Even by horror-movie standards, the wooden doll star of Annabelle (2014) and Annabelle: Creation (in theaters Friday) is one creepy lead actress.
The eerie, forced smile, garish makeup and unblinking eyes made Annabelle a clear breakout villain even before her first memorable but supporting appearance in 2013's The Conjuring, the story of paranormal researchers Ed and Lorraine Warren.
"We knew we had something special when people would go out of their way to avoid Annabelle on set," says Conjuring director James Wan. "She definitely gave off an inherently creepy vibe."
Physically, the freaky figure is far cry from the the "true" Annabelle inspiration — a Raggedy Ann doll complete with button eyes and floppy red yarn hair. This Annabelle is the cuddly-looking centerpiece to the Warrens' Occult Museum in Monroe, Conn., and not to be trifled with, warns Lorraine, 90.
"Looks are deceiving," she says. "It's not what the doll looks like that makes it scary; it is what has been infused within the doll: evil."
Skeptics might insist it's nothing more than campfire fiction, but Warren lore says the original Annabelle began her reign of terror in 1970 after being purchased in a hobby shop by a mother as a gift for her daughter.
The weirdness allegedly went down right away, from Annabelle levitating to brutal attacks — even the attempted strangulation of a family friend.
The Warrens were called to investigate and diagnosed the doll as an "inhuman demonic spirit." Ed drove Annabelle to the museum for safekeeping, but claimed the doll willed the car's brakes and steering to fail repeatedly. (He threw holy water on his backseat passenger to stop the meddling.)
At the museum, Annabelle is kept in a glass box secured with ritualistic prayers.
"We have a priest come in and bless the museum, including Annabelle," says Lorraine, whose husband died in 2006. "These are prayers that bind the evil — much like an electric fence for a dog,"
When Wan and producer Peter Safran began developing The Conjuring, the Raggedy Ann look wasn't going to cut it. "For starters, you’d be hard-pressed to find a manufacturer to allow their doll to serve as a conduit to evil in a movie," says Safran.
Wan wanted a sharper-looking Annabelle and found "that balance of innocence and creep" — emphasis on the creep. Annabelle: Creation director David F. Sandberg toned that down to make Annabelle more believable as a child's toy in the origin story.
"We did soften her features," says Sandberg. "She now has more filled-out cheeks and we fixed her overbite."
She's still far scarier-looking than the original doll, even if she's never depicted moving onscreen.
Still, it's best not to chuckle. Decades ago, a youthful visitor banged on Annabelle's enclosure, mocking her until Ed kicked him out, Lorraine says.
The offender and his girlfriend rode off on his motorcycle. What happened next has no factual documentation.
"She told us that they were both laughing and joking about the doll when the young man lost control of the bike and crashed head-on into a tree," Lorraine claims.