Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Axel Foley vs Capt. Jack Sparrow, or Thoughts on The Haunted Mansion

The Haunted Mansion (2003) came out the same year as Pirates of The Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, as Disney was figuring out how to mine a new source of revenue from their beloved attractions.  But unlike Universal building a Harry Potter world after the franchise ended, Disney attempted to build a movie from a completely physical experience; a visit to one of their parks.   One of these movies revitalized an actor’s career and spawned 3 sequels (and counting).  The other one is 13 years old and almost forgotten.  Why did one work and the other one fail?  Even today I’d wait in the Haunted Mansion line before Pirates, because I’m still a moody punk rock goth Robert Smith and Morrissey quoting teen at heart, and yet an alternate title to this post could have been “I Watched The Haunted Mansion, So You Don’t Have To”.
The opening credits recreate the original narration from the ride, floating candelabra and the organ themes, in a vain attempt to establish tone and create a sentimental connection with the audience.  There are so many mistakes in this movie, which are always easier to see in hindsight, and the first and primary misstep was casting Eddie Murphy.
Eddie Murphy was still a bigger star than Johnny Depp in 2003, but every part he plays is a variation on Beverly Hills Cop’s Axel Foley.  His infectious laugh, star-power smile and sly wit, equal parts best friend and trickster con man, has been used to great effect in action and comedy genres but falls short when it comes to the supernatural.  As shown in Vampire in Brooklyn (1995) and The Golden Child (1986), his humor and personality doesn’t mix well with fantasy and the supernatural.  The ghosts don’t find him funny in The Haunted Mansion, and neither does the audience.
The Haunted Mansion in general is heavy on the comedy, light on the horror, much like The Addams Family (1991) or Christina Ricci’s Casper (1995), but The Haunted Mansion only succeeds in being unfunny and un-scary.   It’s confusing because it’s neither a comedy nor a ghost story and has to be both in order to succeed.  An excellent example is Ghostbusters (1984), and it’s interesting to note that Eddie passed on the role of Winston to film Beverly Hills Cop.  He had the right instincts in the 80’s.
 I have never asked or wanted a Tim Burton remake before, but this franchise could use one, as the movie also suffers from a shaky and unconfident direction by Rob Minkoff.  Pirates of the Caribbean was a successful recreation of the ride experience, along with a clever story that included romance, adventure and pirates.  The Haunted Mansion is the story of a realtor trying to sell a haunted house, a much smaller scope lacking epic and grandeur.  It’s a shame Disney went forward with Pirates and left the Haunted Mansion behind instead of tweaking or rebooting it, but like all corporation they follow the money, and we wanted to see more pirates.

Eddie Murphy was supported by quality actors, including Terrence Stamp as Ramsey, the ghostly butler, Wallace “Grand Nagus Zek” Shawn and the always effervescent Jennifer Tilly as Haunted Mansion favorite Madame Leota, the Gypsy in the crystal ball.

my first novel? thanks for asking:) I wrote a 4 book supernatural martial arts series concerning the ongoing feud between a group of kung-fu killer witches in san francsico’s chinatown.