Neil Young’s Film Lounge – The Haunted Mansion



USA 2003 : Rob MINKOFF : 87 mins

Third Hollywood movie to be based on a theme-park ride after The Country Bears and Pirates of the Caribbean. Source this time is ‘Dark ride’ variant : ghost-train-style shenanigans for kids. Film perhaps a little too scary for target audience. Most upsetting item (even for arachnophobe adults) : the messy (and very early-on) ‘whacking’ of a large non-supernatural spider minding its own business on a wall (let’s hope an octo-ped prosthetic was employed).

Shoddy FX (‘breathing door’ an unwise nod to The Haunting) – all of it laborious and incessantly muzaked-up. Most bizarre screen credit of the year: presence of the Bulgarian Women’s Choir (of Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares eighties fame; later popped up on Kate Bush’s The Sensual World LP; vocally ‘battled’ the tide at Craster.) No mystere of any kind here: flat stuff, sans magic. Eddie Murphy + on-screen wife (Marsha Thomason, gamely and convincingly essaying Yank accent) are estate agents (realtors) checking out implausibly stately mansion put on the market by languid Byronic-Brit aristo (Nathaniel Parker).

Classy supporting cast: Wallace Shawn slumming, Jennifer Tilly (gets most of good laughs as disembodied spirit head residing in a crystal ball.) Terence Stamp glowers as aristo’s butler. What’s happening to Stamp’s career? Post-Limey, he’s returned to demeaning roles. How? Who is his agent? Does he have one? So desperate for work??? Reduced to ramrod-stiff Karloffish ‘scary albino’ (who doesn’t even speak English correctly at one point: “He hung himself”, rather than “hanged.”)

Expect a little better from Minkoff (who did Stuart Little) and scriptwriter Berenbaum (Elf). Cobbled together, feels as though rewritten/re-edited/generally mucked around with. Collection of scenes: ‘graveyard of ghosts’ segment features veteran British dwarf-actor Deep Roy (continues in steady work – also appears in Big Fish). Some moments of oddball weirdness along the way: amusingly surreal Mighty Wind-ish bit involving five marble-monument barbershop singers: “You left your key … in a mausoleum … down there in Dixie!”

Dixie: all takes place in Louisiana. In traditional Cat and Canary movies all black characters were insultingly confined to Stepin Fetchit comic relief: Murphy one of the first non-white stars. Taken for granted these days. Haunted Mansion has clear but unspoken racial subtext. ‘Albino’ Stamp refers to obstacles blocking his boss’s former-life romance with former-life Thomason: ominous talk that “the union was … unacceptable” as they came from “different … worlds”. Sits uncomfortably with project’s general air of kiddie-oriented larkishness.

27th April, 2004
(seen 23rd January : Cineworld, Milton Keynes CinemaDays event)

by Neil Young