You may not know Gary Dauberman, but he’s scared you a half-dozen times. Since penning the script for 2014’s Annabelle, the screenwriter fleshed out the Conjuring Universe with James Wan while co-writing the adaptations of Stephen King’s It and It: Chapter Two. But in his newest film, Annabelle Comes Home, the first-time director imbued a bit of himself and the real Ed and Lorraine Warren in the third installment of this Conjuring franchise spin-off.
“I wanted that sense of adventure,” Dauberman tells Inverse. “I wanted to put as much as I could of me in there while still checking the boxes of the Conjuring Universe.”
The third film in the Annabelle series, Annabelle Comes Home is the final origin of “Annabelle,” that sinister doll possessed by a demon, finally placed under lock and key in the home of Ed and Lorraine Warren. Naturally, it’s only a matter of time before Annabelle breaks free.
This bit of supernatural mischief in the heart of suburban America was a symbolic homecoming for Dauberman. Because not long ago, he was on the other side of the world, thinking of another place and time.
“When I started work on [Annabelle Comes Home], I had spent months in Romania on the set of The Nun,” Dauberman says. “While I loved my time in Romania, I did get homesick.” The Nun, which hit theaters in September of last year, takes place in 1952, revealing the story of the ghostly nun who haunted Vera Farmiga’s Lorraine Warren in 2016’s The Conjuring 2.
While Dauberman felt The Nun had “that Hammer horror vibe that I very much dig” — “Hammer” meaning the 20th century British studio Hammer Film Productions that famously specialized in gothic, austere European horror — Dauberman yearned for a slice of home. In Annabelle Comes Home, the director looked for “comfort food quality” in the story of Annabelle.
“I wanted fun and youthful energy,” he says. “I wanted adventure, which was challenging because we were all in one location, in the house.”
Keeping a horror film to the confines of a suburban home when mommy and daddy are away feels like a classic American horror movie, and Annabelle Comes Home brings the ever-evolving Conjuring Universe back to familiar ground. The film doesn’t steep itself in pop culture nostalgia, like Stranger Things, but Annabelle Comes Home is a throwback to the ‘70s and ‘80s with its classic B-movie premise of “babysitters versus demons.”
“What I love from the movies that influenced me are ones that go in and out of different genres,” Dauberman tells Inverse. In other interviews, the director raved over artists like John Carpenter and Alan Moore, who juggled varying tones and genres within their bodies of work.
In an interview with The Ringer podcast The Big Picture, Dauberman said he wrote a spec for a film titled Death County that was written in “the same tone as Shaun of the Dead.” The spec, which Dauberman said was “a love letter to Big Trouble in Little China and “the Carpenter movies I loved in the ‘80s,” was what got his foot in the door of Hollywood.
“I like watching moments of levity before a moment of horror,” he tells Inverse. “I like that contrast. It makes you feel like you’re on a ride. I wanted to challenge myself to try that with this one.”
What’s funny about the Conjuring Movies, including Annabelle Comes Home is that it partially purports to be based on real events and people. Naturally, there’s a lot of creative liberties taken, and there’s a lot to be skeptical in regards to the cases of the Warrens. But Dauberman still engaged in talks with the real Judy Warren, now 68, in the making of his movie.
“I talked to Judy at length what it was like being the daughter of Ed and Lorraine, when you have to share them with the public and they’re out there doing good things,” Dauberman says. “But, you’re still a kid, and maybe you understand it and maybe you don’t.”
The director says he always aims to be “respectful.”
“A lot of the scares, I go back into their books,” he says. “They’ve written many of them, they’ve all been an invaluable resources as we’ve built these movies. You look there for inspiration.”
While the franchise’s scares may or may not include facets of reality, “there might be a scare in the book that inspires me to write something that fits with the movie. I start with them, their life’s work, when creating the story.”
Annabelle Comes Home is in theaters now.