Annabelle, the Awful Haunted Doll, is the Queer Horror Icon 2019 Deserves

You cannot destroy what was never created! You can only... sit there and haunt.

They’re creepy and they’re kooky, mysterious and spooky… It’s another FangByte article! Welcome to our autumnal crop of Halloween themed Fanbyte fun (that we like to call FangByte). Each day on the week of Halloween, we’ll have more pieces dealing with creepy, crawly topics across games and other pop culture. Make sure to check back for more! For now, though, enjoy the following.

Reader, if you had told me earlier this year that I was about to embark on an Eat Pray Love-style journey of self-discovery and acceptance thanks to my nemesis—the inanimate horror franchise star Annabelle—I would have said “Hmm.” But if the last few years have taught me anything, it’s that the old rules just don’t apply anymore. So here I am, in late 2019, saying it loud and proud: I love Annabelle, for she is the anarchic icon we desperately need in these troubled times.

In case you’re unaware of my new savior Annabelle, allow me to explain. Horror’s answer to the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the Conjuring Cinematic Universe. The box office success of James Wan’s 2013 film The Conjuring spawned a franchise with sequels and spin-offs fast approaching double digits in number. Like their comic book movie counterparts, they are big, loud, and easy on the brain, and there seems to be no end to them in sight. 

Though the Universe largely centers on the purported exploits of paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren (Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga), the franchise’s undeniable breakout star is Annabelle, a hideous, haunted doll of convoluted origins. You’ve likely seen–well, “been confronted by” seems more appropriate, really–her face glaring deep into your soul on any number of advertisements.

Let me be plain: I like my horror movie “evil dolls” to live active lifestyles. The example nonpareil is, of course, the Zuni fetish doll from the “Amelia” segment of the 1975 made-for-TV anthology film Trilogy of Terror. He is terrifyingly delightful and delightfully terrifying as he runs around trying to kill the iconic genre actress Karen Black. Give me the pitter-patter of tiny feet! Bless me with scene after scene of a doll poking tiny hole after tiny hole in its victims (because, you know, their knives are small)! I like my murder dolls on the move, and sadly, Annabelle is anything but.

And thus, the source of my ire. Throughout her three films, Annabelle doesn’t do a thing beyond sit in a series of rocking chairs. Sorry, that’s not entirely true. One time she falls out of a box. I’ve fallen out of plenty of boxes in my lifetime and you don’t see anyone building a franchise around me, do you? 

Sometimes, things happen in the house that Annabelle is also in. For example, in Annabelle (2014), a record player turns on while Annabelle sits in another room doing nothing. Ooo, chilling!

With “scares” like that, I simply couldn’t understand why she has become such a phenomenon. But then it came to me one day like a bolt out of the blue: everything I hate about Annabelle is actually everything I love about Annabelle. Not only that, she is everything I admire and everything I want to be. 2019, I tell ya. What a time to be alive!

No, she doesn’t run around or poke holes–tiny or otherwise–in people. But isn’t it a far greater testament to her power that she simply sits and stares emptily into space while things might possibly happen near her? She is living the loaf-of-bread-lifestyle I aspire to. She sits around doing absolutely nothing, but she is always the center of attention. Everyone is obsessed with her and tells her she’s beautiful, which…well, I’m not sure that I agree with that. But I do admire the way she clearly subverts the male gaze, applying her blush, lip liner, and mascara with enthusiasm. Annabelle crushes misogynist beauty standards!

In Annabelle, John Form (Ward Horton) gives his pregnant wife Mia (Annabelle Wallis) this “beautiful” doll as a gift. Mia places it on a shelf and says, “She fits right in!” However, in the accompanying shot, we see that Annabelle does not remotely fit right in.

Annabelle on the shelf

She is a gargantuan beast next to those daintier, stereotypically prettier dolls. She takes up almost an entire shelf, occupying a space where at least three other dolls could sit, while her gown blots out nearly the entirety of the row beneath her. No, reader, Annabelle does not “fit right in.” Annabelle occupies whatever kind of space she wants to occupy, front and center, hideous face beaming proudly, no apologies. She demands that you make room for her. Step aside or be lost behind her ruffles. 

The confidence…the boldness! In one movie frame she provides a lifetime’s worth of lessons about body positivity. Take up as much space as you want or need, and do it with pride. Wearing an oversized ruffled gown… I leave that to your discretion.

Over the course of Annabelle, we learn that the doll’s purpose is to act as a conduit for a demon that wants to “claim a soul.” But I think her true purpose is much greater than that. I think she’s here to obliterate the heteronormative family paradigm.

When Aunt Ida (as portrayed by the inimitable Edith Massey) said “the world of the heterosexual is a sick and boring life” in John Waters’s Female Trouble, she could have been talking specifically about John and Mia of Annabelle. This blonde-haired, blue-eyed, church-going couple is so white and bland they make mayonnaise seem spicy. John, a doctor, is “nice.” Housewife Mia, who has but one facial expression, occupies her time by watching soap operas and sewing. She is constantly sewing, and we’re treated to ample close-ups of the bobbin on her machine…well, bobbin’ as Mia pushes some fabric through.

But what is she sewing? Nothing, it seems. She never completes a project. There is a dress form in the room, but it always stands bare. Mia never holds anything up so we can see what exactly she’s making. She never says “Look what I made, exactly.” She just pushes fabric through, over and over.

It brings to mind that scene in The Shining where Wendy finally looks at Jack’s “book” and sees that he’s simply typed “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” thousands of times. Mia’s sewing is nothing more than empty busywork, an indicator of a housewife’s boredom and madness.

Annabelle Mia Sewing

John and Mia soon welcome baby Leah into their household. Annabelle, a twisted, worn-out version of “beautiful,” sets about destroying this nuclear family by, again, simply existing. She sits and stares into space and one time books fall and almost hit the baby. Again, it’s, uh, chilling!

By the end of the film, all seems lost for John and Mia. The only way for Leah to survive is for Mia to give up her soul to the demon Annabelle channels. But no! At the last minute, kindly bookstore owner Evelyn (Alfre Woodard) (yeah, Academy Award nominee Alfre Woodard) (I know, right?), chucks herself out a window, offering up her soul in Mia’s stead. Yes, a Black woman willingly gives up her life to save this pasty white family.

Annabelle throws this absurd stereotype in our face, anticipating all of the ridiculous “Save us from ourselves with your votes, Black women!” articles, suspiciously all written by white people, that have emerged in the political landscape since, oh, 2016 or so. Because yes, the movie is saying sarcastically, that’s what Black women do. They do not vote in their own self-interest. White people are the focus of their narrative, always! When push comes to shove, they won’t wait for a shove…they’ll jump out that window, just like Evelyn, so that the Mias of the world can continue their “sew to nowhere” journeys.


Annabelle Alfre Woodard

Look, yes, Annabelle is really just an example of the trope. But I want to believe that this awful doll, with her chaotic energy, is actually satirizing the trope, pointing the mirror at us and asking if we are not entertained. After all, why would a character say “You cannot destroy what was never created” at the end of Annabelle, and then in 2017 we get a sequel called Annabelle: Creation? Annabelle is clearly a troll.

She strikes back against our misogynist society again in her third film, Annabelle Come Home (2019). In it, Annabelle is sequestered inside of a case fashioned from Good Christian Glass while all of the other horrors in the Warrens’ Occult Museum wreak limited havoc around her. Yet it’s her face on the advertisements, her name in the title! She does all of the emotional labor whilst ultimately being sidelined in her own story.

Listen, I never expected to be here, defending three cheap, not good at best horror movies. But my journey has shown me that Annabelle and I–that Annabelle and all of us–are meant to be. Everything I called her out on is everything I aspire to be. 

We may have an LGBT icon in The Babadook, but I ask, what of Annabelle? What of her intersectional feminism (just let me have this) and her repeated attempts to destroy the white, heterosexual hegemony? What of her doing this all while just sitting there, taking up all the space and looking absolutely hideous? We should be so lucky.