitors not to touch. In the film, Ed argues that it’s “best to keep the genie in the bottle,” but it also doesn’t seem like Ed or Lorraine can control what gets out, or when. Still, in real life, they claim to have a priest bless the location regularly for safe measure, as if holy water were enough to make a demon behave.
You’d think that’d be it for the story, but no. The Conjuring film grossed over $318 million at the box office in 2013, and so that next year, the franchise produced the film Annabelle as an origin story of sorts for the doll. In an interview for the New Haven Register, both Tony Spera and Lorraine Warren confirmed that the story behind Annabelle was completely fictionalized, although they were fine with the producers getting creative with the story line as it still educates the public about demons. Granted, I’ve never considered New Line Cinema or Warner Bros. to be in the business of educating the public, but then again, I’ve never worked in the demon business. So what is this fictionalized tale? What liberties did Gary Dauberman take with Annabelle, being that she’s been living in a glass box since 1970 and no one knew where she came from prior to her hobby store adventures?
In Gary’s mind, the doll is a collector’s item of sorts, and a part of a set that a woman named Mia has been collecting. She’s maybe eight months pregnant, and her med student husband, John, has been searching tirelessly for this doll in particular as a surprise for his wife. A few nights after she receives this amazing gift, Mia hears a scream coming from her neighbor’s home. Turns out, a Satanic cult à la the Manson Family have killed her neighbors and are coming for her. Mia manages to call 911 while her medical-savvy husband is next door. That’s when our “Charles Manson” stabs Mia in the abdomen while his lady friend grabs the new doll and locks herself in the nursery with it. Long story short: John returns to fight off “Charles Manson,” the cops arrive and prevent a Sharon Tate situation — but not before the female cultist named Annabelle Higgins (she’s not seven anymore) marks a Satanist symbol on the wall, kills herself and bleeds onto the doll, somehow transferring her wickedness into the physical object. Naturally, chaos ensues.
Mia soon senses that the house is haunted after these events, and once her daughter Leah is born, she convinces John they should move. However, even though they move to a completely new location and John throws out the doll, it magically reappears (which they think is no biggie) and the strange events continue. Eventually we discover that the cult, known as the Disciples of the Ram, were trying to conjure up something — the puppet master behind the doll — a sort of demon/devil creature that lurks in the shadows, eager to possess a soul. Not even a priest is powerful enough to stop it (so forget that holy water trick). Then there’s a big horror scene, a suicide, and the doll vanishes — only to end up in that very same hobby store that Donna’s mother chose to shop in. It all comes full circle.
So to summarize: When we started down this road with the Warrens, Annabelle never existed; yet thanks to this film, she exists in the form of a troubled daughter who kills her parents with her cult leader, then goes next door to kill herself and inhabit a collector’s-edition doll in pursuit of a soul. We also learn from Father Perez, the priest who gets his ass kicked by a doll, that “evil is constant: what hasn’t been created cannot be destroyed.” OK — so where does that leave us for Annabelle: Creation?
The Annabelle film earned nearly $257 million at the box office, so good old Gary was sent back to work on yet another Annabelle film, and if he felt he was scraping the bottom of the barrel, I couldn’t blame him. Now we see that evil does have its beginnings, even though we were just told evil was never created — it’s constant; but that’s OK, we’re willing to go with it. So where are we now?
With Annabelle: Creation, we’re introduced to a whole new batch of characters that never existed before, now set in the mid-’50s in a secluded two-story farmhouse. Turns out, Samuel Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) is a doll maker who once had a seven-year-old daughter (there’s that magic number again) named Bee, who loved to play hide-and-seek with her father and leave notes as clues. (Parchment paper much?) One day after church, there’s a tragic accident and young Bee is killed. Her doll Annabelle is all that remains. (Not to be confused with Annabelle Higgins, who will demonically possess the doll in the future, which is the past… You following?)
The heartbroken parents turn to God, begging to see their child again. Magically, she appears as a ghostly form. Mother and father rejoice, and all is well in the world. Then Bee asks if she can move into the doll, so that she can stay with her family forever. Her parents heartily agree. (Gee, where have we heard this before?) But the thing that inhabits the Annabelle doll isn’t their daughter at all — it’s something far more sinister. As a result, the parents soon lock the demonic doll away in a closet, where it waits to be set free again. It isn’t until the grief-stricken parents decide to take in a nun and six orphans that the story picks up speed once more, allowing for a polio-stricken girl to start the cycle all over again.
But as I said in the beginning, Annabelle: Creation appears to be a promising film. It’s a recipe for jumps, gasps and terrors in the night; but maybe it’s a shame the real Annabelle doll won’t be able to enjoy it. Instead, she’s still locked in a box in the Warrens’ Occult Museum, which has recently been closed due to “zoning regulations.” (Who knew bureaucracy could disrupt a demon shrine?) But Tony Spera recommends that we shouldn’t open any doors, so I’ll leave that one closed, just in case Gary has to write another one of these things.