Oct 24th: The Haunted Mansion (2003) ☆☆☆1/2

Who knew that movies based on theme park attractions could be so good?

Sure, it isn’t Pirates of the Caribbean, but Rob Minkoff’s The Haunted Mansion, available on Disney+, makes great use of a simple storyline to generate some kid-friendly scares and give Eddie Murphy some space to be funny and heart-warming (although, arguably, not enough space to make the movie amazing.) Watching it as an adult isn’t nearly as fulfilling as I remember, but I’m still glad Haunted Mansion exists in this world, particularly around Halloween.

The film centers around realtor husband-and-wife duo Jim (Eddie Murphy) and Sara Evers (Marsha Thomason) as Jim tries to reconnect with his family on a weekend trip after working way too hard. Jim and Sara load up their children, Michael (Marc John Jefferies) and Megan (Aree Davis), but end up instead at a creepy mansion that the owner is trying to sell.

The owner, Edward Gracey (Nathaniel Parker) is actually a ghost, along with all of his employees, like the proper and curt butler, Ramsley (Terence Stamp). Gracey believes that Sara is his long-dead lover, Elizabeth, because they look alike, so Ramsley works to separate the family to try and get Sara to help Gracey end the curse of ghosthood for all the inhabitants of Gracey Manor.

Of course, it’s a Disney movie, so the family ends up together in the end and the villain gets their due, and there weren’t any super surprises. The narrative is a vehicle for the little tidbits of horror and bonding between Jim and his children, much, I’m sure, like the actual ride just trollops through the little scares of the Haunted Mansion. On that end, it’s nothing fantastic, but I can’t fault it for that when I’m too busy being horrified by the zombies.

Just to clarify, I’ve been watching scary movies since I was, like, four. It all started with Jurassic Park and Starship Troopers (affectionately known as “the bug movie” by myself as my sister), and it’s been a snowball of supernatural scares since. So, when I watched this movie for the first time as an eight-year-old, I didn’t expect to be really scared, but I was. That mirror scene with Jim–my God–it ruined my life. I still think about it sometimes. The makeup was so good and the change so jarring that I couldn’t look in a mirror for months afterward.

And, rewatching The Haunted Mansion, I was surprised to still be impressed by the creepy creatures. I mean, I was physically reacting when Jim and little Megan were trying to fight off zombies to get a key from a mausoleum to save Sara; sure, I’m not going to worry about the zombies lurking in the hallway tonight (they moved slowly and didn’t seem all that violent), but if someone dressed up like that and stood behind me, I would definitely run away.

And Murphy’s humor–always somehow both over-the-top and, yet, measured–got a few moments to shine (the mirror scene, for instance), but he really wasn’t used to full advantage in this film, and I definitely felt it lacking most when he was acting alongside Thomason as Sara. That’s not to say she’s a bad actor, it’s just that the energies of the two felt so incredibly off that, when they were acting separately, it felt like I was watching two different movies.

But, hey, I still loved it, and seeing all the lovers reunite in the end always makes me tear up (so does everything, though.) The Haunted Mansion will always hold a place in my heart; I can promise that.

5 days ’til Halloween, you monsters!


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