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Film / The Haunted Mansion

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"You try, you fail. You try, you fail. But the only true failure is when you stop trying."
Madame Leota

The Haunted Mansion is one of Disney's ventures in adapting their theme park attractions into movies. It was theatrically released in November 2003 and wasn't quite as successful at the box office as Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, which was also released in 2003.

Workaholic realtor Jim Evers (played by Eddie Murphy) and his family — wife Sara (Marsha Thomason), son Michael and daughter Megan — are invited to the old and haunted Gracey Manor outside of New Orleans. Things take a sinister turn when the family learns that the ghostly owner, Master Edward Gracey (Nathaniel Parker) and his butler Ramsley (Terence Stamp), both believe Sara to be the reincarnation of Gracey's long-lost fiance Elizabeth and that she will be the key to lifting the curse on the house that keeps the 999 souls from passing onto the next world. With the help of Madame Leota (Jennifer Tilly) and a few ghostly servants, Jim and his kids must uncover the truth behind what really happened to Elizabeth, encountering the many ghosts of the graveyard, zombies, haunted suits of armor and the gates of Hell themselves opening.


The film was met with weak responses from critics and fans because of the film's decision to focus on the antics of Eddie Murphy and de-emphasize some of the ride's more notable elements. For this reason it earned a 13% approval rating amongst critics at Rotten Tomatoes. But the movie does have its fans, and kids seem to love the film (plus it's easier to make sense of whats going on if you DVD Skip everything between the opening credits and when the family arrives at the house). The bright spots are the gorgeous set designs, ride-based Mythology Gags, and the music, which pays a nice tribute to Buddy Baker and Grim Grinning Ghosts.

In 2010, Disney announced plans to take another whack at a Haunted Mansion movie, to be headed by Guillermo del Toro, though it has fallen into Development Hell between Guillermo's busy schedule and trying to get the right script. In 2015, it seems to have started taking additional steps forward, with the announcement of Ryan Gosling as the star.


The Haunted Mansion provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Adaptation Expansion: Given that, contrary to Word of Dante, there is no real backstory to the original ride, this was inevitable.
  • Apologetic Attacker: Gracey says, "Forgive me," to Jim before he means to kill him with his sword. Jim convinces Gracey he is telling the truth by producing Elizabeth's real letter and ordering him to read it.
  • Arc Words: "Twenty minutes tops."
  • Are We There Yet?: The final shot of the movie, on the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway Bridge , has the kids saying it.
  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: The 999 ghosts at the end, finally free of the mansion's curse.
  • Avoid the Dreaded G Rating: Probably the reason the Big Bad says "Damn you all to Hell" at the climax. Though the scene where the main characters are attacked by undead skeletons likely helped.
  • Batman Gambit: Ramsley's Evil Plan depends on two fault points; the first is convincing Sara to pretend to be Elizabeth and banking on Edward not noticing the difference.
  • Back from the Dead: Sara's revival from the poison thanks to Elizabeth's spirit intervening.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Ramsley claims "Damn you all to Hell!" after having been exposed. Hell directly responds to his invokement, but instead of taking everyone, it's identified him as the soul responsible for murder (among other things) and drags him down via a fiery serpent.
  • Big Bad: Ramsley the butler.
  • Big Damn Heroes: After having been thrown out of the mansion, Jim breaks back in to save first Megan and Michael, then Sara.
  • Big Damn Kiss: Gracey and Elizabeth (in Sara's body) after the climax. Megan and Michael are understandably Squicked.
  • Big Fancy House: Gracey Manor was this before the curse that left it haunted.
  • Big "WHAT?!": Megan, after Ramsley informs the family that the road has been flooded by the storm, so they can't leave the mansion that night.
  • Big "YES!": Ramsley to Gracey after Gracey angrily asks him if his loving Elizabeth was a mistake.
  • Book-Ends: The "Welcome, Foolish Mortals" and Madame Leota's "Be sure to bring your... death certificate" Stinger echo the ride.
  • Bratty Teenage Daughter: Megan comes across as one, snarking about almost everything and is revealed by Jim to be 13 years old in the mausoleum scene.
  • The Butler Did It: Lampshaded by Jim, who even asks if it's a joke.
  • Car Fu: When Jim can't get back into the Mansion by normal means (the glass windows mending back just as he tries to break them), he takes his car and rams it through the piano room.
  • Chekhov's Boomerang: Michael's fear of spiders. It's established when we first see him, comes up again briefly when the family first arrives at the mansion, then it comes up again at the end of the mausoleum scene, where, after retrieving the key, Jim and Megan get trapped inside when the door slams shut, leaving Michael outside with spiders crawling all over the door. He eventually braves himself and opens it to save Jim and Megan.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The Evers' BMW. Jim drives the family to the mansion in it, then in the climax, where he gets trapped outside by Ramsley, he pulls off a Car Fu moment with it to break back into the mansion and save the others.
    • The ghost ball that appears to Megan and Michael. It leads them to the attic where they see the portrait of Elizabeth that resembles Sara. It appears in the climax to save Sara, and turns out to have been the spirit of Elizabeth.
  • Cordon Bleugh Chef / Foreign Queasine: What Ramsley serves the trespassing family.
  • Cowardly Lion: Michael. He's terrified of spiders and seems quite insecure, but when Jim and Megan get trapped in the mausoleum with spiders crawling all over the door and the zombies advance on them, he does eventually brave himself to open the door and save them both. He also yells at Ramsley to leave Jim alone, before he and Megan get trapped in a trunk.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Jim, Megan and Ramsley.
  • Defanged Horrors: Including some serious Nightmare Fuel, like Eddie Murphy's face rotting in a mirror.
  • Dem Bones: Many of the zombies, to the point where it's downright gory.
  • Destination Defenestration: Ramsley can materialize enough to catch Jim in a Neck Lift, and then fly up before sending him through a window.
  • Developing Doomed Characters: Everything between the credits and the Evers arriving at the house can be seen as painful to watch.
  • Disney Death: Sara gets one, dying from Ramsley's poison but then coming back thanks to Elizabeth.
  • Disney Villain Death: Though he's already dead, Ramsley falls into Hell during the climax.
  • Dragged Off to Hell: Ramsley's motive for his plan is to avoid this, as he knows that he will be condemned to hell if the truth of Elizabeth's death is revealed. Sure enough, when his crimes are exposed in the climax, he is seized by some devilish fire snake coming from the fireplace. He almost drags Jim along with him, but the hero is saved by Edward.
  • Driven to Suicide: In the backstory, Edward hanged himself after he came to believe that his fiancée killed herself with poison rather than marry him. In truth, she'd been murdered by Ramsley.
  • Emerging from the Shadows: Ramsley is introduced this way. Though we first hear his voice over the phone speaking to Sara, he emerges from a dark corridor amidst flashes of lightning soon after the Evers family first arrive at the mansion.
  • Establishing Character Moment: Michael is first seen screaming because of a spider on his bedroom window, and being unable to hit it as Jim wants him to.
    • Megan is introduced by crushing the spider that Michael wouldn't hit, sarcastically asking Jim if he's happy now, and responding with indifference when Jim calls her out as she leaves Michael's room.
  • Everything's Better with Sparkles: The ghosts are designed to look like they are covered with reflective glass beads when they show their true form.
  • Evil Plan: Ramsley wants to lift the curse without Gracey learning the truth about Elizabeth's death, as this would mean that he would be damned to hell rather than ascend to heaven with the other ghosts. However, lifting the curse requires reuniting Gracey with the woman he loves, and the truth would inevitably be revealed should Elizabeth's spirit return. When Ramsley discovers Sara, a woman closely resembling Elizabeth, he tricks Gracey into believing that Sara is the amnesiac reincarnation of Elizabeth and lure her to the mansion. Ramsley would then force Sara to pose as Elizabeth and marry Gracey, during which she would kill herself and unite them in death, thereby hopefully lifting the curse by making Gracey "think" he's finally reunited with Elizabeth. Even though by this means everyone is freed he is remarkably callous to the other ghosts and will go to any means to succeed, even killing the homeowners.]]
  • Fate Worse than Death: Ramsley is dragged off to Hell at the end. He tries to bring Jim with him for having exposed his plan to Gracey, but Gracey saves him.
  • Full-Name Ultimatum: Subverted. Just before Michael first appears, Jim tries to get his attention by using his full name, Michael Jordan Evers.
  • Gender-Equal Ensemble: The Evers family, which has two males (Jim and Michael) and two females (Sara and Megan).
  • Ghost Butler: Ramsley, once it's revealed that the mansion is cursed.
  • Glowing Eyes of Doom: Ramsley at the end, when he conjures a horde of spirits to kill the people responsible for ruining his plans. A demon drags him to hell before anyone is harmed.
  • Haunted House: Gracey Manor is this for most of the film, thanks to the curse that left everyone inside it as ghosts. It's part of the title, of course.
  • Heroes Gone Fishing: Sara mentions several offscreen examples that occurred while Jim was busy with work. Over the course of one month, the family (minus Jim) attended three soccer games, two birthday parties and a barbecue. Jim decides to remedy this by agreeing to take them to the lake.
  • I Did What I Had to Do: Ramsley when he murders Elizabeth, figuring that it would stop Gracey from throwing away his home and heritage. It backfired horribly when the master killed himself.
  • It's All About Me: Unlike the other souls sealed in the mansion, Ramsley intends to break the curse without Gracey ever reuniting with Elizabeth, probably because he knows he's doomed to Hell if the truth of the latter's death is revealed. He's willing to not only deceive his own master and 997 souls trapped on the earthly plane, but kill an innocent woman and threaten her family, just to keep up the charade and prevent his own punishment.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Jim. Sara really doesn't like how he puts work first in his life, which makes him neglect almost everything else, but that doesn't mean he doesn't care. He definitely loves his family, and goes all Papa Wolf when they are threatened.
    • Megan too. She comes across as a Bratty Teenage Daughter a lot, snarks at everything, including Jim, and is often quite rude and aloof. She still cares, though, willingly helps Jim find the key in the mausoleum expresses sympathy with Gracey's plight and is disgusted when Ramsley is revealed to have murdered Elizabeth, telling Jim to punch his face in.
  • Jump Scare: In-Universe and out. Jim tries to get Sara to open the bathroom door when she shuts herself in there after Jim makes an insensitive comment, then he turns around and gets a shock as Ramsley is standing behind him.
  • Kick the Dog: Ramsley murdered Elizabeth, insults Jim behind his back, locks Michael and Megan in a trunk, throws Jim out of the mansion, and threatens Michael and Megan if Sara doesn't go along with his plan.
  • Large Ham: Jim. Being played by Eddie Murphy, it was expected.
  • Logo Joke: The castle is set against the foyer organ, before fading into the roof of the mansion.
  • Love Makes You Dumb: Ramsley believes this was the case when Gracey fell in love with Elizabeth, because Gracey had everything in the world and was willing to throw it all away for love.
  • Malevolent Architecture: The mansion is deliberately designed to look like a tomb, with cemetery-style statuary. It might have been nice once, but it got worse after becoming haunted.
  • Maligned Mixed Marriage: Gracey was white and rich while his beloved was at least half-black and (presumably) poor, which Ramsley couldn't abide.
  • Mirror Scare: Jim at one point looks in a mirror, then gets startled by a crow sitting on it. After a moment, he notices to his horror that his reflection's face is rotting. He freaks out and drops the torch he was holding, but when he gets up again, his reflection looks normal.
  • Monochrome Apparition: The ghosts are whitish-blue, as are many of the ghosts in the actual ride. They are capable or appearing as living people unless they leave the mansion.
  • My Grandson Myself: Gracey attempts to pass himself off as his own grandson when he tells Elizabeth's story to Sara, making it appear as though his grandfather, rather than him, was in love with Elizabeth.
  • Mythology Gag: Tons of them. And even outside Mansion-based ones, the tiki bar Jim goes to towards the beginning is a nod to The Enchanted Tiki Room. The Enchanted Tiki Room which, at Disneyland, you must walk by to get to the Haunted Mansion ride.
  • Neck Lift: Ramsley can materialize enough to catch Jim this way, and then fly up before sending him through a window.
  • Never My Fault: Ramsley never acknowledges the fact that it was his own actions that cursed the 999 souls, instead choosing to blame it all on Edward's actions and turn all the ghosts on him.
  • Obviously Evil: Ramsley, very much so. He's an ugly old creeper with a stoic voice who's always lurking around in the shadows, with accompanying organ music and thunderclaps that only happen when he's around.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • Jim, when the secret passage he just entered in the library closes behind him with no warning. He eventually makes his way out by following the passage and climbing out through a painting.
    • Jim in the mausoleum when the first zombie sits up and turns to face him and Megan, then again when the other zombies break out of their coffins.
    Jim: Megan, you'd better look faster!
    • Michael when the mausoleum's door slams shut, trapping Jim and Megan inside, and spiders start crawling all over it.
    • Emma and Ezra when, after Jim finds Elizabeth's real letter in the trunk in the attic, Ramsley angrily tells them he will deal with them later. They promptly vanish.
    • Jim in the climax when the suits of armour turn towards him as he runs towards the trunk Megan and Michael are trapped in. Then again a minute later when a pike swings towards his head. It stops just short of his face.
  • Ominous Pipe Organ: One can be heard during Ramsley's introduction, and other times when he's around to highlight his darkness.
  • Only One Name: Ramsley is obviously the character's surname. Emma and Ezra too. Subverted with Elizabeth, as Ramsley eventually reveals her surname is Henshaw.
  • Oracular Head: Madame Leota, as in the ride. In order to keep Jennifer Tilly's head perfectly still, she had to be bolted into a device like a surgical halo.
  • Papa Wolf: Jim is willing to fight his way through a corridor of animated suits of armor to get to Michael and Megan, who at that point have been trapped in a trunk.
  • Parental Substitute: It's implied that Ramsley was this to Gracey.
  • Politically Correct History: Zig-Zagged, the hauntings start because Ramsley killed Gracey's black fiancée to prevent a scandal. However, they never explicitly say Ramsley disapproved of her race, only that she and Gracey were from "different worlds".
  • Poor Man's Porn: Possibly. In Michael's first scene, Jim asks Michael what he's doing with Jim's Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition magazine. Michael is only ten years old, however.
  • Portrait Painting Peephole: When trapped in the wall passage, Jim looks through one of these into an upstairs corridor of the mansion, before exiting the passage through the painting.
  • Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Megan's "Oh. My God." when she first sees the Gracey cemetery upon arriving at Gracey Manor.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: Madame Leota speaks this way, as in the ride. At least half her lines rhyme with each other.
  • Riches to Rags: Averted. Gracey was willing to go through this for love for Elizabeth. Ramsley killed Elizabeth to prevent it.
  • Rousing Speech: Madame Leota gives one to Jim to give him the confidence to get him back inside the mansion.
  • Say My Name: A few examples.
    • Michael yells "MEGAN!" in shock when he first sees the ghost ball, causing her to burst out of the bathroom and drop her phone. He then does it again later when he sees the portrait of Elizabeth in the attic.
    • Michael and Megan each exclaim "Dad!" when Jim bursts through the door at the bottom of the staircase they're standing at the top of when he escapes from the musical instruments chasing him. They do it again later when he breaks them out of the trunk Ramsley trapped them in.
    • Jim yells "Michael! Megan!" when he sees the trunk they're trapped in and held up by a chain, before attempting to tush topwards them./ Sara did the same earlier when Ramsley implicitly threatens them in a Shame If Something Happened moment.
    • Sara screams "JIM!" when Ramsley is dragged by the fiery serpent to be dragged off to Hell, and he grabs Jim by the leg to drag him off too. Luckily, Gracey saves him. Then a quiet murmur of "Jim..." before she dies.
    • Finally, after Ramsley is dragged off to Hell, Megan and Michael each exclaim "Mom!" in shock when Sara collapses from the poison.
  • Shame If Something Happened: Coupled with Kick the Dog. Ramsley forces Sara into complying with his plan with this, saying, "You see, we wouldn't want anything to happen to the children now, would we?"
  • Sharp-Dressed Man: Jim is this for much of the film. He mentions when they first get to Gracey Manor that he's wearing brand-new shoes and his good suit.
  • Shout-Out: In the prologue, Gracey and his fiancee are hosting a fancy dress ball and he's wearing a blue jacket with gold trim while she's wearing gold ballgown with her hair done up.
  • Smart People Know Latin: Megan is supposed to be the smartest character and is taking a Latin course.
  • Speak Now or Forever Hold Your Peace: During the sham wedding ceremony, just as Sara is about to drink from the poisoned goblet, Ramsley says, "If anyone has any objections—" which is of course the moment Jim bursts in.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Gracey to Sara. Justified, as he thinks she's an amnesiac reincarnation of Elizabeth, which is what Ramsley wants him to think, so the curse can be lifted without the real Elizabeth returning. That and he'd gone mad with grief after Elizabeth's supposed suicide. He comes to his senses when Jim reveals what really happened.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: Coupled with Jump Scare. Ramsley suddenly appears behind Jim in his and Sara's room when Jim tries unsuccessfully to get Sara to come out of the bathroom.
  • Tarot Motifs: Several tarot cards are seen in the opening flashback.
  • Tempting Fate:
    • In the mausoleum, after Jim gets the key out of the crypt, he and Megan make to leave and Jim remarks on how easy it was. Cue the zombie in the crypt sitting up and turning to face them.
    • Later in the same scene, Jim tells Megan he has everything under control while she's looking for the key, after he has defeated the zombie in the cryopt. Cue an Oh, Crap! when the other zombies break out.
    • "If anyone has any objections--" Cue Jim breaking into the room and shouting, "Yeah, I got a few objections!"
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Ramsley views himself as this. He believed that Elizabeth may have been after Gracey's money since she was poor. He decided to go ahead and kill her in order to "spare" his master from heartbreak. Whether or not he did this for his master or his own job is not specified.
  • Wham Line: When Jim finds the letter Elizabeth wrote hidden in the old trunk, which reveals the truth about that fatal night:
    Emma: She didn't kill herself...
  • Why Did It Have to Be Snakes?: Michael's fear of spiders. It becomes a serious stumbling block when his father and sister are stuck in a crypt with undead, the door out gets covered in spiders, and he's the only one who can open it.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Implied. Ramsley imprisons Megan and Michael in a trunk and twists the knife by threatening Sara with a Shame If Something Happened moment, implying further harm will come to them if she doesn't comply.
  • You Have Got to Be Kidding Me!: When Jim finds out that The Butler Did It and Ramsley is responsible for Elizabeth's death, he responds almost word-for-word with this trope.


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