The 2003 Haunted Mansion film is considered to be somewhat of a misfire when compared to the other theme park inspired film released earlier that year, Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Having a 14% RT Score, 34% on Metacritic and 5.1/10 on IMDB this must be a bad film right?
With Halloween coming up I felt like it was appropriate to look back at this nearly 20 year old film and see if it was really as bad as people said.
Warning: There will be spoilers ahead. If you haven’t seen the film already go watch it now before reading this.
So the film was part of an initiative from Disney at the time to see if theme park rides could be adapted into film. Pirates of the Caribbean went on to have a monuments success. So successful it became one of Disney’s top franchises.
The next choice was Haunted Mansion, since the potential for a spooky house story was almost limitless. The ride did have some story to it already with characters like The Ghost Host, Master Gracey, Madame Leota and the various other ghosts like the Hitchhiking Ghosts, The Hat Box Ghost and the Bride. A story was created around the numerous ghosts of the ride, but the main characters would instead be living people.
Comedian Eddie Murphy plays Jim Evers, a Realestate agent who works with his wife Sara, played by Marsha Thompson. He and his family visit the mansion while on vacation after being invited by the owner, Master Gracey, played by Nathanial Parker, to appraise the house for sale. However an unusual storm keeps the family from leaving. While there Jim and his two children discover that the house is haunted and they must solve the mystery of a murdered woman so that all the ghosts of the mansion can finally be at peace.
The film does look the part. It faithfully recreates a number of iconic scenes and sequences from the ride. The designs of the ghosts fit the characters they’re based on and certain elements of the story feel well paced. The opening sequence with the death of the Master’s lover told only through visuals is a wonderful way of exposition.
Nathanial Parker does a wonderful job as Master Gracey, he gives off the feeling of a man who is exhausted of being a phantom for too long, longing to be reunited with his true love. Terence Stamp also does a good job as Ramsley, the ghost butler to Master Gracey and the twist villain of the story.
Arguably one of the best scenes in the film was when Jim and his daughter, Megan, played by Tree Davis, have to enter a crypt to find a key. Once they find the key all of the corpses in the mausoleum come to life. As a kid seeing this I was freaked out since I have necrophobia and all the zombies looked kinda real, and all the effects do look pretty convincing. The severed head swimming in the water was a well done effect.
While Eddie Murphy is a good actor, in this film he keeps running at the mouth. His character just talks and talks and talks without giving the audience a minute to breathe. The humor in this film can also feel a bit unfunny at times being more kiddy than some people may have originally expected. The film is PG after all. I like Jennifer Tilly as an actress, but here she felt completely miscast as Madame Leota.
The story does have some good intentions and great buildup, but the “twist” villain felt kind of obvious from the start. Had they kept it more ambiguous the mystery surrounding the death of Gracey’s lover would have been more impactful. The film also feels like its rushing from one location to the next and then back to where they were before.
One scene however that is obnoxious is the singing busts. Every time Jim asks them a question they always interrupt them and begin singing a song. It feels like the scene was made just for laughs, but not many people laughed.
The film does have some drawbacks, from some of the acting and somewhat dull humor and can defiantly turn some viewers off. But if you look at the film overall there are still plenty of good things about it. The setup to the mystery, appearances from some familiar ghosts, decent special effects most of the time and a fun atmosphere whenever you’re watching a film for Halloween that isn’t too scary for younger kids. I do recommend this film if you want to watch something with your kids this Halloween after you finish trick-or-treating.
Is the film deserving of all the negative reviews it gets? Most likely no, but I do agree that certain elements could have been done better, and that is what holds it back overall.
Hopefully the upcoming reboot won’t be bad. Right?
Pirates & Princesses (PNP) is an independent, opinionated fan-powered news blog that covers Disney and Universal Theme Parks, Themed Entertainment and related Pop Culture from a consumer's point of view. Opinions expressed by our contributors do not necessarily reflect the views of PNP, its editors, affiliates, sponsors or advertisers. PNP is an unofficial news source and has no connection to The Walt Disney Company, NBCUniversal or any other company that we may cover.