HAUNTED MANSION, THE
Jim (Eddie Murphy) and Sara Evers (Marsha Thomason) run a successful husband and wife real estate business. They have a fine house, a luxury car, two young children (Aree Davis, Marc John Jefferies) and not a lot of time for anything outside work. They decide to take a weekend vacation, but Jim insists on a brief detour to meet a prospective client. When they arrive, they are surprised to find a derelict mansion with a backyard cemetery. There's also something peculiar about the master of the estate (Nathaniel Parker), his enigmatic butler (Terence Stamp) and the household servants, not to mention what lies behind the secret passageways and inside the ancient trunks.
Review by Brad Green:
There's not an original bone in the walking skeletons, there's a cliche in every dark corner and the plot has been hanging around forever like an old ghost. Yet I rather enjoyed this Disneyland theme attraction brought to the big screen. If it had any pretensions it would be a shocker (and not in a good, scare-you-witless way), but it doesn't. When what little narrative there is revolves around the fact that the butler did it, we can assume the writers didn't set out to woo us with originality. Instead, the charm comes courtesy of a lavish design, a whimsical score and a romantic sensibility, as well as some freshness added to the formula by casting the phantoms of the mansion straight from a picture book and the unsuspecting intruder from left field.
Eddie Murphy is more or less our eyes and ears in a good old fashioned ghost train ride. Usually you expect the bogeymen to be exotic and the hapless mortal blandly vanilla. But Murphy is perfect here, relying on his natural charisma instead of attempting to chew up the exorbitant scenery. Sure he mugs exuberantly as required. A master puppet maker couldn't craft a face that exudes so much goggle-eyed charisma with a simple raise of the eyebrows, and Murphy's toothy grin and malleable orbs have never been so useful as he goes through the motions of stumbling upon, being scared by, saving his family from, and escaping by the skin of his overexposed teeth from an obligatory assortment of spooks. Not to mention finding the key, quite literally, to the mystery.
If the film has an inherent problem it's that it is a little too creepy, in one climactic crypt scene in particular, for very young children still prone to be genuinely frightened. This narrows the target demographic considerably, because kids who have outgrown fairy tales and traditional ghost stories will find the premise too cute to excite. For children of just the right age and maturity, however, it should prove a slightly scary delight with a feel good ending. Their older escorts will find that the gorgeous look and sound of the film, its self-awareness and its homage to the romantically gothic side of haunted house fables make it a lot more fun to sit through than any gory, teen-oriented schlocker.
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HAUNTED MANSION, THE (PG)
CAST: Eddie Murphy, Terence Stamp, Nathaniel Parker, Marsha Thomason, Jennifer Tilly, Wallace Shawn, Dina Spybey, Marc John Jefferies
PRODUCER: Andrew Gunn, Don Hahn
DIRECTOR: Rob Minkoff
SCRIPT: David Berenbaum
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Remi Adefarasin
EDITOR: Priscilla Nedd-Friendly
MUSIC: Mark Mancina
PRODUCTION DESIGN: John Myhre
RUNNING TIME: 88 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Buena Vista International
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 25, 2004