'Even if you're not in the same room as Annabelle, it's still scary knowing that she's somewhere around the set'
The possessed doll from The Conjuring franchise is back for a new instalment and is wreaking more havoc than ever before. Laura Harding meets the cast to find out what it's like to work with the scariest toy in showbiz
Just when you thought it was safe to open the toy chest once again, Annabelle returns. The most sinister doll in cinema, who first appeared on screen in The Conjuring, is back to wreak havoc in Annabelle Comes Home.
The terrifying film reunites viewers with demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren, played by Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga, who bring the possessed doll back to the locked artefacts room in their home after she tormented nurses in the most recent instalment.
They put her behind sacred glass and enlist a priest's holy blessing in an attempt to stop her causing further mayhem. However that isn't enough to protect their 10-year-old daughter Judy when she and her friends visit to the room and reawaken Annabelle and the other evil spirits residing in there.
Mckenna Grace (13), who plays Judy, is no stranger to scary stuff after starring in the Netflix hit The Haunting Of Hill House, but she was still unnerved by working with the creepy doll that looks more battered and bruised than ever before.
"Even if you're not in the same room as her, it's still scary knowing that she's somewhere around the set," she says. "It's scary knowing that she's just sitting in the dark and she's probably just waiting for the perfect moment to come and attack you."
Katie Sarife, who plays her friend Daniela, adds: "She just stares. She just sits there and stares. It's terrifying."
It did not help matters that sinister things kept occurring on the set of the movie.
During pre-production, a piano bench in the locked artefacts room moved overnight on several occasions, even though no crew members were working.
A visitor's watch went haywire, changing time, speeding up, even jumping hours ahead at a time. The next day, the time was accurate and the watch was operating normally.
"There were a few weird things that happened," says 22-year-old Madison Iseman, who plays Judy's babysitter Mary Ellen.
"Sometimes our dressing room lights wouldn't turn on and then when we were leaving they would flicker on all of a sudden, just unexplained."
Grace shudders. "I got a real-life witch's bottle which is quite spooky. It has this melted wax over it - it's been melted for years and it's just dry wax.
"But I was walking around with it and it started getting really warm and I was like, 'Okay, my hands are warm' and all of a sudden the wax burned me. And so I don't touch it that often anymore."
Also during filming, Grace brought a new instant camera to the set to take pictures with cast and crew, but every time she snapped a photo with Annabelle in it, the picture came out black.
In a photo with Wilson, a black mark appeared over the cross he was wearing.
Sarife (26) nods in recognition. "The night before I found out I got the part, I went and got this thing called an intention candle, where you write down your intention then you light it.
"Looking at the candle, the top of it was on fire and the flames were dancing in a circle, it was really creepy.
"It meant you either didn't get what you asked for or it's already done. Weird."
Back on screen, all the relics in the room are still conduits for malevolent forces and exploring their powers was all part of the fun for 42-year-old James Wan, the creator of the Conjuring universe and producer of the latest outing.
Among the items are the familiar music box, toy monkey with an accordion and the large Samurai from previous films, as well as the new additions such as a piano, a ferryman corpse with coins and a pouch, a Victorian mourning bracelet, a cuckoo clock and a mariner's compass.
"We've always wanted to be able to tell the stories of the other haunted artefacts within that room and it was kind of hard to jump straight into it," he says.
"But it was great in this because we were able to use Annabelle as the trigger to activate all the other artefacts.
"And I think that was the light bulb going off moment that we can finally touch on all the different artefact stories by using Annabelle, making it happen through her.
"My fascination with the idea that an inanimate object - something that's supposed to be so innocent and meant as a child's plaything - could harbour a demonic entity has only grown exponentially."
Wan has been responsible for some of the scariest films of recent years. As well as last year's box office hit Aquaman, he directed The Conjuring and The Conjuring 2, and produced The Nun, Lights Out and The Curse Of La Llorona.
As the horror genre surges in popularity, it's likely that if you have had a nightmare as a result of something you've seen in the cinema, Wan has had a hand in it.
"I always feel the horror genre, and the kind of movies that they are about, they don't die, they just go through waves," he says.
"It feels great that we're going through a wave right now where people are really liking a lot of these horror movies that are coming out and really embracing them on a big level - it's not just a niche thing anymore.
"It's not like the outcast that used to be pushed to the side. There's more respect for it now."
- Annabelle Comes Home is in cinemas now