Movies

Annabelle: Creation set to make a killing at the box office

Haunted doll Annabelle returns to scare audiences in Annabelle: Creation

Take away a vampire's teeth and he is just a goth who can't handle garlic.

Wait for some decent cloud cover and your average werewolf is about as scary as Lassie.

But there is one enduring horror trope that can have grown men and women gnawing at their fingernails when things go bump in the night: the creepy, haunted child's toy.

From malevolent teddy bears to murderous porcelain dolls rocking menacingly in their chairs, these evil characters have become a multi-million-dollar staple adored by fans and studio executives alike.

The killer toy resonates so profoundly because of the cognitive dissonance involved in the idea of a child's cuddly toy going rogue, according to film experts.

"There is something primal about absurdist fears, which is something I posit that most of us never completely grow out of," Mr Shawn Robbins, chief analyst at film industry number cruncher Boxoffice.com, said.

I always like implied violence as opposed to seeing a sword go through someone’s head... Anthony LaPaglia, who plays the dollmaker in Annabelle: Creation

"In a twisted way, that just makes it more fun for adults when it comes to these types of movies."

Annabelle: Creation, which has blown away critics and earned a 100 per cent rating on reviews website Rotten Tomatoes ahead of its Aug 9 release here, is the latest example of a genre spanning more than 100 movies.

But killer toys have been scaring theatregoers since Lionel Barrymore played a cross-dressing fugitive selling life-like dolls that were actually shrunken humans in The Devil-Doll in 1936.

Child's Play (1988) introduced perhaps the most famous evil doll of them all: Chucky, a crude, hard-drinking misogynist who went on to appear in four theatrical sequels and two straight-to-DVD movies.

After a fallow period, Australian film-maker James Wan resurrected the creepy toy trope to huge success with Billy, the Jigsaw Killer's puppet in Saw (2004) and its sequels, as well as in Dead Silence (2007).

His most significant contribution, however, has been Annabelle, a haunted porcelain doll first seen in The Conjuring (2013).

Based on a real, supposedly haunted "Raggedy Ann" doll that can be visited in a museum in Connecticut, Annabelle is regarded by many as the creepiest doll in cinema history.

Annabelle, the commercially successful but critically unadmired spin-off, came out in 2014.

Wan is the producer on the much more impressive origin story Annabelle: Creation.

Boxoffice.com says the movie's impressive trailer has increased optimism for a healthy US$25 million (S$34 million) North America opening weekend.

"It looks like a film that could help out what was initially thought of as a mixed August slate of releases," Mr Robbins said.

Filmed in 2016 at the Warner Bros lot in Burbank, the deliciously bloodcurdling prequel focuses on a dollmaker and his wife, whose daughter died 20 years earlier.

Murder and mayhem ensue as they decide to open their home to several girls from a shuttered orphanage, only to reawaken the dollmaker's possessed creation.

"Annabelle just has such a rich history," Annabelle: Creation's Swedish director David Sandberg told reporters at a preview screening at the Los Angeles Film Festival.

"She is based on a real doll, and James did such a good job setting her up in The Conjuring that people just associate her with evil."

Award-winning Australian actor Anthony LaPaglia, who plays the dollmaker, said he chose not to get to know the movie's talented young female cast - led by Lulu Wilson, 11, and 15-year-old co-star Talitha Bateman - so that he "could be extra creepy" on set.

"I always like implied violence as opposed to seeing a sword go through someone's head, and this has a lot of implied violence that is way scarier," he said.

"For me, the best part was going to work and just scaring these kids every day." - AFP

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