31 Days of Horror – October 4th – “Haunted Mansion”

I have to admit that I’ve been eager for this one to reach Disney+ for quite some time now. I was tempted to see it back in July when it first entered theaters but there were so many other films to see at the time and eventually it just got to be long enough that I pivoted to simply waiting for it to arrive on streaming. As a child I was privy to a lone family pilgrimage to the Floridian destination of the proverbial house the mouse built known as Disney World. Even as a small child it was not hard to discern that the Haunted Mansion was easily my favorite attraction at the park and the experience has stuck with me for the better part of more than three decades. When Jerry Bruckheimer and crew took the reins on the Pirates of the Caribbean and turned it into what it was over the summer of 2003, the teaser for a similar treatment of the Haunted Mansion coming that November was a very promising note for fans like myself. And then the movie came out…

Haunted Mansion (2023) IMDb

Now I won’t say the first iteration was bad. But I won’t say it was good either. It was watchable probably, at best. At least in my opinion. It was one of those movies that fell in that chasm of Eddie Murphy’s not-so-funny point in his career. I don’t think anyone was anticipating that the Haunted Mansion movie would be a comedy but then to be a relatively unfunny and poorly written and acted movie on top of that was further disappointment. Now I do apologize if it sounds like I’m being overtly tough on the 2003 iteration but I did not love it and I won’t pretend that it wasn’t a disappointment. Where Pirates had wow’d fans significantly, Haunted Mansion left this fan wanting considerably more. And then they advertised a remake in 2022 and things began to look up again.

I’m not sure exactly when it was that I first saw that they were making a new Haunted Mansion movie. I do know that in 2022 they started really letting fans know that it was happening and that it would be a different take on a Haunted Mansion story. Eventually we got to trailers which reinforced that this would be a much stronger take on the story with a far more impressive cast and some genuinely creepier imagery than previously seen. I knew it wouldn’t be a James Wan “Conjuring” level scare-fest. It was still supposed to be a family movie so I tempered my expectations accordingly. The one confusing note was the release date. This is an October release all day long. So why was it released in July? I have no idea. Regardless of that plan, I’m here today because today it’s on Disney+ and I can finally consume this movie for myself.

So first impressions on this movie are nothing but good. As it’s just been released as I mentioned, I’m not really going to go too far into elements of the movie that present any spoilers. I really like the cast. It’s diverse but not imbalanced. There’s some real scares that I like, even for a family movie. But they’re balanced out with some of that goofy kind of comedy that you’d find in any flick like this, and even that is pretty palatable. The stylings of Owen Wilson and Danny Devito are light, fun, and more front facing which balance out some of the deeper, more sarcastic deliveries from Lakeith Stanfield. Rosario Dawson is entirely capable as the single mom to Chase W. Dillon. They are a great pair who present well as mom and son. Rounding out the principle cast is Tiffany Haddish as Harriet, the psychic brought in to help deal with the specter infestation. I really enjoyed her performance as she brought her typical energy to the film but with a bit more temper to it which kept her from being too over the top. The ensemble of these characters balances out nicely as the film progresses.

The balance of spooks and laughs is more than tolerable as well. I like the idea of a Haunted Mansion film that operates as a straight, more mature horror movie. I could see something in the vein of an “Insidious” franchise level scare just without some of the standard tropes that tip from the PG-13 range into the R world. Disney isn’t going to put it’s “When you wish upon a star” opening sequence on an R rated horror movie. And I understand their interest to make this iteration family friendly while still pushing some limits. I will say that this weekend I’ll be watching it again with my 9 and 11 year old without any concern. The scares will be their speed and I didn’t find anything else in the content of the movie to be “too much” for them to handle. I do appreciate that the film does lend itself to an older audience while maintaining a good family feel. I enjoyed watching it on my own and I feel confident we’ll enjoy it all together as well. Some of the imagery might be a little more than real younger kids could handle so the PG-13 is warranted but they definitely don’t revel in questionable material that would be allowed with that rating. As a parent, I do appreciate that foresight on their end as well.

Lastly I think I’d like to really just mention Jared Leto as the main villain, Alistair Crump. While his role is mostly as a voice actor, his likeness was used in a few different capacities while making the film. To be honest, I saw Leto’s name for the first time associated with this movie in the opening credits and didn’t realize he was in the film. But also, as the movie played on I never realized he was actually in the movie until I went back and saw that he was Crump. I note this because Leto can be a bit divisive just as an actor as he’s done a number of projects that many people found to be unsatisfactory. I do think Leto can and has been a really solid actor in a number of roles in the past while still struggling at times to find his footing in all of his roles, cementing himself as a reliably good actor. I would say in this role he’s completely competent as Crump was a very menacing antagonist and at times, genuinely scary. His visage and persona were more than captivating and I found him to be an excellent foe for our team to undertake. While he wasn’t solely responsible for the creepy aspect of the movie, I can definitively say he was the primary spook in the film to really deliver some foreground and background scares that registered well for me.

Overall I liked this movie. It’s probably about a 6 or 6.5 out of 10 for me. It’s not the greatest movie I’ve ever seen but far from the worst. I feel like it differentiates itself just enough from a middle of the road film to tip its way into something that’s a good mix of real fun and genuine scares. It’s a great movie you can enjoy on your own for some low key spookiness or pop some popcorn and get the whole family involved for a movie night. Knowing that October isn’t just for those who can stand the guts and gore of the R rated horror standards but also for younger folks looking for a good bump in the night as well, this updated Haunted Mansions is a success in my book. Hopefully it finds it’s way onto your radar this Halloween season and you find it as entertaining as I did. Until next time, I’ll catch you on the flip side.

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