Intriguing news from Warner Bros. and New Line this morning, revealing the surprising extent of their plans to make a franchise out of James Wan's excellent mainstream horror The Conjuring. We already knew about the sequel that immediately went into development following Wan's box office triumph, but the word on the street now is that it will be joined by no fewer than three "micro budget" spin-off projects, the first of which will centre on the creepy Annabelle doll.
Currently tentatively titled The Annabelle Story, the first film is a prequel to the events we saw at the start of The Conjuring, in which the doll starts acting up in the apartment of three roommates: moving apparently of its own volition and reacting badly when its freaked owners try to throw it out. The story is really only tangential to the main Conjuring narrative, but it sets up some context for Ed and Elaine Warren, detailing a previous case for the paranormal investigators. Annabelle now resides in a glass case in their archive - for realz!*
As with everything in The Conjuring, a possessed doll story was nothing we hadn't seen before: even Wan had done one previously in Dead Silence. The novelty and success of the first film was its kind of remastered-greatest-hits approach to classic genre tropes. So it's difficult to imagine quite how, as an enormous extended series, Warners and New Line are going to keep the familiar material seeming fresh.
We also wonder whether these reports are quite accurate: three small spin-off projects sounds as if it could possibly be one anthology film. The Conjuring's cinematographer John R. Leonetti is directing The Annabelle Story. Is it really a standalone prequel, or is he just contributing part of a larger Warren Files portmanteau whole?
The short answer is we don't know, and it's also unclear whether these smaller projects are intended for the cinema or as straight-to-DVD companion pieces to The Conjuring 2. That film is still listed as being in development, with a screenplay by returning writers Chad and Carey Hayes, and Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga set to reprise their roles as the Warrens. Annabelle's writers haven't been revealed yet, but production may begin as early as next month.
*Or does she? Etc.