Although I didn’t love 2013’s The Conjuring, the generally well-regarded first film in this new Conjuring Universe of horror movies, I had high regard for its sequel last year. The Conjuring 2 was sophisticated for the genre and completely believable. And now, as I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), I find myself thinking the same thing about the sequel to 2014’s abysmal Annabelle called Annabelle: Creation

The origin story of the demonic doll, who introduced in a supporting role in The Conjuring and then got her own regrettable stand-alone film the next year, is in good hands with the inventive Lights Out director David F. Sandberg. He lets the story breathe and gives it credibility, if that could be possible. It is night and day from its predecessor, which is very good news indeed. Perhaps it helped that I saw it with a packed audience when it was sneaked in June at the LA Film Festival to a raucous, screaming and demonstrably appreciative crowd at the ACE downtown. But Annabelle: Creation succeeds on its own terms and is definitely a horror fan pleaser.

The story picks up several years after an opening where Annabelle, the beloved 7-year-old daughter of Sam and Esther Mullins (Anthony La Paglia, Miranda Otto), is killed in an auto accident. Still overwhelmed with grief all these years later, they decide to welcome a group of orphaned Catholic school girls and their supervising nun into their farmhouse for shelter after their home goes south on them. Esther isn’t much help as she never really got over her daughter’s death and is largely confined to a bedroom upstairs. Former toymaker Sam tries to make the best of these things for his daughter’s memory but warns the girls not to go into a locked room or explore other areas in the house.

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Of course they do just that, especially polio-stricken Janice (Talitha Bateman) and her BFF  Linda (the lively Lulu Wilson), who basically are shunned by the older girls and forced to bunk together. In no time they discover the dead daughter’s old bedroom, as well as one used as a space for designing doll outfits (!). This can’t go well, and doesn’t, as a demonic wooden doll soon takes on a life of its own and stalks the inhabitants of the house. That is basically where this picture goes from there, but it works somehow against all odds, even solving the problem of the first one where the doll just wasn’t that frightening when you consider she just sort of sat there.

Sandberg finds inventive ways to position her around the house without losing the idea she is just a doll and not a living organism who can move freely a la Chucky from Child’s Play, for instance. This becomes a welcome addition to the ever-growing Conjuring universe as created by James Wan, and, like Conjuring 2, has ratcheted up the stakes for all to follow. And you can bet that if moviegoers react like the crowd I saw it with, there will be more. Wan and Peter Safran produced for New Line Cinema and Warner Bros, which unleashes the terror on Friday.

Do you plan to see Annabelle: Creation? Let us know what you think.