This fall's scariest horror movie villain isn't a serial killer, warlock or a monster risen from the dead. It's a porcelain doll named Annabelle. The demonic kids' toy had a supporting part in 2013's "The Conjuring," but "Annabelle," the film's prequel, now shows just how terrifying and dangerous dolls can be. (Chuckie knows what's up.) "The more realistic it is, the more believable it is, the scarier it is," "Annabelle" director John Leonetti told HuffPost Entertainment. Leonetti was the cinematographer on "The Conjuring" and has worked on dozens of horror sets during his career. Here are Leonetti's rules for making a foolproof horror movie:
1. Put the audience in the driver’s seat but take away their control.
Leonetti stressed that he wants the audience to feel like they're physically rooted in the film, but have no way out. "Create an environment where an audience is either experiencing a ticking time bomb or a situation where nobody knows what's happening," he said. "Move slowly, don’t rush things. Let tension build. Less is more, which means keep things simple. Put on a wide lens and let the audience’s eyes wander as you’re moving. They’re looking at different things and then when you jump out from one side of the frame, they’re caught off-guard and freaked out."
2. Ghosts over vampires.
"How many people really believe in vampires?" Leonetti joked. "Really, you don't. But how many people believe that there are ghosts from the other side? A lot more." In his experience, ghosts and supernatural beings have been more effective than monster-like antagonists. "I think that when you set up a story that involves a bit of religion, imagining that a ghost or someone has come back, it opens up people’s minds and vulnerability to be scared."
3. Dolls are empty shells. Fill 'em with terror.
"As inanimate objects, they are just scary," Leonetti said. "If you think about them, most dolls are emulating a human figure. But they’re missing one big thing, which is emotion. So they’re shells. It’s a natural psychological and justifiable vehicle for demons to take it over. If you look at a doll in its eyes, it just stares. That’s creepy. They’re hollow inside. That space needs to be filled."
James Wan, who directed "The Conjuring," had the doll made by a North Carolina dollmaker for that film. Leonetti made it creepier. "I changed her eyes slowly and dirtied her up," he said. "I had demon eyes made that just makes everybody go, 'Uh-oh.'"
4. Manipulate everyone.
Sounds, lights and camera angles. "You can manipulate the audience very easily," Leonetti said. He works with real and practical lights to make the audiences feel like whatever's happening onscreen could happen to them in real life. "I want to be able to move a camera through a house and have the freedom to move freely in one take without cutting, moving with the actors."
Sound, though, is the most useful way to trick viewers. "Sound is huge -- HUGE! You want the sounds to be almost gutturally real. A simple squeak of a door opening or latching, that plays into the psyche of people big time. The balance of silence with those kind of things with fast-paced editing and intense driving sounds."
5. Pay off the audience for letting you manipulate them.
Everyone wants to feel satisfied when they walk out of a horror film, Leonetti said. "Set things up for the audience and then pay them off. They don’t even know they’re being set up. They don’t even know there’s groundwork being laid, so when you come back to a situation, even unconsciously they recognize -- they go, 'Oh my god, that’s what that meant!'"
"Annabelle" is out now.