It’s a very, very, very fine house.
So why don’t I step inside? Lovely décor, beautiful finishes, elegant dinnerware, and intricate bumblebee details – everywhere you look. And what’s that? A grand staircase leading up to the second story – and a comfortable bench nearby, perfect for a bit of a rest before I ascend. And I guess, if I’m really that spent, there’s a mechanical chair to take me up the long flight. Whomever designed this rich-in-history home, certainly thought of everything!
And on that bench… what a peculiar-looking doll with heavy rouge – perfectly placed and perfectly behaved. I’m sure this little sprite means no harm, so why don’t I just take a breather and sit down? My, she has such big eyes and a wide smile. Her braids are darling, aren’t they?
But… something’s off about this child’s plaything. Did it just get cold in here?
Last summer, Horror Freak News had the distinct pleasure of visiting the set of Annabelle 2 (now called Annabelle: Creation) – and the chance to sit down and chat with several actors, producer Peter Safran (The Conjuring, The Conjuring 2), director David F. Sandberg (Lights Out) and designers from every corner of the film’s production.
And now, with the film’s release just a hop, skip and a jump away (August 11th, 2017 to be exact), we’re able to share all of the things we learned that day, as we take you on a detailed journey through the “home” where this devilish and now iconic doll was actually created.
Grab your Bible, say a little prayer and pay no attention to any potential movement from that strange doll. Let’s just dive in and take a deeper look into this upcoming prequel.
Here’s a brief synopsis of the forthcoming film: Following the sudden death of their little girl, Bee, Mr. and Mrs. Mullins open up their home to a nun and several displaced orphans when the children’s nearby orphanage is shut down. But the children soon become haunted by Mr. Mullins’ possessed doll creation, Annabelle.
We were able to visit the prop-shop – where we saw several crucifixes (a particular one was fascinating, but I’ll refrain from spoiling why it was so cool), the metal brand Mr. Mullins (Anthony LaPaglia) uses to mark his unique doll creations, several rubber trays, candlesticks and decanters (apparently they’ll be flying about – some potential poltergeist activity?) and the coolest thing – the “pop-gun” used by Linda (Lulu Wilson) in the film. It’s sort of a game-gun. You pull the trigger and a ball shoots out – but it’s attached by a string, and the gun allows the user to reel the ball back, like a fishing pole.
It was an idea dreamed up (literally – he dreamed about it) by director Sandberg:
David Sandberg (director): “I actually dreamed that I was watching a scene in the film. Where Linda has this – I’d never seen that in real life – but I dreamed that she had a little gun with a reel on it and a ball on a string. So she reels that in, which tightens the string and you shoot it out. And I had this dream of her shooting that out into this dark room and sort of reeling it in. And then it got stuck, and you know – there’s something in the dark. I woke up and wrote it down in my phone. And then I sent that to Gary [screenwriter Gary Dauberman of the original Annabelle] and said, ‘Can you put that in the movie?’ And now it’s in the movie.”
As for Lulu Wilson – who portrays Linda, the girl who gets to play with gun the most – she used it in her character’s first encounter with the actual Annabelle doll: “I got to shoot it [Annabelle doll] in the face with a gun. And I had to hold it too. Really, really heavy. It’s huge.”
As for the gun itself, it was Lulu’s favorite scene. Apparently, it involves Linda “standing guard” against the evils of the Mullins house, using the “pop-gun” as her line of defense. Per Lulu, the gun is “very dense and big.”
I’m already salivating about how wonderfully tense this particular scene promises to be. Bring it on!
And if you’re wondering if we grabbed any possible spoilers while we visited the Mullins home? There were a few slips – nothing mind-blowing, but certainly worthy of some contemplation, right?
As we visited with costume designer Leah Butler, she spilled – perhaps not a full can of beans – but a few beans nonetheless…
Leah Butler: “I’m pulling out some of the original Annabelle dresses that we used in the first movie. That’s gonna end up in this movie too… You never know what might come back in another movie.”
So it seems there’s some sort of direct connection between the two films – more than the obvious.
Another potential spoiler – almost squeaked out by director Sandberg – came when I asked about the placement of his wife Lotta Losten (who was in last year’s Lights Out feature and the original short film). It seems she’ll be a permanent acting fixture in all of his films. And just as he was about to give me an answer – it was determined by the publicist that this particular news-bit would have to remain unspoiled. Well, color me intrigued!
RELATED ARTICLE: “HFN Chat with Lights Out Villainess Diana”!
Playing a big role in the film (some of its scenes were being shot while we were on-set) is the dumb-waiter in the Mullins’ home. For those not in the know, a dumb-waiter is “a small elevator for carrying things, especially food and dishes, between the floors of a building.”
In the Mullins’ home, the dumb-waiter connects the rooms of two characters with similar emotional baggage. Symbolism, folks – but no spoilers here!
The dumb-waiter was not originally in the script, but via a suggestion from production designer Jennifer Spence (see below for more from Spence), it found a prominent place in the story. And based on how much the actors and crew talked about it, you can bet this is a set piece we should be looking forward to!
For Alicia Vela-Bailey (Diana in last year’s Lights Out), the dumb-waiter presented some extra acting challenges. Per costume designer Leah Butler, Alicia’s character, Evil Mrs. Mullins (apparently a frightening character created by the orphaned children which then begins to haunt them) – her costume is very flowing, almost a “bird-like feel”. It was meant to accentuate Vela-Bailey’s movements (Vela-Bailey has a stunt and dancing background). Butler says of the Evil Mrs. Mullins’ costume: “One of my favorites. It was fun making it… We had so many gigantic pieces pleated from the pleaters; and put it all together to create that look. Just a fun piece to work on, to research, to look into and to make.”
And apparently Vela-Bailey was plenty conscious of the work put into her dress – as she recounted her toughest day of shooting – in the dumb-waiter:
Alicia Vela-Bailey (Evil Mrs. Mullins): “The wardrobe is really beautiful. Flowing gown thing; very ghost like. It’s actually really hard to move in.”
“That one was – it’s [the dumb-waiter] just this really tight area. And I’m crawling inside in this long gown. And I’m trying not to ruin the wardrobe. I’m trying to crawl up and you can’t see, it’s so dark. And I’m just like, ‘Thank god I’m not claustrophobic.’ And also, the thing – the dumb waiter is above me. And I mean, we have a safety thing. And heaven forbid something happens and that just comes smashing down. So I’m like – in my head – l‘m in my own horror movie right now. I could get hurt. Being in character but still ‘be careful’ ‘watch out for your surroundings’, ‘there’s a few nails sticking out over here.’ It was an eerie set to work in. But it was really fun.”
Per director Sandberg, “I mean, the dumb waiter wasn’t in the script. Jennifer said, ‘Could we put a dumb waiter between these two rooms?’ And I was like – ooh, can we put a child in there?”
Children in danger? In a horror film? Who will buy such a thing? This sequence is sure to be one of the most exciting!
RELATED ARTICLE: “Annabelle” Review!
“Attention to detail is my favorite thing”
My fellow reporters and I had the good fortune of taking an extended tour of the set – under the design brilliance of production designer Jennifer Spence.
Both the first and second floor of the Mullins’ house is actually on the ground floor of the studio space at Warner Bros.. The staircase was built (almost) twice, with the second-story portion actually in the ground. It was dug up to accommodate the staircase – rather than the production dealing with the expense of building an entire second story.
Spence has worked on an array of films, including several genre heavyweights (the Paranormal Activity franchise, the Insidious franchise – as well as last year’s Lights Out). And that “attention to detail” isn’t just a throw-away phrase.
The Mullins’ daughter is nicknamed “Bee”, and so you will see bumblebee and honeycomb details in practically everything. What’s fascinating about such things, is that most viewers probably won’t catch all of this loveliness, but it certainly means something to the cast and crew. When a fellow reporter referenced the minute detail of a crack in the wall of the kitchen:
Jennifer Spence (production designer): “I feel like it makes it real for the actors. All of my little girls came through this house and were flabbergasted. It felt so real to them. And that helps them when I create a set for them… that they can forget that there are all of these people in the room. When you look around and everything’s lit and you’re in the moment, it felt really real.”
It was truly lovely to walk the rooms of this house which Spence created, and to see the immense pride she takes in her work – specifically the Mullins’ house of the film. And nothing she does is a fluke. It’s all very well thought out and researched.
Spence: “I wanted to give the house this sort of elongated, eerie feeling. A lot of the rooms can look into other rooms, for that purpose. I opened up the walls in here [the living room] so you could really see the staircase. Because when our character comes home she [Mrs. Mullins] doesn’t want to go upstairs anymore, she’s afraid. And even though she’s sleeping on the couch, it’s still right there. She can’t get away from it.”
In the dining room: “I’ve made this specifically open so you could see into the kitchen and see into her room [Mrs. Mullins] and give the director an opportunity to have something move behind or, you know walk by, and not be sure that you saw it.”
“I always like to give the director more than they ask for. More than the script calls for.” (see the aforementioned dumb-waiter).
As for those who actually inhabit the set:
Grace Fulton (“Carol”): “The sets are insane. It’s really eerie walking on the sets. The first screen tests – one of the wardrobe gals took me through the set to get a picture of my pajamas with the bedroom. I walked in and just… (pauses, in “awe”). Of course, there’ll be a hundred people in here when we film scenes. And it won’t feel like an actual bedroom. But boy does it feel like a bedroom. All the details… We have such professionals who make our jobs so easy as actors. There are so many equipped professional people who create this imaginary world for us to just live truthfully in.”
LuLu Wilson (“Linda”): “My bedroom’s really scary. It’s like all of these doll mannequins everywhere. And like clothes everywhere. And it’s pretty freaky. Bunk beds with ripped up sheets. It’s pretty scary. I don’t know why my character would pick that room.”
Spence admits that her favorite pieces of this glorious set puzzle (it was all built off-site and rebuilt when they moved to the studio) are the grand staircase and Bee’s room.
And speaking of Bee’s room, there’s an offshoot portion of that room which we were able to tour – a sort of “Carrie White” – esque room, a closet – where Annabelle is kept. It’s covered in real Bible pages (all aged and wrinkled) – and it’s meant to keep Annabelle there and out of trouble.
David Sandberg (director): “It’s to contain her evil, surrounded by the word of God. They’re trying to contain her. (long pause) And it doesn’t work.”
This room was an easy highlight (along with Mrs. Mullins room – ooh, wait for it!) for this reporter – in so far as utter “I’m totally creeped out” goodness.
And how does this project stack up against others in Spence’s career?
Spence: “I think for me, it’s just my favorite one so far. I mean, I always say that. This one is particularly gorgeous. I just love all of the texture and… (she pauses) I come in the morning and at night – I often walk by myself through it. I just love it. And it’s got its own personality – on its own… nobody in the room. I like sitting in it.”
Knowing that once they wrap production, she’ll have to leave this glory behind…
Spence: “Heartbreaking. I think I might cry for this one. I love this house.”
A Period Piece
Everyone seemed to be pretty jazzed about the era in which the film takes place. Initially, we will see the Mullins’ family in a post-WWII time of happiness and bright futures (per the designers – all of that is reflected in the costumes and set design). Once the meat of the film comes into play, the story falls into the mid-‘50s.
About the period setting:
Lulu Wilson (“Linda”): “I think it’s really fun. I love the clothes.”
Grace Fulton (“Carol”): “Our sets and our wardrobe. I mean, you get into it and immediately, you’re kind of a little bit more – less Kylie Jenner, less Kardashian world. You’re coming back in time to this simpler, purer, salt-of-the-earth time period if you will.”
David Sandberg (director): “It’s just creepier to have it in the past. I wanted it to be a little bit timeless.”
Director David Sandberg
Director Sandberg had his first big break with last year’s well-received Lights Out (based on his short film of the same name) and then quickly landed the gig for Annabelle: Creation.
Sandberg: “We were just finishing up post on Lights Out. Testing very well, the studio was very happy with it. So they came to me and said, you wanna work on Annabelle? I loved the script. And it was like a period movie – like in an orphanage – shooting in the studio. Perfect. And it’s the same people. It’s New Line and James [Wan]. And most of the same crew from Lights Out as well. Let’s go again, everyone’s here.”
Taking on an Annabelle sequel, any pressure?
Sandberg: “Maybe. But I don’t feel it. To me, it’s a lot less pressure. It’s not my first. Lights Out was all ‘this is my shot at Hollywood, better make this right.’ Now I’ve been on a film set, so I know how it works. Lot less pressure.”
He worked with young actors for Lights Out, and now the number of child actors has greatly increased for Annabelle: Creation.
Sandberg: “It’s an advantage. It’s almost automatic to sympathy, many times. Unless you’re the kid in The Babadook. [laughs] No, he was awesome in the movie, but you go, ‘I never wanna have kids’. You hear all of this ‘don’t work with kids’. But they know their lines, they’re super professional and they’re up for anything. Only negative thing is that they’re not allowed to work for as long as adults. So it’s like, a constant, ‘Okay, you lose her at 4!’ In real life, I’m not a fan of kids. But I love working with them. They haven’t been spoiled by Hollywood yet… They give it their all, they’re happy.”
On cinematographer Maxime Alexandre (The Other Side of the Door, The Crazies):
Sandberg: “It’s a collaboration. Sometimes I want things that he’s not really sure about, but he does it anyway. The damn doll. It doesn’t look creepy unless you light her correctly. So we had this shot where she sits at a table. She didn’t look creepy. ‘So let’s put a light on top of her, so we can get shadows, so she looks more creepy’. And Maxime was not a fan of that, because it’s not motivated. But we have to do it, otherwise she won’t look creepy.”
Producer Peter Safran summed up what seemed to be the consensus of the cast and crew about their fearless leader: “… I think what David Sandberg brings to the table is a real freshness. I loved what he did with Lights Out. I thought he did a great job. He was the only director we ever talked to about this film. And so having him with his fresh perspective has really been an incredible addition to the team.”
RELATED ARTICLE: “Lights Out” Review!
Coming Soon to The Conjuring Universe!
And even with this upcoming release, if you’re still drooling for more in The Conjuring universe, producer Peter Safran (whose daughter appears in the film) offered us these insights into potential continuations and new directions for this ever-expanding franchise.
Peter Safran: “The Crooked Man [of The Conjuring 2] was one of the ones we were contemplating spinning off. When we tested the movie, he was the most polarizing character. It had the most people who loved it and the most people that hated it… People who loved it, were like ‘that’s awesome!’ A lot of people who didn’t like it – their criticism was ‘nah it’s all CG.’ It was 100% practical… I think there’s something fascinating in The Crooked Man. Maybe tonally, he’s not quite as grounded as The Conjuring itself is. So maybe that’s why some people felt that it wasn’t what they were looking for in The Conjuring. I suspect a movie with him would be really, really cool… We have some interesting ideas for him… I think there’s a movie there.”
“The idea always was – right from the get-go – to create a universe. The idea was certainly that using the Warren’s life-rights and access to their cases – that that would be a really good starting point. It was actually James Wan who suggested putting Annabelle into the opening of the original Conjuring. It was not in the script when he came on board as director… It was planted for the obvious reasons. And after the movie – the first one came out, and we had so much fan interest in Annabelle – both because she was already a well-known entity, but also… I think people liked what we did with her in the first movie. And a lot of people were really interested in her background – her origins, where she was, where she’s going. So it was pretty natural.”
He followed up with this:
Safran: “We have a board that we created, that has what we hope will ultimately be our series of movies. And we have it in time/chronological order, so we can kind of keep track of where it all happens… Listen, we’ve already messed it up, I’m sure from the first Conjuring to Annabelle. I know that we did. But we were trying to be pretty careful about it. At some point, you’ll be able to watch in order, The Nun, Annabelle 2, Annabelle 1, Conjuring, Conjuring 2.
One of my fellow journalists then asked, “So is the nun the earliest in the timeline?”
Safran offered a smirk, a long pause and then coyly replied with “It could be.”
As far as a direct continuation of the Warrens and their many case-files, the general consensus is that the focus of The Conjuring 3 will be on something else – i.e. not a family in crisis in a haunted house; with the now-well exploited possessions and other supernatural events.
Well now that I’ve learned and have properly imparted much of the knowledge I’ve gained about this new film and the larger film universe where it will soon live – I’ll be on my way.
As I exit the Mullins home, I’m struck by the fact that I’m only on a set. So all of the creaking, the smells and the strange shadows in the house as we took our tour – just fabrications, lighting, special effects. It’s just a movie, right?
I’m relieved as I step out into the fresh Southern California air. I depart the Warner Bros. lot and jump into my car.
But something feels off. It’s warm outside, and the sun has been beating down on my vehicle for the past several hours. Surely, I should be settling into something of a sauna.
But it’s icy cold in here.
I look in my rearview mirror and can’t believe my eyes. There’s the doll! I’m immediately reminded of something actress Grace Fulton mentioned earlier in the day – regarding actual Annabelle face-time:
Grace Fulton (“Carol”): “She sat across from me at the table read. She’s just got a rough appearance. But you will see where she came from. And you’ll maybe understand her more.”
As I look at Annabelle in the backseat, I think to myself, “rough appearance, indeed”. And I’m not sure I want to understand her.
But honestly, how is she here? Was I so enamored by the genius and hard work of these brilliant tradesmen and women, that without even knowing it, I grabbed that weird doll and snatched it from the set? No. I would never have done such a thing. Surely, someone would have stopped me, right?
And yet, there she is, in the bright sunlight. She doesn’t look so menacing. But how did –?
Dear God, I just saw her move…
Annabelle: Creation opens theatrically on August 11th, 2017. I hope you fare better against this doll than I did.
**NOTE: Relax – I didn’t really take the damned doll…