The Real Story Behind ‘Annabelle’

Before she inspired a hit horror franchise, Annabelle was just another Raggedy Ann doll possessed by a dead girl.
Warner Bros.
By  · Published on May 29th, 2019

Whether or not you believe in the Warrens’ “real-life” paranormal cases is one thing. However, there’s no denying that Ed and Lorraine’s tales of the supernatural have captured the pop culture imagination. The Conjuring Universe has turned the pair’s exploits into a billion dollar franchise, and with seven movies already in the bag and more on the way, the series doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon. Even if the Warrens’ claims of encountering spooks and demons are hoaxes, Hollywood can’t get enough of them.

The latest installment of the Conjuring franchise, Annabelle Comes Home, hits theaters on June 26, 2019. In the film, the titular doll returns to wreak havoc on the Warren family (played by Patrick Wilson, Vera Farmiga, and Mckenna Grace) — and she’s bringing some of her demon pals along for the ride. Check out the trailer below:

While Annabelle Comes Home looks like an entertaining chiller, the film series wouldn’t exist at all without the real Annabelle doll and her nightmare-inducing past. She has quite the history. According to the actual tale, Donna, a student nurse, received a Raggedy Ann doll as a gift from her mother in 1970. When the doll exhibited strange behavior in front of Donna and her roommate Angie, a medium revealed that it was possessed by the spirit of a seven-year-old girl named Annabelle Higgins. Apparently, the little girl had been found dead in the field that Donna’s apartment complex was built on, and her restless spirit just wanted somewhere to live.

At first, Donna and Angie gave the spirit permission to reside within Annabelle. She was an innocent child after all, right? Not quite. Annabelle subsequently attacked their friend Lou, and the roommates contacted the Warrens, who discovered that the doll was actually being manipulated by a demon who desired Donna’s soul.

After learning the horrifying truth about the demon’s intentions, the Warrens summoned a priest to perform an exorcism. That wasn’t the end of the whole spooky affair, though. Afterward, when Ed and Lorraine were driving home with Annabelle in their possession, the car kept breaking down, and its brakes stopped functioning. Upon arriving home, the demonic doll started displaying supernatural signs once again. After another unsuccessful exorcism attempt, Annabelle was taken to the Warrens’ Occult Museum and placed in a glass case. These days, she’s a tourist attraction.

The film franchise is only a loose adaptation of the true Annabelle story. For a start, the movie doll is porcelain as opposed to a Raggedy Ann. Furthermore, her origin story doesn’t include Donna, Angie, or Lou — in the first Annabelle film, a husband gives the doll to his pregnant wife as a gift. Shortly after, their home gets invaded by a Satanic cult, who pass the malevolent demon into the inanimate object. The Warrens’ recollection of the events doesn’t include any mention of said husband, wife, or cult.

Of course, some people claim that the Warrens’ Annabelle story is every bit as fabricated as the horror films that were influenced by it. In fact, some skeptics believe that the “real story” is similar to a 1963 episode of The Twilight Zone called “Living Doll,” which features a character named Annabelle (Mary LaRoche), who buys a haunted doll for her daughter. Now, I don’t want to call the Warrens liars — maybe they genuinely believed that their doll was haunted by a demon — but the doubter in me cannot overlook the glaring link to Twilight Zone. At least the director Toy Story 4, Josh Cooley, admitted that his idea for a villainous doll was borrowed from the iconic show.

Another pop culture entity that’s been associated with Annabelle is Don Mancini’s Child’s Play series. According to the Warrens, their case inspired Chucky’s unholy conception. Mancini, meanwhile, has said that Chucky was created as a response to the riotous Cabbage Patch Kids phenomenon. I don’t know who to believe. That said, if any doll legend can be compared to Chucky, it’s Robert, who boasts some striking similarities to him. Regardless of whether or not any of these doll lores helped spawn Child’s Play, I’d be willing to bet the success of Annabelle’s cinematic outings was a motivating factor behind the upcoming reboot.

Overall, everything ever said by the Warrens will always be a source of dispute between believers and naysayers. But Annabelle still helped popularize the scary doll trope that’s been commonplace in horror cinema and television for decades. For that reason alone, fans of scary movies should be thankful for the Warrens’ contributions to the field of paranormal research.

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Kieran is a Contributor to the website you're currently reading. He also loves the movie Varsity Blues.