I guess the best thing to do is to say right off the bat that I’m a sucker for a tragic love story and THE HAUNTED MANSION has at a juicy one. It’s a good move. Like that other film based on an attraction at Disney parks, THE HAUNTED MANSION actually goes to the trouble of coming up with a story (by David Berenbaum of ELF writing fame) set in the framework of the ride, and while it doesn’t measure up to PIRATES OF THE CARRIBBEAN, it does find a sweet niche for itself.
The back story of
Of course, things go awry. A storm comes up, washing out the road forcing them to stay the night at the dusty mansion. The staff (Wallace Shawn and Dins Spybey), led by a truly sepulchral butler named Ramsley (Terence Stamp), is more than just a little peculiar, and the master of the mansion (Nathaniel Parker) has taken a little too much interest in Susan for reasons that will become obvious. It doesn’t take long before the Evers family realizes that they’re dealing with the supernatural, and for the evening to turn into a series of chases, revelations, and test of courage.
If you’ve visited The Haunted Mansion, you will recognize the mansion with its dusty velvet drapes and oversized, operatic rooms. Several of the effects are taken from there, too, including the marble busts that come to life and, in this case, sing tight harmonies when asked for directions. The special effects as a whole mimic what you’d find there. There isn’t anything flashy or groundbreaking, but they are effective and appropriately spooky, with mysterious balls of light, crypts opening up with a vengeance and spilling out some testy corpses in various stages of decay who give determined chase to the Evers, and an off-beat job by Meg Tilly as phosphorescent spectral head in the crystal ball given to rhyming prophecies and excuses such as she doesn’t make the rules, she just works there.
Best of all is Parker, the perfect melancholy romantic hero, brooding and dark, yet touching and sentimental. His broken heart is so palpable that you find yourself wanting him to win the day despite the implications for the Evers. Murphy is no slouch, either, taking on a sharp, wise-cracking, but self-deprecating personna that is blissfully far removed from the puffed up arrogance that has plagued so many of his previous flicks. He’s got the dad thing down whether looking askance at his Latin-spouting 13-year-old daughter, or teaching his son the importance of being able to kill a spider even if they scare the bejeezus out of him.
Some sequences might be a little too intense of the younger kiddies, the corpses, for example, or the shots of the suicide by hanging, but for older kids and even their parents, THE HAUNTED MANSION is a tidy little ghost story that delivers some laughs as well as creeps.