As we walked onto the set of Warner Brothers’ Annabelle Comes Home, the unit publicist turned to the group of reporters gathered to visit with a warning: this franchise is haunted. You see, strange goings on happen during the filming of movies in the Conjuring Universe. Definitely creepy, certainly eerie and possibly paranormal.
The Conjuring Universe is a multi-movie series based on real-life paranormal investigators the Warrens. While their lives have proven a rich landscape for horror fiction, this may have accidentally invited real-world trouble.
While making the original Annabelle, the rune on the demon’s chest would appear in the most unexpected places: reflections on glass, in mirrors and once, in tire tracks left after a shoot at the Golden Oaks Ranch. A caretaker character, in a scene ultimately cut from the movie, was set for a grisly death via chandelier. In real life, at the Koreatown, Los Angeles location, the actor playing the demon was nearly struck by a falling chandelier.
In Good Spirits
This wasn’t limited to the set. A medicine cabinet in the rental home of actor Ward Horton, who plays father and medical student John Form, would fall off of its secured place on the bathroom wall every time he would pick up Ed and Lorraine Warren’s book, The Demonologist, to research the Annabelle story.
While on set on the Warner Bros lot, we were advised that sometimes lamps turn on and off on their own. Annabelle herself is known to disappear from her glass home in the recreated Artifact Room and reappear elsewhere on set. This happened while we were waiting for our photo op with the doll-lady of the hour. Up close, she is as frightening as you can imagine and I refused to look her in the eye.
Because of this, there have been set blessings on every Conjuring Universe set since The Conjuring 2. However, the Annabelle Comes Home blessing came a smidge too late to spare some of the actors from the spirits of the sound stage.
Blood and Candles
12-year-old McKenna Grace plays the Warrens’ daughter, Judy Warren, loosely based on the real-life Judy. No stranger to horror, Grace was also the younger Theo in Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House. A very polite young lady, McKenna takes great care to refer to every adult by their honorific. When talking about director Gary Dauberman, she always starts with, “Mr. Gary.” Her liveliness was a welcome respite from the disturbing tales recounted earlier.
Working on Annabelle Comes Home is a dream job for Grace, who lights up every time she talks about her love of watching horror movies with her dad. When asked about the spooky set, she seemed delighted to share her experience.
“One of the first things happened when we were in rehearsals. My nose started pouring blood. And then whenever I walked outside the stage to get tissues, it would stop,” she said.
Fellow actor Katie Sarife plays Daniela, the best friend of Judy’s babysitter, Mary Ellen. Daniela keeps her friend company as she watches Judy when Mr and Mrs Warren are away. Like her character, Sarife has always had an interest in the supernatural. While waiting to hear if she’d gotten the part, the Conjuring Universe spirits paid her a visit.
She decided to light a “Success Intention Candle” to help nudge the process along. “A hippyish thing,” she said. When Sarife first attempted to light the candle, the flame danced around the glass before going out, never touching the wick. Once she finally got the wick lit, she started to watch a movie. When she turned around shortly after, the candle had gone out. So she tried again. When it went out a second time, she took that as a sign and stopped. The next day, she found out she booked the role. Upon doing research, she discovered that there is a belief that when intention candles do that, it means that either your intention is not going to happen, or that it has already happened. While hers was a good visit with the beyond, she was still grateful for the blessing.
Building the Warren House
Father Tom, or as McKenna Grace called him, “Mr. Father Tom,” gave them all rose-scented rosaries that were blessed by Pope Francis. Father Tom blessed the three young actresses together. Perhaps Grace’s biggest smile was when describing how during the blessing, some of Father Tom’s holy water splashed onto her hand.
The blessing itself took place in the Artifact Room, a faithful recreation of the Artifact Room located at the Warrens’ house and in previous movies in the series. So faithful that whether you believed or not, there was a real fear of letting any part of your body touch any of the objects in the room.
It wasn’t just the Artifact Room. The entire house had to be recreated from scratch blueprints, as even though parts of the home had been seen in previous movies, Annabelle Comes Home marks the first time the Warrens’ home is shown in its entirety. This meant reviewing footage from the other films and using that to make a floor plan that would make sense. The job fell to production designer, Jennifer Spence. Spence is no stranger to the Conjuring Universe, having previously worked on Annabelle: Creation and The Nun. She is also a master at making a home that not only looks great, but has all the dark nooks and crannies a director might want to create legit scares.
Although the movie is set in the 1980s, the Warrens’ fictional home is pure ’70s. The detail includes small touches like recreations of Ed Warren’s haunting (and haunted?) paintings on the wall.
Real or Hokum?
Luckily, the on-set spooky phenomena hadn’t extended to everyone. Madison Iseman, playing Judy’s babysitter, Mary Ellen, avoided it. Mostly. “My lights went out in my trailer, but that’s it.”
Having worked with a doll before in Goosebumps, Iseman can confirm that Annabelle is much more frightening than Slappy. Like Katie Sarife, Iseman also has something in common with her character, in that both of them do not mess around with that stuff. She won’t even use a Ouija board: “I’ve heard of too many bad things happening. I’m trying to prevent it.”
Considering the close calls, eerie runes and literal gushing blood others have experienced, it seems to have been a winning strategy.
After my visit, was I convinced of the supernatural happenings on set? Weirder things have happened. Many believe that the Poltergeist movies were cursed, and Ghostbusters star Dan Aykroyd claims to have had a ghost join him in bed. Either way, these are great ghost stories and a brilliant way to sell a horror franchise.
What I am sure of is that I’m not saying anything to p— Annabelle off. Just in case.
Annabelle Comes Home will hit screens in the US and UK on June 28, and Australia on June 27.