Way back in 2010 at San Diego Comic-Con it was announced that Guillermo del Toro was to helm a HAUNTED MANSION film for Disney. As you can imagine the hype for this was large and well intended because that is an absolute dream pairing. Like many dreams though it never actually materialized in reality and here we are in 2019 with nothing moving forward on that project while GDT is now a household name after earning Best Picture and Best Director honors at 2018’s Academy Awards for THE SHAPE OF WATER.
So what happened? It’s not as if GDT went into hiding after the Mansion announcement. It was even bolstered a bit by the news that Ryan Gosling would be involved in the production in April of 2015 by Variety. Since 2010 del Toro has directed PACIFIC RIM, CRIMSON PEAK, THE SHAPE OF WATER, earned writing credit on THE HOBBIT TRILOGY (which he was first slated to direct) and recently produced SCARY STORIES TO TELL IN THE DARK. Again we ask, what happened?
Answer. He kinda made his own HAUNTED MANSION film? Yes, a question for a question.
I hate assuming what people’s intentions are creatively so while I feel the lines do connect on what I am about to draw, I have no actual way of knowing. Lets just talk about what our eyes tells us.
Disney’s Haunted Mansion is a diamond of creativity and immersion. It surpasses most of what Disney has ever done in their parks and that’s not meant as a backhanded compliment. It shows the longevity and quality of what the Mansion has to offer. There are visuals tied to the attraction that are iconic paired with a musical score that knows no grave. For this we will concentrate on a handful of the visuals though and even the plot itself as given to you by the attraction. You will read MANY interpretations of what the full story of the Haunted Mansion is but I will stick with what the current attraction tells us in Walt Disney World.
In older interviews while discussing the film aspirations of Haunted Mansion, del Toro said “It’s not just a regular world with a Haunted Mansion plopped in the middle. I am really thinking of a movie that has a heightened reality.” That could give the impression of a period piece. Something where the structure of the Mansion can live comfortably without having to square peg it. If we look at his work since the distant Comic-Con announcement, one film stands out quite noticeably when it comes to creepy mansions and ghosts. 2015’s CRIMSON PEAK
Released on September 15th, 2015, CRIMSON PEAK was a visual delight and love story that had some ghosts in it. The trailer gave a false impression of the film though and audiences overall were a bit puzzled. They expected a pure jump scare laden horror film but got a Gothic love story with haunting trappings. Personally I prefer what was delivered. The film has a luxurious production design and the story is haunting in its own way. As I watched it though there were some things that seemed quite familiar. Beyond the obvious center piece of a mansion that is legitimately haunted, there were visual cues that also hearkened back to the Disney attraction. This all came up again recently as I have begun to take on a rowing regimen to get myself back into somewhat good health. I watch 40 minutes of a film at a clip as I row then share some of my favorite screenshots on Instagram. Currently I am on a GDT series and Crimson Peak is where I am currently residing.
First up we have the wallpaper. The Haunted Mansion wallpaper is sold on shirts, posters and just about every type of merchandise that Disney churns out. It’s iconic in the realm of theme parks. Here is what it looks like in black and white form as sold on the Shop Disney website.
Next is a wide shot Edith, the films heroine, walking down a long corridor in the film. Pay specific attention to the wallpaper on either side of her. It is prominent throughout Allerdale Hall, the mansion featured in the film.
While not a 1 to 1 replica because copyright and such, you can see a VERY similar pattern in both designs. Whether this was intentional or not is a question we cannot answer but there does seem to be a bit of intent present.
Another visual connection is based on the grandfather clock. In the Haunted Mansion you pass by a clock that has a 13 at the top instead of the common 12 and while passing by on your Doom Buggy, a ghostly hand passes over it. Here is the clock in question.
In one of the earliest sequences in the film, a young Edith is laying in bed following her mothers untimely death and snowy funeral. As Edith is positioned close up in the frame we have a deep look at the hallway outside her bedroom which at the end sits a grandfather clock up against the wall. As the focus shifts from Edith to the hallway, a pair of ghostly hands extend across the face of the clock just as it does in the Haunted Mansion attraction. Yes, it’s BOTH hands in the film as opposed to the single appendage but here it is. Look at the center of the image, down the hallway.
If that is a bit tough to see, here is a side by side with the screenshot from the film cropped a bit to bring more focus to the clock.
This struck me immediately when I first saw the film. Admittedly, it distracted me a bit as I searched the future frames for more parallels in the visual landscape of the film which made me miss the largest connection. More on that in a bit though. We still have another, rather large, connection to make in terms of imagery.
SPOILERS ON A FILM THAT CAME OUT 4 YEARS AGO…
Hey guess what, the brother and sister combo of Tom Hiddleston and Jessica Chastain are a murderous duo who enjoy one another’s company maybe a bit TOO much. In the end the both meet their end but it’s the death of Jessica Chastain’s Lucille that has a bit of the Mansion in it. As the film concludes we see Lucille’s ghost at the piano as we saw her in life during the movie. Here is what it looks like.
Can you see her? She is illuminated by the light cascading from the large window above. There she sits at the piano, a ghost of her own now. Here now is a piano playing specter displayed in the Haunted Mansion…
Do you see him? His shadow is cast upon the floor produced by moonlight cascading through the window in front of him. Remember how I said that I hate to assume ones creative intent earlier? I need to suspend that here. This MUST be a nod. If not intentional then completely subconscious of del Toro. There is more too. The large ballroom of Allerdale Hall shares many features in common in the one prominently shown in the Disney attraction. A large banquet table sits at the center with a railed second floor wrapping around it’s circumference. You can even spot various marble busts in the haunted halls of Crimson Peak. They don’t sing as a barbershop quarter nor are they famous ghost writers but again the DNA seems there to make the bridge.
Finally we have the story. The plot of the Haunted Mansion seems to change with who you speak to about what era of existence but we are going to stick with the tale of Constance the Bride who resides in spectral form within the attic of the house that hosts 999 happy haunts in Orlando. Simply put, Constance is a female Bluebeard. She marries, kills her newly crowned husband, takes the money and runs off to the next victim to fall prey to her beauty and die by her hatchet. Lovely. Here is picture I took of Constance recently at Walt Disney World. Please know I used no flash as to not bother any guests on the attraction. Just a fast lens and VERY high ISO.
Gripped between her hands is a hatchet that appears and disappears. This photo was snapped while it was in the disappearing phase but you get the gist. Here is Lucille near the finale of CRIMSON PEAK where she has given in to full madness.
A gown of white, slightly stained by the duty at hand and retrieving the tool she killed her mother with, a giant cleaver. Not a hatchet exactly but here we see the lines that connect once again. To further this we have the ongoing dirty deeds of Lucille and her brother, Sir Thomas Sharpe. They go all around the world finding lonely, wealthy brides that Thomas seduces, marries and serves up to Lucille for the killing. Same as Constance the Bride. The same murders for the same reasons. This could all be a coincidence but it is really stark when you line them up one to the next.
So there you have it. My case, as it were, that while we never got THE Haunted Mansion film that Guillermo del Toro pitched and sent in a draft to Disney, we got A Haunted Mansion film by him in the guise of CRIMSON PEAK. I am sure that CRIMSON PEAK existed in his mind well before he ever took pen to paper for the House of Mouse but it’s really hard to dispute the similarities in the two. Whether intentional or not, there are strands of Disney’s Haunted Mansion residing within the halls of Crimson Peak. I also want to say that Crimson Peak was criminally overlooked. Just remember, it’s not a ghost story. It’s a love story with ghosts in it. Much like fandom love for the Haunted Mansion.