The Annabelle Trilogy Offers a Different Type of Horror

While writing this article, I looked up reviews of the Annabelle films and found one negative opinion after the other (the movies aren’t scary and are boring with tons of plot holes). Having a lifelong doll obsession, maybe I’m biased, but I don’t think these films are boring or poorly written.

Until Annabelle came along, my only experience with haunted or possessed dolls was Chucky from Child’s Play, he’s always been a favorite of mine. Chucky, and later, Tiffany, provide campy entertainment delivering witty one-liners along with some creative kills and over-the-top plans for possessing human bodies. Annabelle’s brand of horror is completely different—subtle at first and culminating in a chaotic paranormal explosion. She’s not animated by spirit energy where she toddles around with her murder weapon of choice. Annabelle is a force of unpredictable paranormal activity. She’s described as a conduit for spirit energy—a beacon in the dark for the “other side.” Through Annabelle, any being can come through the shadows and into your home. The concept of a possessed object is fairly new territory in horror films, and besides Chucky and various haunted house and people-possession films, how many movies have a haunted object as a focus? Just like vampires, werewolves, and many other popular horror characters, a haunted doll can be open to interpretation.

Annabelle is part of James Wan’s Conjuring Universe, a series of films based on cases of paranormal researchers Ed and Lorraine Warren. During the late 1960s/early 1970s, two nurses called Donna and Angie, and Angie’s boyfriend, Lou, reported paranormal activity in their apartment that started after Donna’s mother gave her a Raggedy Ann doll purchased from an antique store. The three contacted a priest, who in turn, contacted the Warrens.

Donna would arrange the doll on her bed before leaving for work with Angie. When they came home, Donna noticed that the doll would be in a different posture or in a different room. They thought that maybe someone could be breaking into the apartment and playing a prank. They found red drops that looked like blood on the doll and messages written in pencil in childlike writing on parchment that read “Help Lou” and “Help us.” The three said that there were no pencils or parchment paper in the house.

A woman carries a vintage style doll in a frilly white dress in her arms. An elderly priest stands in the background.
Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) takes charge of the Annabelle doll under the watchful eye of a priest in Annabelle Comes Home (2019).

Before going out, Donna and Angie would arrange furniture so that anyone coming into the apartment would leave evidence that they were there. When they came home, they found no evidence of an intruder. They also said that a statue moved on its own, and a chocolate boot appeared around Christmas time that no one bought. They thought that the apartment was haunted and called a spirit medium. The medium told Donna and Angie that the spirit of a little girl named Annabelle Higgins, who lived on the property many years ago, was haunting them. The spirit wanted their permission to inhabit the doll and live with them. The women felt bad for Annabelle and said that she could stay. After the psychic’s visit, the activity in their apartment intensified.

Donna and Angie treated the doll as if it were a child and called it Annabelle. Lou made it clear that he didn’t like the doll. Lou was asleep in the apartment and said that he woke up to see Annabelle at the foot of the bed. Then, in her place, he saw a being that crawled up his leg and felt as if he was being strangled. He woke up with claw marks on his chest. Donna and Angie contacted an Episcopalian priest, who contacted Ed and Lorraine Warren.

When she entered the apartment, Lorraine Warren said that she sensed a demonic presence. The Warrens said that it was only a demonic presence in the apartment—not the spirit of a little girl. They called in a Catholic priest to bless the apartment, and, at Donna’s urging, took Annabelle, home with them. After bringing Annabelle into their home, the Warrens experienced negative supernatural activity. Believing Annabelle caused the activity, they had her now-famous cabinet built—made from blessed materials.

Three people stand in a shadowy room in front of a wooden case. Through the glass door, large vintage girl doll can be seen sitting inside. She has her hair in two braids and wears a long white dress.
Annabelle sits inside her blessed case in Ed and Lorraine Warren’s (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga) occult museum.

The Annabelle movies take the Warrens’ report and build an original story around Annabelle—where she came from and what happened after the Warrens took Annabelle in. Donna, Angie, and Lou (called Debbie, Camilla, and Rick in the films) briefly appear in each film talking to the Warrens (played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga in all The Conjuring movies).

Annabelle (2014)

This film tells the story of what happened before that fateful day when Donna/Debbie’s mother purchased the doll from the antique store. We’re introduced to a doctor, John Form (Ward Horton), and his pregnant wife, Mia (Annabelle Wallis). The film takes place in Santa Monica, California, in 1970. In one scene, Mia watches a news report about the infamous Manson Family murders. Their neighbors, The Higgins (Brian Howe, Kerry O’Malley), have a daughter, Annabelle (Tree O’ Toole), who left home. Both of these details foreshadow what’s to come.

One day, John gives Mia a vintage doll to add to her collection. That night, the Higgins, receive a visit from their estranged daughter, Annabelle—and it’s not to reconcile. Annabelle and her boyfriend kill her parents. The sounds next-door wake Mia and John, and Mia calls the police. After they kill her parents, Annabelle and her boyfriend pay the Forms a visit. Annabelle enters the nursery which holds Mia’s doll collection and takes the now-iconic, vintage doll off the shelf. “I like your dolls,” she tells Mia in a creepy whispery voice. When the police come, Annabelle sits down with the doll in the nursery and slits her own throat. She dies bleeding on the doll. It turns out that Annabelle and her boyfriend were members of a Satanic cult.

The beginning of the film is undoubtedly inspired by the infamous Tate-LaBianca murders orchestrated by cult leader Charles Manson and his “family” in August 1969 in Southern California. In real life, the Manson Family wasn’t a Satanic cult. The killings were home invasions that meant to start a race war.

A blurry image of a doll is in the foreground A couple stand in the background, the woman visibly pregnant with a look of suspicion as she looks at the doll.
John and Mia Form (Ward Horton, Annabelle Wallis) suspect Annabelle isn’t what she seems.

Annabelle has a lot in common with the classic psychological horror film, Rosemary’s Baby (1968). Rosemary’s Baby (another favorite of mine) is about a young couple, Rosemary and Guy Woodhouse (Mia Farrow, John Cassavetes—like Mia and John Form), who move into an upscale apartment building. Rosemary becomes pregnant and begins to suspect that her neighbors are Satanists who want to sacrifice her child. Roman Polanski directed Rosemary’s Baby. Polanski was the husband of Manson Family victim, Sharon Tate (who was pregnant, like Mia Form, at the time of the murders). The Forms, like the Woodhouses, move into a high-end apartment building. Like Rosemary, the strangeness revolves around Mia, beginning when Mia is pregnant and intensifying after the birth of her daughter, Leah. In both movies, a mother fears her child becoming a victim of a Satanic cult. Mia finds out that Annabelle Higgins and her boyfriend may have summoned a demonic entity.

Annabelle was directed by John R. Leonetti, written by Gary Dauberman, and produced by Peter Safran and James Wan. The film has a dark tone that slowly builds and erupts into our of control activity that I didn’t see coming the first time that I saw it. Overall, the film is well-made and is a great homage to Rosemary’s Baby. An interesting bit of information is that between working on Annabelle and Annabelle Creation, Dauberman worked on a film, Wolves at the Door, based on the Tate Murders.

Annabelle Creation (2017)

The title says it all, this film tells the story of how Annabelle’s paranormal journey began. The film has the same tone as the first. Directed by David F. Sandberg, written by Gary Dauberman, and produced by Peter Safran and James Wan, it takes place in 1943. The first scenes of the film show the making of the doll, packed in a box marked “Mullins Toy Company.” We meet Samuel Mullins, his wife Esther (Anthony LaPaglia, Miranda Otto), and their 7-year-old daughter, Annabelle (Samara Lee), who they call “Bee.” Annabelle Mullins dies tragically after being hit by a car.

Twelve years later, the Mullins take in a group of orphaned girls, along with their caretaker, Sister Charlotte (Stephanie Sigman). The story centers around Janice (Talitha Bateman), an orphan disabled by polio. Due to her disability, Janice finds herself left out of the group. She has one friend, Linda (Lulu Wilson). Janice explores the house while the other girls are outside playing.

In a dark, shadowy room, a vintage doll sits on a bed. A young girl looks at the doll from the shadows.
Janice (Talitha Bateman) snoops around the late Annabelle “Bee” Mullins’ bedroom.

There’s a lot of mystery surrounding the Mullins. Confined to her bedroom, Esther Mullins is unseen for most of the film. There’s also a room Samuel Mullins tells the girls never to enter, which was Bee’s bedroom. Janice does anyway and finds Annabelle. Janice’s disability separates her from the other girls. Left in the house most of the time, Janice becomes attached to Annabelle. Linda hesitates to go outside and play with the other girls to stay with Janice, but Janice urges her to go.

Janice begins to experience paranormal activity, such as seeing Bee’s ghost, which is a form taken by a malevolent entity that seems to morph into anyone or anything. The activity centers around Janice, as she becomes more attached to Annabelle. Like the first film, the activity slowly increases where it extends beyond Janice to everyone else in the house. The secrecy surrounding Esther Mullins and how this film is, hopefully, going to tie into the first kept me in suspense. I wasn’t disappointed. I want to keep this spoiler-free so all I’m going to say is that this story is seamlessly tied into the first.

Annabelle Comes Home (2019)

Written by Gary Dauberman and James Wan, this film is a fictionalized account of what happened after the Warrens (Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga) take Annabelle from Debbie and Camilla (also known as Donna and Angie). The story begins with the Warrens almost getting into a car accident on their way home. The car is under paranormal attack, with Annabelle as its conductor. Ed Warren gets out of the car to perform an exorcism and the Warrens drive home carefully.

A girl's face is reflected in the glass of a display, the image superimposed over the face of a vintage doll.
She’s more than just a vintage doll. Daniela (Katy Sarife) looks in at Annabelle.

Once there, we meet the Warrens’ daughter, Judy (McKenna Grace). Judy has some sort of extrasensory perception. The Warrens are called away on an overnight ghost hunt, and leave Judy in the care of a babysitter, Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman). Mary Ellen’s friend, Daniela (Katy Sarife), who is grieving her father’s recent passing, is curious about spirit communication. When Daniela learns that Mary Ellen is babysitting for the famous paranormal investigators, she invites herself over to the house. When Mary Ellen steps out for a little while with Judy, Daniela is left in the house alone. Of course, she uses the opportunity to go snooping around the Warrens’ home, and she stumbles on their occult museum. Daniela manages to open the paranormal Pandora’s box that is Annabelle’s case. After this, the paranormal chaos ensues, unleashing a whole cast of entities contained in the Warrens’ museum via the cursed objects. When the Warrens return, they must set everything right—and not only in a paranormal sense. There’s a reason why we learn more about Daniela’s father’s death and how it fuels her obsession with spirit communication.

While the Annabelle movies aren’t terrifying films that make your skin crawl, the stories are well-written and tie into each other nicely. I think the concept of Annabelle as a conduit for spirit energy is an original addition to the horror genre. The cursed doll who’s a beacon for spirits isn’t an established trope, therefore, I was never sure what Annabelle would pull out of the darkness next.

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Written by MD Bastek

Just a person who loves horror and writes about unusual things

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