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The Conjuring
of Annabelle
and the Nun

Despite Netflix provoking boos at Cannes recently, the general consensus indicates that Hollywood will be the first to feel the pain when online streaming brings the future of film consumption ever more into the home environment and away from the annoying pit of phone lights that is the modern-day multiplex. When Netflix can charge a mere £7.99 a month for unlimited viewing in one's own home, it’s understandable that everyone might realise that a £20 trip to the cinema for one showing isn’t worth the so-called ‘cinematic experience’ any longer.

      Hollywood horror has taken a turn in a different direction in an attempt to keep itself relevant for the time being. After the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, James Wan decided to create a similar premise with his horror films, thus the Conjuring Universe was born. 

      The Conjuring Universe began with The Conjuring in 2013 (doh), directed by Wan himself and starring Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson as Ed and Lorraine Warren, two paranormal investigators uncovering a dark secret inside a family home. Shortly after that came Annabelle (2014), directed by John R Leonetti, the cinematographer from Insidious (2010) - another Wan creation starring Patrick Wilson. Annabelle was the story of a possessed doll that causes problems for a family after their home is invaded by Satanic cultists. Annabelle is set in the same ‘universe’ as The Conjuring because it is staged as a prequel to that film, explaining Annabelle’s story before the Wilsons come into contact with the doll at the beginning of The Conjuring.

      James Wan has always had a thing for dolls. His first film, Saw (2004), presented a murderer whose image to the world as a doll called Jigsaw. Dead Silence was the next Wan outing in 2007, a film entirely based around ventriloquists' dolls. And then Annabelle was inflicted upon us… another doll. 

      In 2016, The Conjuring 2 was released, again starring Farmiga and Wilson, but this time the story was based upon the alleged 'Enfield haunting'. This second instalment introduced the character of the Nun, seemingly from out of nowhere at the end of the film, so as to link The Conjuring 2 with a new James Wan creation coming to our screens next year, predictably entitled The Nun and directed by Corin Hardy, and also starring Vera’s daughter Taissa Farmiga ( of American Horror Story).

      In the meantime, Annabelle: Creation, a prequel to Annabelle is also coming out this summer, from the director of Lights Out (2016), David F Sandberg. This film presumably fits into the Conjuring Universe as a prequel to the first 'Annabelle' prequel, but that’s as much as we know for now.

      The current Hollywood preoccupation with prequels is increasingly tiresome and a sign that the studios are still sticking to creating more of what has sold well in the past and refusing to take risks. It also implies a realisation that audiences are getting fed up with sequel after sequel, so a way is found around making the same film again and again by going backwards and sideways instead. Such a move relies heavily on the expectation that the original film doesn’t have any limitations. Anything can happen to a character after a film has ended, but to know that the same character will still be around in the next film, as in a prequel, diminishes the element of surprise and makes the new film less worth watching. Take Ridley Scott and Alien for example. He has decided to add a whole new layer of technological terror into his prequels, Prometheus (2012) and Alien: Covenant (2017), which makes it harder to watch the original Alien (1979) without many new questions arising. I won’t even get started on Star Wars...

      Nevertheless, we are in a new day for Hollywood movies - a day when franchises are now ‘universes’, such as Universal's 'Dark Universe' (inaugurated by the Tom Cruise-starring The Mummy), and film series are abandoning traditional storylines in favour of general premises with unlimited possibilities. If the next step in home entertainment is VR (virtual reality), film 'universes' represent the same thinking - a story that only vaguely links to another story with a similar theme, but which together present an infinite landscape of vaguely-associated horrors into which the viewer can be immersed.

      So now you know - if you like James Wan films, watch out because you’re going to be roped into a whole UNIVERSE of the same things again and again until you've forgotten what it was that you liked about them in the first place. Never forget, we had to endure a total of EIGHT instalments of his Saw franchise, and a fourth Insidious movie is also due for release soon...