“HAUNTED MANSION”
Starring Owen Wilson, Danny DeVito, Jared Leto, Jamie Lee Curtis, Dan Levy, Rosario Dawson, Tiffany Haddish, LaKeith Stanfield
Written by Katie Dippold
Based on the Haunted Mansion amusement park ride created by Walt Disney
Directed by Justin Simien
Produced by Dan Lin and Jonathan Eirich

By Matt Neufeld
July 27, 2023

Those looking for the latest symbol of the increasingly nosediving and accelerating Fall of the Disney Empire need to look no further than the dreadfully awful, and nearly unwatchable, monstrous mess of a movie that is “Haunted Mansion,” not to be confused with the similar 2003 Disney movie “The Haunted Mansion.”

Yes, within only twenty fleeting years, Disney suits somehow felt that they had to release one movie named “The Haunted Mansion,” about a haunted mansion, and then another movie, “Haunted Mansion”–without the word “the” in the title, for those following along at home–which is also about–you guessed it–a haunted mansion. This may remind some folks of the release of the movie “Suicide Squad” in 2016, only to be followed five years later, in this instance, by “The Suicide Squad” in 2021. At least the “Suicide” folks had the chutzpah to release their very-similarly-named movies within only a five-year period.

This may also remind moviegoers that in 2003, a movie was released called “Hulk,” and, in 2008, there was a movie released called “The Incredible Hulk.” The “Hulk” productions also had the chutzpah to hit the five-year mark.

This ridiculously, dumbly unimaginative release of generally mediocre-to-bad-movies-with-idiotically-similar-titles-within-moronicalky-short-time-periods would be laughable, alas, if it all weren’t true. But it is true.

And film industry suits wonder what’s wrong with the film industry?

And film industry suits wonder why fewer people are going out to the theaters?

And, no, it’s not just because of streaming stupidity, too-high movie ticket prices, too-high movie concessions, awfully-designed modern-day movie theaters, a decline in good neighborhood movie theaters and other factors.

It’s because of the still-dangerous, still-infectious and still-contagious disease known as sequelitis, in which diseased, crazed and delusional movie studio suits continue to green-light continually moronic, insipid, dumb and just flat-out terrible sequels, prequels, reboots, reimaginings, franchise follow-ups, movies with similar names and remakes using the same titles but actually have nothing to do with the originally-titled movies.

Movies liked “Haunted Mansion.”

This film is so bad, it doesn’t register as a comedy, because it’s not funny and it has absolutely zero idea what comedy is; it’s not scary, atmospheric, thrilling or suspenseful, because it has zero idea what horror is; and it’s not even a good kids movie, because it has no idea what makes a good kids movie. There’s just no spirit, energy, creativity, originality, insightfulness or filmic sensibility. “Haunted” lacks proper timing or pacing, and it’s one of those movies that really just seems like, and comes across as, a series of scenes that don’t really work or connect well, and as a feature film that seems to be designed primarily to move from one set of CGIed computer effects to yet another set of CGIed computer effects.

“Haunted,” alas, sadly, ends up being poorly produced, directed, written and performed.

Perhaps filmmakers shouldn’t make movies based on amusement park rides. Amazingly, and alarmingly, that’s what both of Disney’s “Haunted” movies are based on–an amusement park ride.

Let’s hope this doesn’t start a trend. We surely don’t need “Ferris Wheel–The Movie,” “Round-Up–The Motion Picture,” “Himalaya,” “Attack of the Scrambler,” “The Tea Cups Terror,” or “Gravitron: A Space Odyssey.”

With “Haunted Mansion,” even a cast that includes Owen Wilson, Danny DeVito, Jared Leto, Jamie Lee Curtis and Dan Levy can’t save this messy mass of muddled confusion. These actors, all of whom have shown bursts of talent throughout their careers, seem to have lost, forgotten or misplaced everything they were taught in drama class. They’re so over-broad, so over-emoting, so out of control and so consistently unfunny, it’s a wonder a producer didn’t rush in and correct all of this. And poor Danny DeVito. It’s not clear what he’s been doing in recent years, as he over-acts and over-emotes and over-everythings in all of his recent scenes in movies, television shows and even in awful terrible commercials. It’s sad, and it’s hard to believe this is the same Danny DeVito from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” “Taxi,” “Ruthless People,” “Romancing the Stone,” “Tin Men,” “Batman Returns,” and “Hoffa,” which he actually directed. He seems to have completely lost control, along with his sense of comedic delivery, chemistry, timing and pacing. Here, in “Haunted,” he’s just embarrassing.

The stilted, meandering, cut-and-paste, amateurish direction of “Haunted,” overall, also lacks any sense of true comedy on any level. This is confounding, since the movie is supposed to be a comedy. The movie also lacks any real ability to instill any sense of supernatural thrills, chills, frights, scares or haunts, because, again, the director does not seem capable of achieving any true sense of supernatural or paranormal horror. This, too, is confusing, because the movie is supposed to be a little scary.

Perhaps movie studio suits need to reconsider the always-dubious, always-questionable tendency to make movies based on thinly-constructed ideas such as amusement park rides, toys, pop culture characters, video games or similar truly non-filmic inspirations.

Even “Haunted’s” basic storyline, script, characters and plot don’t work, and, on several levels, they just don’t make much sense. The story is supposed to be about a single mother and her 9-year-old son who move into an old Victorian/Gothic/Draculaonian/ Norman Bates-style/only-in-the-movies sprawling mansion to create what appears to be the world’s biggest bed-and-breakfast operation, only to find that the mansion is, well, haunted. The mom then enlists a scientist and researcher who is not a ghost hunter and who knows nothing–that’s nothing–about the supernatural and the paranormal; a professor (DeVito) who doesn’t really appear to know much about anything; a priest who is not a priest; and a psychic who’s a fake, a scam, to help get rid the house of ghosts. Now, in the hands of someone who truly understands comedy–lets say, for instance, Rob Reiner, Ron Howard, Penny Marshall, John Landis, Ivan Reitman, Terry Gilliam, Robert Zemeckis, Mel Brooks, James Brooks, Paul Feig–this could have possibly maybe been funny. However, in “Haunted,” it’s not funny. It’s all just a bit desperate. And the script and dialogue are so stilted, blank, boring, uninventive and amateurish, it’s just embarrassingly cringy.

There are some impressive special effects, but they’re too little, too late, to save the movie. Also, the effects never seem to fully integrate themselves into the rest of the movie. They just sort of appear, but without the required, accompanying forward-moving narrative reason. They’re also not that scary, either.

Since the beginning of film, Hollywood, and filmmakers elsewhere, have continually struggled—overall–to make truly great horror, supernatural and paranormal movies. There’s the occasional stand-out, of course, but, in general, most movies in this genre are average, average-to-bad or just plain bad. And within the genre, there’s been hundreds and hundreds of haunted house movies—-and most of them are bad, too.

Note to filmmakers and studios: Please, in the name of all that’s holy and unholy, just give it a break with haunted house movies. The world just doesn’t need any more haunted house movies.

Note to homeowners and real estate agents in real life: Please stop selling houses—-especially Victorian and Gothic houses that look like they were designed by the architecture form of Dracula, Bates, Myers, Thorn, Krueger and Voorhees—-that were previously owned by serial killers, disciples of Satan, people possessed by demons, people possessed by Satan, people possessed by disciples of Satan, people who liked to play with ouija boards, people who died horrible deaths in the houses, people who killed people in the houses, people who held Tupperware parties in the houses or people who were members or leaders of homeowners associations.

The lesson here is that the fewer haunted house urban legends that we have in real-life, the fewer haunted house movies we’ll have in production in a sequelitis-plagued Hollywood of horror movie broken dreamscapes.

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Matt Neufeld

Matt Neufeld

Matt Neufeld is a longtime journalist, actor and film critic in the Washington and Baltimore areas. He has participated in many local film events and projects in the region, and he has appeared as an actor, supporting actor and extra in more than 45 films projects, at all levels, during the past 20 years.