“Annabelle: Creation” producer James Wan has long been the go-to guru of horror, having co-created the “Saw” franchise as well as being the mastermind behind “The Conjuring.” But what scares him isn’t a demon or a troubled serial killer — what scares the mega-director the most is something within himself.
“My imagination scares me a lot so I’m glad that I don’t experience the supernatural on a daily occurrence. What I have in my head is far scarier,” said Wan with a laugh.
“Annabelle: Creation,” the second movie in the “Annabelle” series and the fourth in the “Conjuring” universe, is a prequel film about the origins of the horrifying Annabelle doll that paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren see in the first “Conjuring” film.
“It was always designed like an origin story and early on we were saying it was a sequel but ultimately you realize that the story is happening before the first ‘Annabelle’ solo film,” Wan explained.
When the first “Conjuring” film hit theaters in 2013, Wan didn’t expect a “cinematic universe,” per se, but says that the movie presented many different stories that could be told about the Warrens.
“Early on, we joked amongst ourselves that the story of the Warrens and the interesting artifacts they collected would have interesting stories on their own, and they don’t necessarily need to involve Patrick [Wilson] and Vera [Farmiga],” explained Wan. “Which is the thing I love. I love the idea that there is a story and within those stories are other story threads. ‘The Conjuring’ organically presented itself with these spin-offs. Of course, back in the day, it wasn’t coined ‘a universe.'”
Ed — who died in 2006 — and Lorraine Warren are famous paranormal investigators who said they worked on more than 10,000 cases throughout their career. However, their claims have been the subject of dispute and many critics have slammed the pair as frauds, arguing that their alleged haunted artifacts and stories are not supported by any solid evidence. When asked why Wan would center an entire franchise around people who have been criticized as frauds, he said his movies aren’t meant to be seen as documentaries.
“Like anyone that is passionate about stuff they do, there will be controversy around them,” he said. “I grew up familiar with the Warrens’ work, being a fan of the paranormal and supernatural. It’s hard not to know what they’ve done in their career. Growing up as a teenager, I was very fascinated with them. I wanted to tell their stories through their perspective, and I’m not telling it as a critic of their world. They seem like genuinely nice people and really believe in what they do — that was the angle I was coming from. If I was making a documentary, then my movie would take on more of the other perspective as well.”
As TheWrap reported last summer, the horror genre has long been a profitable gambit for Hollywood studios, and that trend doesn’t show any signs of relenting. Even on Friday, “Creation” banked $4 million in previews, a strong Thursday box office number, especially given that the previous films in the universe didn’t come close. David Sandberg, the director of “Annabelle 2” and also the helmer of last summer’s hit “Lights Out,” told TheWrap that “horror movies are the best investment if you look at returns and budget.” In other words: It’s a low-risk, high-reward genre.
“The Conjuring” made $137 million domestically — a huge figure compared with its $20 million production budget. Its sequel made $102 million on a budget of $40 million. “Lights Out,” which Wan produced, made $67 million, and was made for just $4.9 million.
Wan thinks the horror genre will only keep getting stronger, especially with recent successes like Jordan Peele’s “Get Out,” “Split” and his own “Lights Out.”
“You get all kinds of horror for horror fans these days,” he told TheWrap. “You get the great independent movies that come from Sundance and are made in people’s own bedrooms; and then you get great indie films and YouTube viral stories, all the way up to really cool studio films that only studios can make…. We are living in a much better time for the genre. In television as well. Horror is finally gaining television respect, too. It’s an amazing time to be in the genre. I would love to play in the horror space for television.”