Seven films and countless sleepless nights later, The Conjuring Universe continues to add numerous layers to a paranormal tale which started with horror veteran James Wan’s (Insidious, Saw) 2013 release The Conjuring. No other modern horror franchise has really had the opportunity to grow and expand as widely as The Conjuring has. The seeds to several sub-stories were sown from the first film, and each has developed the wider storyline.
The reason it’s managed to keep expanding is probably down to the fact that it’s got some of the most creepy imagery ever. Possession, old dolls, a nun — they’re fully exploited for all their terrifying potential in The Conjuring world. In anticipation of the newest release, we’ve explained how each film is connected, from the Warrens to Annabelle and even the upcoming The Curse of La Llorona. By the way, this article is riddled with spoilers.
Like all good franchises, The Conjuring universe wasn’t created chronologically, but The Conjuring 1 and 2 both introduced spinoff concepts alongside the main storyline. The Conjuring centres around Ed and Lorraine Warren, real-life paranormal investigators, played by the horror power-couple of Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson. They come to the aid of the Perron family who are traumatised by the paranormal happenings in their new Rhode Island home (which turns out to be the doing of a witch who cursed the home in 1863). Annabelle the doll is introduced in the film’s prologue as a previous case of the Warrens when she was owned by two nursing students, before ending up in the Warrens’ artefact room of haunted objects.
Annabelle, though a sub character in the overall plot, made her memorable mark as one of the creepiest elements of the whole film, so much so that she got her own spinoff franchise.
And so her very own franchise was born with 2014’s Annabelle, a prequel to The Conjuring which explained how she made it into the hands of the Warrens. In Annabelle, a married couple living in California find themselves in her company when husband John Form buys his expecting wife Mia a rare vintage (albeit terrifying) porcelain doll to add to the nursery. But that night a horrific murder takes place next door and their neighbours, the Higgins, are killed, before Mia and John are attacked by the killers too. It turns out the murderers were the Higgins’ estranged daughter, Annabelle and her boyfriend, both members of a cult. We later find out Annabelle the human has a huge part in Annabelle the doll’s story. It doesn’t take long before Mia realises the demon doll is after her own soul, so possessed parish priest Father Perez steals the baby for the demon as a bargaining tool.
When the film wraps up with Mia and her baby surviving the trauma, Annabelle and the demon disappear, and from there we learn that Annabelle made it into the hands of the nursing students in the prelude to The Conjuring after one of their mothers buys the doll from an antique shop (as if there’s two people who think THAT doll makes a nice gift?)
However it’s the second instalment in the Annabelle franchise, Annabelle Creation, which reveals where the doll got its evil origins. In the film a couple open their home to a nun (not the evil nun, confusing, I know), Sister Charlotte, and six young girls who were left homeless after an orphanage closed down. The film reveals the crucial details of Annabelle’s origins, explaining that the husband Samuel is a dollmaker who made Annabelle for his daughter. But what was once a harmless doll became evil when wife Esther reveals that after the death of their seven-year-old daughter Annabelle “Bee”, the couple began to pray to any entity that would listen to their grieving pleas to see their daughter again. Turns out the only thing that answered was a demon that latches itself to the doll.
After realising that they do not want anything to do with this doll (as if the way it looked wasn’t disturbing enough), they lock it in a closet with bible verses plastered on the inside walls. So when one of the orphan girls, Janice, is coaxed into the deceased daughter’s bedroom who unlocks the closet, she unknowingly releases an evil demon. After demonic chaos and haunting ensues, Janice manages to escape after being locked in the closet herself for attempting a murderous rampage (she was possessed herself, to be fair).
Janice finds her way to another orphanage before being adopted by the Higgins family. She lives with them until she is a young adult, harbouring a dormant demon for years before killing them with her cult boyfriend. Yeah, she’s that murderous cult member! See how it all links now? So after attacking the Form family in Annabelle, she killed herself with Annabelle in her arms, transferring the demon right back to where it started.
And just when you thought Annabelle had sufficiently disturbed you for a lifetime, The Conjuring 2 introduced us to another evil entity which may just take the lead ahead of Annabelle for scariest character. The Warrens return in the second film, released after Annabelle but before Annabelle Creation, where they visit the Hodgson family who are terrorised by a poltergeist in the famous real-life Enfield Haunting case. The second oldest of the children, Janet, is possessed by the spirit of an elderly man, but it’s soon revealed that he is just being used as a pawn by an evil demon to break Janet’s will. And who is this freaky demon? Introducing: Valak, the evil nun from the depths of hell. But being demonology pros the Warrens manage to condemn the demon back to hell in a massive showdown.
And so this is how Valak was born into The Conjuring universe. And we even get a peek at Valak’s shenanigans before it visited the Hodgsons in Annabelle Creation, remember, the one set before The Conjuring 2 but was made one year after it? Keep up. In one scene there’s a photograph where Valak can be seen lurking behind Sister Charlotte, but she has no recollection of the mystery nun.
And so four films in, we’re pretty confident that The Nun is terrifying. So terrifying in fact, that we want to know where the hell this awful evil thing came from. The Nun was an origin story we really needed to see. The Nun reveals that Valak came to being through a rift in the catacombs in a Romanian convent, summoned by a duke who owned the abbey in the Middle Ages who was obsessed with the occult. The rift was sealed using an artefact with Jesus Christ’s blood on it, but bombing during the Second World War caused the rift to reopen, unleashing Valak to wreak havoc once again. Protagonists Father Burke, Sister Irene and local villager Frenchie use the blood of Christ to banish the demon and once again seal the rift. It looks as if all is okay again.
But the end of the film takes us back to a scene we saw in the first Conjuring film. Ed and Lorraine Warren present footage at a university seminar of their attempt to exorcise a possessed man, who turns out to be Frenchie! So the blood of Jesus Christ didn’t work, The Nun just moved in somewhere else.
So where does the new Annabelle Comes Home fit into this web of spookiness? Well, it is a sequel to both Annabelle and Annabelle: Creation, but it’s a midquel to The Conjuring. The premise is that the possessed doll, now homed in the Warren’s haunted artefact room, finds a new target and terrorises their ten-year-old daughter Judy and her babysitter (they do share the same home after all). We got a preview of the kind mischief Annabelle gets up to in the Warren’s home in the first Conjuring film, when she terrorises Judy in the night. The best thing about this instalment is that Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga are returning, the people that really made The Conjuring stand out in the first place.
And just when you thought we were already spoiled enough by seven Conjuring universe films, we can also look forward to a third Conjuring in 2020, and another spinoff about The Crooked Man from the second Conjuring. Last month the news also broke that the upcoming horror The Curse of La Llorona, about a female ghost who takes lost children and makes them her own, is also part of the Conjuring universe, with Father Perez from Annabelle making a return.
When James Wan made The Conjuring it was a strong stand-alone film with a fantastic balance of scare, story and emotion. But little did we know there were so many leads to other tales of haunting, possession and demonic infestation. Considering this is a film franchise that’s basically been built backwards, The Conjuring and all its spin-offs do a pretty good job at explaining how everything is linked. Though the quality of each instalment varies, as do the directors, you have to appreciate a franchise growing so rapidly that isn’t a superhero story.
Watch the trailer for Annabelle Comes Home below.