Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Haunted Mansion

Year 8, Day 275 - 10/1/6 - Movie #2,457  

BEFORE: I'm back from a 10-day break, but of course, I wasn't idle during that time.  I caught up on a lot of TV, to the point where my lag time between shows airing and me watching them is now down to days, not months.  And I watched the first 10 episodes of "Mad Men", but now have to wait for more to air On Demand.  I'm current on both comedy news AND the real news, meaning I watched the presidential debate live, and I even had time to go out to a concert, Burton Cummings came to town, and I kicked off the Halloween month by re-watching "Young Frankenstein" as part of TCM's tribute to Gene Wilder.  I also bought candy for the trick-or-treaters early, because I believe in being prepared. The kids love stale candy, right?  

Yep, that smell of pumpkin spice lattes in the air means I'm back on the horror movie beat, of course I don't mean movies about things that are TRULY scary, like terrorism or our (apparently) broken political system, I mean Hollywood's version of ghosts and vampires and re-animated corpses.  This year I'll also be working in films about serial killers, genetic freaks, and some alien invasions, but no zombies or werewolves, I think.  Plus, thanks to TCM I've got some early German expressionist films that represent the start of the whole genre - that's right, blame the Germans.  

I should point out I draw the line in a certain place, like I don't program a lot of slasher films, I've never gone deep into the "Friday the 13th" or "Nightmare on Elm St." franchises, or films where people are getting massacred by chainsaws.  They scared me terribly when I was a kid, and even though as an adult I know it's all silly effects and fake blood, I still hold a grudge.  And I've avoided the "Twilight" franchise up until now, so I see no reason to change that. 

I did go back and forth about the order of this year's spook-a-thon, and then once I did lock down an order, I flipped it around a few times to try and get the best lead-in and lead-out.  So Terence Stamp carries over from "Big Eyes" as a lead-in, and then I've something else planned for early November.  But the last film in October has Daniel Craig in it, and I now regret not programming "Spectre" for November 1, due to the "Day of the Dead" tie-in.  Ah, well, what's done is done.  

While I was on break, my list did balloon back up to 114 films, as I feared it would.  I tried to hold back, but there's just too many new films breaking now, and some things I just couldn't pass on, since I'm trying to complete the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes collection, and cable finally ran "The Revenant", and I started collecting some classic romances like "High Society" so I'll have something worth linking together come February.  But I've got 22 chances during November to get that number down again, so here we go with something very Halloween-y.  

THE PLOT: A realtor and his wife and children are summoned to a mansion, which they soon discover is haunted, and while they attempt to escape, he learns an important lesson about the family he has neglected.

AFTER: This is one of those films that probably looked really good on paper - Disney had just had great success turning their "Pirates of the Caribbean" ride into a film, so why not do the same with the Haunted Mansion?  It's called "corporate synergy", where the films promote the theme parks and vice versa.  Unfortunately it leads to things like "Big Thunder Mountain Railroad: The Movie" and other terrible concepts like "Mary Poppins: The Ride".  I was taken to DisneyWorld as a kid, but I've never been to Universal Studios Orlando or even Epcot Center as an adult, so maybe I know not of which I speak.  But I did go to Six Flags in New Jersey a few times when I was in my 20's, and they did work the Batman movies into a few cool roller coasters.  

But I generally have always hated the "Haunted House" concept - because I go to a theme park to have fun, not to get scared.  Plus they tend to be too far in one direction on the "silly vs. scary" scale, either everything looks really fake and not scary at all, or they try WAY too hard, the effects look a little too real, and then you're not sure if you just witnessed a public execution or if the guy next to you had a very real heart attack.  

In recent years some people have taken the concept a bit over the line, with political content creeping in like realistic abortions or "sinners" being condemned to hell.  OK, I'd rather face zombies in rubber masks than walk through a political mind-field in a haunted house.  Same goes for haunted hayrides, haunted wax museums, or any dark rooms where people are going to jump out and startle me.  But it's that time of year when I'm going to start seeing ads to come visit "Times SCARE!" or "Haunted HELL'S Kitchen" - sure, why not have them all over town, down in BAT-tery Park, up in Washington FRIGHTS or out at BONE-y Island, while you're at it?  You go, have fun, I'll stand outside and hold your stuff.  

My point is that it's all about tone, it's tough to strike that delicate balance between entertaining and frightening - and "The Haunted Mansion" tanked on that front, big league.  For the majority of the film it's not scary at all, it plays more like a video-game where every character has a task for you to perform (first, find the key, to unlock the chest, which will give you your next clue...) and then they put Eddie Murphy and a KID into a mausoleum where dead bodies start rising out of their coffins.  Whoa, whoa, that's too far in the other direction, swing it back!  And then there are wild inconsistencies concerning what a ghost can DO in the real world, like sometimes they're solid and they can move things, other times they can't pick things up and people pass right through them.  Which is it?  

Plus, glaring NITPICK POINTS over their legal status.  Like, can a ghost sell you his house?  That can't be legally binding, nor can a ghost get legally married.  Why would a ghost even want to get married, anyway?  Damn, that's proof of the afterlife, do you really want to spend eternity tied down to one partner?  I could have sworn it was "until death do we part"?  I get that the (former) owner of the house is looking for his lost love, but they never really resolved whether her modern counter-part was her reincarnation, just a look-alike, or what.  For that matter, they never really explain who the medium was, what her connection to the house is, or to the spirit-world in general.  How did she know about the key, the note, etc.  Lots of unanswered questions.  

Nope, let's focus on the professional dad who needs to be taught a lesson about how much his family means to him.  Because that's what Halloween is really about, right?  No, wait, I guess it's about overcoming your fear of spiders.  No, it's about being sincere when selling real estate.  Damn, I guess I really don't know what it's about, after all.  

Also starring Eddie Murphy (last heard in "Mulan"), Nathaniel Parker (last seen in "Flawless"), Marsha Thomason (last seen in "Black Knight"), Jennifer Tilly (last seen in "The Crew"), Wallace Shawn (last seen in "Starting Over"), Dina Spybey-Waters, Aree Davis, Marc John Jefferies, with cameos from Rachael Harris (last seen in "Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb"), Deep Roy (last seen in Star Trek Beyond"), and Steve Hytner (try the soup, Jerry!).  

RATING: 3 out of 10 tarot cards