The trickiest prequel I’ve seen lately was the 2011 version of The Thing. It looked to be a remake of the John Carpenter classic, but fans of that version quickly realized in the final scenes that what they were actually watching was a prequel. Pretty slick.
Prequels can be tricky, though. They do not necessarily have to lead up to the same story that precedes them. A prequel could just deal with characters from a previous story or even a setting. Annabelle is the prequel to the horror film The Conjuring. An audience already familiar with the material from the original story are easy pickings for dramatic irony that derives from a prequel. The term prequel has been around since the 50s but probably become popular around the release of Butch and Sundance: The Early Years in 1979.
As a prequel, Annabelle has many nods to the previous film as well as some interesting connections to other films and cultural events referenced in the movie. There’s a 1963 Twilight Zone episode called “Living Doll” where a doll causes people harm. The mother of the little girl in that episode’s name was Annabelle. There’s a baby mobile over the crib that plays the same tune as the music box in The Conjuring. There’s a building in Annabelle called the Barclay…Andy Barclay was the name of the main character in the film Child’s Play about another psycho killing doll named Chucky.