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ANNABELLE: 3 STARS. “like a Haunted House attraction at Halloween.”

_43786This prequel to “The Conjuring” proves that you can’t keep a good doll down. It tells the story of Annabelle, that movie’s creepy, possessed doll before she was safely locked away in ghost hunter Ed and Lorraine Warren’s cabinet of curiosities.

The story begins in the late 1960s with a gift from John (Ward Horton) to his expectant wife Mia (Annabelle Wallis). “There’s something I want to give you,” he says. “Oh no,” she laughs, “the last time you said that I ended up pregnant.” He gives her Annabelle, a seemingly harmless vintage doll, decked out in a lace wedding dress. “She fits right in,” Mia squeals. The quiet peace of John and Mia’s life is broken by a Manson Family style home invasion, and even though Mia and John survive, strange things start happening in the wake of the attack. “Crazy people do crazy things, ma’am,” explains a detective before everyone starts to realize that Annabelle has something to do with the weird goings on. Barbie she ain’t.

“Annabelle” is like a Haunted House attraction at Halloween. There’s nothing that’s really, truly soul-scorchingly scary inside, but it will give you a few good jolts. It’s part psychological drama, part Paranormal Activity and is filled with good weird atmosphere, but where “The Conjuring” had the benefit of two strong leads in Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson, “Annabelle’s” stars, Wallis and Horton, aren’t very compelling. She put me in the mind of Sharon Tate, which is appropriate for the time and story and Horton reminded me of… nothing much at all. More interesting leads might have made me care more about the story.

The actors may be milquetoasty, but the movie’s low key eerie atmosphere isn’t. Director John R. Leonetti works in echoes of “Rosemary’s Baby” and “Repulsion,” amping up the tension without the use of computer generated special effects. Instead he relies on silence and everyday sounds to make your skin crawl. The Self-Operating Sewing Machine from Hell and Satan’s Popcorn are effectively used in a movie that may be the quietest horror film ever made.

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