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Is Annabelle Based on a True Story? The Real Annabelle Doll, Explained

Let's take a closer look at the doll behind a long-running horror franchise.

By Matthew Jackson

Sure, Chucky's still the baddest killer doll around, but in the 2010s, he was joined by another contender, a naturally creepy little doll who started as a background player and got three of her own movies through sheer force of personality. Of course, we're talking about Annabelle.

Introduced in 2013's The Conjuring, Annabelle was popular and eerie enough to get not one, not two, but three spinoff films in that particular horror universe, beginning with Annabelle in 2014. The success of those films mean that Annabelle is now part of the public consciousness, and her allure is even stronger because, like virtually all the stories in The Conjuring universe, she's based on a true story. 

But how much does the Annabelle of the movies actually resemble the real-life Annabelle doll? With Annabelle and Annabelle: Creation now available on the SYFY Movies Hub, let's take a closer look at the true story behind the horror icon.

For More on Annablle and The Conjuring:
I Met the Real Annabelle in Her Real House

The Real-Life House from The Conjuring Can Be Yours
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It is Based on a Real Murder Case

The True Story of Annabelle

Like the rest of the Conjuring stories, Annabelle's tale comes from the case files of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren, who've become legendary even beyond the paranormal world thanks to their big-screen portrayals by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, respectively. Just like in the movies, Ed and Lorraine really did confiscate Annabelle after a purported haunting, and they really did lock her in a glass case in their collection of various haunted and occult artifacts from their investigations. And yes, the doll really was known as "Annabelle."

Things start to diverge with the basic appearance of the doll itself. While the Annabelle of the movies was crafted specifically for the big-screen, and is made to look like an antique porcelain doll with a deliberately creepy appearance, the real Annabelle is just your basic Raggedy Ann doll, with floppy limbs, red yarn hair, and a simple fabric face. It looks like countless other dolls, menacing backstory or not, and you can see the real thing over at the Warrens' (now-archived) website.

So, what's the backstory? According to the Warrens' account of events, the original doll was a gift from a mother to her daughter, a nursing student at the time who lived in an apartment with a roommate. Shortly after the doll arrived in the home, the roommates started to notice strange things. The doll would seemingly move all on its own, first just shifting its limbs, then moving from room to room. A few weeks into this behavior, written messages started to appear, childish scribbles on paper that the roommates didn't remember buying. 

Dolls sit on a pink shelf in Annabelle (2014).

Concerned about this behavior, the roommates contacted a medium, who conducted a seance and determined that the doll was inhabited by the spirit of a little girl named Annabelle, who'd died at the age of seven on the spot where the apartment building now stood. According to the medium, Annabelle was a kind little girl who liked the roommates and wanted to stay with them, using the doll as a vessel. The nursing students were seemingly cool with this, but then things got weirder.

After getting permission to stay, Annabelle got violent, not with the students, but with a male friend who was staying with them. On more than one occasion, this friend was allegedly physically harmed by the doll or by a presence surrounding the doll, prompting the roommates to seek help from a priest, who then called in the Warrens. 

Their conclusion? Annabelle was not possessed by a little girl. Annabelle was being manipulated by demonic forces who wanted to eventually possess a human host. Fearing something awful would happen, the roommates gave the doll to the Warrens for safe-keeping. According to the Warrens' account on their website, the doll kept exhibiting strange behavior at their home, including moving from room to room, until they had a special case made to contain it. It's still in that case now, and has been for decades, with no more movement recorded. That said, the Warrens also claimed that a man who visited their museum of artifacts and made fun of the doll was later killed in a motorcycle accident, so she's still apparently quite sensitive.

Of course, this story is very different from the one eventually given in the Annabelle film, something Lorraine Warren was reportedly fine with, as long as the film still served as a warning about the dangers of demonic presence in everyday lives. As for what the film actually did with the story... well, you'll just have to see for yourself.

Annabelle and Annabelle: Creation are now streaming on the SYFY Movies Hub.

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