There are few things more terrifying than a scary story that's based on some truth. Sure, when it comes to movie adaptations, Hollywood will exaggerate the gory details here and there, but the underlying foundation is real. Such was the case with last year's The Conjuring, based on the lives of demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, and once again with Annabelle, opening in theaters this Friday.
Building off the hype of its predecessor, the film about a possessed doll is tagged as a sort of prequel: "Before The Conjuring there was Annabelle." That might be true, but as actor Tony Amendola likes to say, this story is all about Annabelle; forget the Warrens.
"We think of this film as a prequel of sorts, but it's also the origin story for Annabelle," says Amendola, who was in Miami for the film's #EvilEye tour. "In the film The Conjuring, you go through [the Warrens'] museum and you see Annabelle -- she was a simple gift to a woman who collected dolls," and soon we realize the doll comes with a little something extra, he adds ominously.
The nationwide #EvilEye tour has stopped at places known for their hauntings and dark histories. In Miami, where old, historical buildings are in short supply, one spot is rumored to be haunted: the Biltmore Hotel.
Erected in 1926, the Biltmore has seen its share of trauma. During Prohibition, the 13th floor was turned into a speakeasy lounge run by gangsters, including Thomas "Fatty" Walsh, who was later murdered in a violent shootout on that very same floor. But perhaps a better-known story is that during World War II, part of the Biltmore was used as a medical hospital, and many ailing soldiers died there.
So it seems only fitting to take a creepy doll into an old hotel and hope for something unexplainable to happen. Though nothing out of the ordinary occurred while Amendola was speaking about the movie, guests whispered of a strange shadow appearing in their selfies.
The story of Annabelle comes from a case study done by the Warrens in the 1970s involving a possessed Raggedy Ann doll. A dark spirit attached itself to the doll and began to haunt a young newlywed couple. In the film version, Amendola plays a faithful priest who tries to help the couple, John and Mia, played by Ward Horton and Annabelle Wallis (eerie coincidence?).
"I play Father Perez, who is an ordinary priest who finds himself in an extraordinary situation," Amendola explains. At first, he says, his character thought the troubles John and Mia were experiencing were because they were newlyweds and Mia was pregnant. "It's only later on he realizes that, in fact, there is another cause to it, and it's this woman right here," he says, gesturing to the doll locked in a glass case, "this young lady called Annabelle."
For research, Amendola read Gerald Brittle's nonfiction book The Demonologist: The Extraordinary Career of Ed and Lorraine Warren and spoke at length with a priest. The priest said something that resonated with the actor so much that he based his entire character on the simple phrase: "To deny evil is to empower it."
"You know, many people believe in good and evil, and this movie operates on many, many levels: First of all, it's entertainment -- terrifying entertainment, but nonetheless entertainment -- but it's also a kind of chapter in the ongoing war of good versus evil."
Amendola admits he was really into scary movies when he was a boy but not so much as he grew older. As part of his preparation for his role in Annabelle, he watched The Conjuring, which he describes as "one of the best" horror movies. Much like Annabelle, "The Conjuring is not a horror movie that's based on gore or gratuitous nudity or anything like that; it's all psychological, and it has made me a horror fan again."
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Since the genre doesn't give him the creeps, Amendola says he wasn't hesitant to embark on a tour with a replica of a possibly possessed doll, nor was he afraid while filming. Nothing unusual happened to him during production, though he does offer an uncanny story about star Ward Horton.
As Horton sat in his L.A. apartment about to study the script the day before shooting began, "all of a sudden, the medicine cabinet in the bathroom just falls down... so he calls the landlord and he fixes it." Fast-forward to the final day on set, "and he's going over the script again, and the thing goes down again! I don't know, but is it considered a coincidence if it happens twice?"
Annabelle opens in theaters Friday, October 3.