Friday, November 11, 2011

How To Traumatise A 7 Year Old: The Haunted House (2003) Review

In my home country of Straylia, Halloween is not observed with the same level of enthusiasm or acceptance as it appears to be in the US. So, I don’t really feel comfortable letting my kids (2 girls; 7 and 9 years old) go trick-or-treating in case they encounter a stranger who makes their displeasure at being trick-or-treated a bit too well known to my kids.

This, of course, doesn’t stop my kids asking to go trick-or-treating every year so I’m usually prepared with a consolation prize for when I inevitably disappointment them with my “no trick-or-treating” ruling. This year, I offered then a “Halloween Movie Night”. The suggestion was a big hit, and had the desired effect of adequately distracting them from the fact that they weren't going trick-or-treating. I'd boast about what an awesome parent I am if it wasn't for the fact that I'm not. A fact that will become plainly evident if you continue reading.

So, my kids set about making decorations for our home theatre lounge room while I tried to figure out what movie we were going to watch. Bearing in mind that my kids have consumed a steady diet of G rated Pixar and Dreamworks animation since birth, I didn't want to traumatise them with something too frightening. So, after extensive research (OK, I googled “kids Halloween movies”) I presented them with following short list from which to choose their first "scary" movie: Casper, The Corpse Bride, Ghostbusters, The Haunted Mansion, and The Nightmare Before Christmas (all rated PG or G).

“What’s a mansion?” my 7 year old daughter asked.

“It’s like a really, really big house,” I explained.

“Wow,” she said, “so a haunted mansion would be even scarier than a haunted house?”

“Well, it’s bigger. I’m not sure about scarier,” I clarified.

“I want to watch The Haunted Mansion!” she blurted.

“Yeah, me too,” declared my 9 year old daughter.

So The Haunted Mansion it was.

The Haunted Mansion starts with an ominous olden day prelude set in the titular mansion. A large aristocratic party is going swimmingly until someone dies from a poisoned chalice and then someone else hangs themselves.

Sure, it's a Disney movie, but it's not a "Disney" movie.

The movie then skips to the present day and introduces us to husband and wife real estate agents Jim Evers (Eddie Murphy) and Sara Evers (Marsha Thomason) of “Evers & Evers” estate agency. Things are a little rocky between Jim and Sara because Jim spends more time flogging real estate than - uhm... it's a PG  rated movie so let's just say - attending to Sara's needs. So, as recompense for his inattentiveness he offers to take Sara and their kids, Michael (Marc John Jefferies) and Megan (Aree Davis) away for the weekend.

Before the family sets off for some quality time together Sara gets a call from a potential client requesting her services to sell an expansive family mansion. Surprise, surprise, it's the mansion from the ominous olden days prelude. The client is also oddly insistent that Sara be the agent and not Jim. Sara just wants to blow the client off and go on their weekend getaway as planned, but Jim insists on “stopping by” the mansion on the way.

When the whole family “stops by” the mansion they are greeted by the creepy butler, Ramsley (Terence Stamp), who introduces them to mansion’s owner Master Gracey (Nathaniel Parker). Sara is made to feel welcome, but the rest of the family are given the cold shoulder. Jim is so enthusiastic about securing such a prestigious property, however; he barely notices he’s not really welcome.

Before too long a storm rolls in, flooding the road into the mansion, and forces the Evers family to stay the night. What ensues is a series of increasingly spooky events that put the Evers family in peril and reveal the mansion’s dark secrets.

"Here, give this psychiatrist a call. He specialises in paediatric care and post-traumatic stress syndrome."

The Haunted Mansion is a pretty stock standard haunted house movie pitched at a younger (but not too young (I'll elaborate on that in a moment)) audience. Eddie Murphy is at his charmingly amusing best as Jim Evers, and Terence Stamp is customarily pitch perfect as the creepy butler. Overall, the movie has a pretty good balance of humour and scares. The rest of the cast is solid in their fairly perfunctory roles, and the production design is probably the best I’ve seen for a haunted house movie.

OK, let's be clear about this, The Haunted Mansion is not a movie for hard-core horror fans nor, as it turns out, is it really for very young viewers either. This movie is really pitched at the pre-teen audience and, in my frequently ignored opinion, it is pitched perfectly. It’s not so frightening that it will traumatise pre-teens, nor is it so soft and cuddly that they’ll easily dismiss it as "lame" or “unscary”.

Unfortunately, my 7 year old daughter was a bit too young for it. I didn’t pick up on the fact it was really frightening her during the movie, but when the credits rolled she bolted out of our home theatre room in tears. I’m expecting social services to stop by and remove her from my care any day now. (Please, no comments about what a crap Dad I am, I already feel terrible).

On the brighter side, my 9 year old daughter put on a brave face and said she didn’t find it scary. Although she did chatter nervously during some sequences, so I think, for her at least, it was the perfect introduction to "scary" movies.


  1. Ummm... I let my 8-year-old watch Shaun of the Dead with me. Ooops.

    Aside from that lapse in judgment, I think I've done pretty well introducing him to horror with the Universal classics. This year's Halloween movie was The Haunting (1953?). He ate it up. Then again, he's kind of an unusual kid. He loves old black and white movies. When I showed him Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein, he took my boxed set to his room and watched Son, Ghost, and House of Frankenstein on his own.

  2. My 7 y.o. daughter has sworn off "scary" movies for now, but when she's ready to dip her toe back into the genre I might try some of those Universal classics you mention. I haven't seen most of them myself so I'm probably well overdue to check them out anyway.

  3. I'm a dad, too, but my dude is only 2 years old, so pretty much everything is off limits for him right now. But maybe this will make you feel a little better:

    My dad took me to see Poltergeist when I was 7 years old. Now, it was rated PG, mainly because the MPAA loved Steven Spielberg, so you can't really blame him. My folks are not people who follow movies outside of the ads in the paper. And that movie was at least a pretty hard PG.

    Needless to say, I was scared out of my mind. Completely "traumatized", mind blown, desperately trying to figure out how the people in the audience could laugh when a CLOWN IS ATTACKING THAT BOY WHO IS JUST LIKE ME!

    Anyway, yeah. Terrified. But it's also what gave me a life long love of horror. Really, it's one of the best things my dad has ever done for me.

    Also - apparently there's a new Haunted Mansion in the work from Guillermo Del Toro that's supposed to truly not be for kids.

    Great write up!

  4. Two year olds don't need to see horror, they are horror.

    Thanks for your Poltergeist story, Mr Moorhead. I do hope that, like you, my daughter will eventually look back on the experience positively.

    As for Poltergeist getting a PG rating stateside; that is peculiar. Our OFLC gave it an M rating (roughly equivalent to a PG-13) and they're usually a little more liberal than the MPAA.