Collins’ Crypt: ANNABELLE Is The Year’s Scariest Movie*

*to worried parents like BC.

As I mentioned in the last Drawn & Quartered piece, Annabelle was not only the biggest hit horror film of the year (by a wide margin), but it was also pretty much the only one of note that I missed seeing theatrically. It wasn't for a lack of desire; I simply had no time to see it due to a move and the ongoing lack of free time due to the birth of my son, Will, who will be 8 months old this week. Going to a movie requires advance planning (and, occasionally, permission), and sacrifices have to be made - it's what you sign up for when you agree to have a kid.

But while I thought the big irony was that it was the year's only smash genre hit, as I'm usually the first in line for every horror movie out there, it turns out there's an even bigger one. See, now that I've finally seen it thanks to the Blu-ray that hits stores today, I realize that more than any other studio horror movie this year, it was aimed almost specifically at new parents such as myself. Devil's Due was all about the pregnancy, and most of the others didn't really tap into that sort of stuff at all, but 99% of the scares and tension in Annabelle were focused on the idea that your baby is at risk the second you turn your back or (gasp) get some sleep. It's a killer doll movie at heart, sure, but while Chucky and the like operated more or less as slasher movies, this one's hellbent on making parents worry, with no other real agenda - if I had gone to the movies to see it, I probably would have had to go out to the lobby to call the babysitter every 5 minutes to make sure Will was okay.

Here are just some of the things they use for scares in the movie: a heavy object almost falling on the baby. The carriage rolling out of the mother's reach and going into the street. The baby disappearing from the crib. And so on, and so on... it uses these common fears as the genesis for just about every scare, not to mention plot points that should hit nerves among the parental units in the crowd. The mom gets too sleepy and mixes things up, the dad has to go back to work too soon and can't be around to protect them both when necessary, etc. Financial issues are mentioned but not really focused on, and I have to wonder if they held back on this because it wasn't universal enough - some families are so well off that money is never an issue but, rich or poor, every parent fears doing something wrong. It was almost endearing in a weird way how many of its scares were built on fears I myself have had, like the aforementioned heavy object falling. In this case it was a thick book, being thrown by the demon that's haunting them, but take out the supernatural element and I am left with a reprisal of a fear I've had since day one - an earthquake (we're in Los Angeles, if you're unaware) causing one of my comically overstuffed bookcases or DVD racks to topple or at least spill its contents onto my precious son's little noggin. Same with the carriage - I don't think a demon will be pushing it any time soon, but the scene itself taps into the same brief moments of panic I feel every single time I stroll him up to the car and have to trust in the wheel lock to do its job while I open the door and load in the groceries or whatever.

And I couldn't help but wonder if this accounted for the movie's terrible reviews - I'd be curious to see a breakdown of the scores between parents and non-parents, as I'd be willing to bet that the majority of the (few) positive notices were from parents. I mean, it's no horror classic by any means, but I didn't think it was any worse than most studio horror, and it had a number of unnerving scenes that automatically elevated it above the Ouijas and Pyramids of the world. The opening terror sequence, where a pair of Manson-y satanists murder the hero couple's neighbors and then break into their home as well, is highly disturbing - even though it's obvious that the baby will live, it doesn't make it any less upsetting when the mom is stabbed by one of the cult people, and the sequence as a whole taps into basic home invasion fears. And there are a number of solid setpieces throughout, particularly a basement-set one around the halfway mark, and it should be noted that even though he's only credited as producer here, the film continues James Wan's tradition of not relying on fake scares - when you jump, or the soundtrack cranks it up to 11, it's because there's a demon or something there, not a damn phone ringing after a moment of silence or whatever. True, my expectations were low, but they were low for Ouija and Tusk too, and those turned out to be just as bad as - or maybe even worse than - I expected.

The movie's focus on these specific fears means it actually joins what was a (well-timed!) mini-genre for 2014: horror movies for parents. The Babadook was probably the most highly acclaimed, but I actually preferred The Canal, which tackled similar territory (a single parent pinning their lapses as a caregiver on a supernatural entity while everyone around them believes they're simply going nuts). Both films were produced outside of the US, which is to say they were a bit more daring and ballsy than Annabelle (which thankfully retained Conjuring's R rating instead of going the PG-13 route), but of course that means they're also more disturbing for parents, particularly The Canal as it ends on a much grimmer note than Babadook. As with Annabelle, I didn't know The Canal was aiming at that particular sweet spot, and I made the mistake of watching it on a night that I was unable to sleep due to being worried about Will, who had been vomiting earlier in the day (never did figure out what it was, he was fine when he woke up). It took all of my willpower not to wake him up for a big hug when the credits began to roll; I merely settled for yelling (via Twitter) at Ryan Turek (formerly) from ShockTillYouDrop, who had recommended the film to me without warning me that it was not suitable for worried parents.

So it's kind of funny; I'm finding movies scarier now at 34 than I have since I was a little kid. I've said multiple times that I don't dismiss a horror movie for not scaring me, because I've been so desensitized over the years that I don't really have a barometer for that sort of thing. It's part of why I see as many as I can theatrically; I can tell if a movie is working on the crowd, and when it isn't - that's how I know if it's scary or not. But I saw all three of these at home by myself, and I know damn well they're scary (Annabelle less so than the others, but, again, not nearly as dull as I'd been led to believe), so I guess part of the problem all along is that I haven't had anything for these movies to tap directly into until now. Sure, a home invasion movie or anything involving a car breaking down can work along the same levels, but everything involving a baby is infinitely more terrifying due to their inherent limitations - they can't speak to say what's wrong, and they can't defend themselves from harm. When I see a car break down in a movie I think "Well, *I* always have a fully charged phone and AAA, so I know I'd be okay," but I don't have that sort of arrogance when it comes to my son. So even if the movie isn't perfect (and it's certainly no Conjuring on a technical level), I must admit I was actually somewhat charmed at how easily it manipulated me; for 90 minutes, they had me in the palm of their hands, effortlessly keeping my pulse racing simply by reminding me that despite my best efforts, I can't keep my eye on my baby boy every second of the day. I just gotta hold out hope that he's not the target of any demons, and thus it's just the bookcases I need to worry about.

P.S. The deleted scenes on the Blu-ray tap into even more fears: the demon boils the bathwater and gets insects into the baby's bottle! There's no explanation for their excision, so I have to assume they were just too stressful for the parents in the test screenings.