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).
“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.
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.