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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

The Haunted Mansion (review)

Amazing Gracey

So, it’s not The Country Bears, thank the gods, not an affront to the universe, nothing we’ll have to disavow as a species before we’re admitted to the Interstellar Federation or anything. But it ain’t Pirates of the Caribbean, either, it’s nothing like even a shadow of that kind of magnificent popcorny movie fun. It’s mostly just predictable and boring and all silly not-scary stuff popping out and going Boo! and– Hello, who is this? Tall, dark, and handsome with the scrumptious British accent and the fabulous costumes and the romantic yearning and the making my toes curl?

“Who is he?” my equally smitten moviegoing pal and I whispered to each other during the totally unfrightening and unfunny moments of The Haunted Mansion, which are all of them. He is the gentleman who owns the house, the big pretend-creepy manse in the middle of the Louisiana backcountry — he’s Master Gracey, the master of the house, the man with the secrets of why it’s haunted like, um, a family-oriented amusement park ride. He’s the only reason why any hot-blooded gal past adolescence should possible consider purchasing a ticket to this film or later renting the DVD and fast-forwarding through all the dull stuff and freeze-framing it at particularly tasty moments like the big kiss right at the end. Not that I’m saying I would do that or anything, I just offer it as a suggestion in case someone might want to consider it.

Oh my. *swoon*

Turns out he’s called Nathaniel Parker, and the entire movie is about his Master Gracey and his tragic story of lost love and broken hearts — oh honey, come lay your head on my shoulder — and impertinent household help like Terence Stamp’s (Full Frontal, My Wife Is an Actress) butler Ramsley and Wallace Shawn’s (The Curse of the Jade Scorpion, Toy Story 2) servant Ezra, who almost but not quite gets to say “Inconceivable!” I would have no trouble living in this faux-spooky house covered in spider webs that spray from a can and plagued by floating disembodied Jennifer Tilly (Monsters, Inc., The Cat’s Meow) heads making silly prognostications and serenaded by marble busts that sing barbershop quartets, even if there does turn out to be a minimally terrifying PG-rated hellmouth in front hall, as long as Master Gracey is there in his brocade smoking jacket and with that dark gaze that smokes, too.

At least, Nathaniel Parker and his delectable deliciousness is all I can seem to remember about the film. Apparently Eddie Murphy appears in the movie, too, and I do seem to vaguely recall him doing the mugging schtick that’s been his calling card of late, the one that is at times uncomfortably minstrely even though he’s supposed to be a professional daddy day carer or an I-spy or a real estate agent or whatever. But I find it hard to believe that Murphy would appear in a film like The Haunted Mansion, because I have a distinct memory — this is from before my brain was fogged by visions of Nathaniel Parker and his lovely, kissable mouth — of one of his standup routines of long ago in which he explains why black people would never fall victim to a haunted house: While whitey just ignores the walls dripping blood and the eerie moaning, the first time the house intones “GET OUT,” a brother would be gone. So I don’t really accept the word of Murphy’s appearance here as based on anything but malicious rumor.

Damn, I’m almost tempted to sit through the film again, just to spend some more time with Master Gracey. Almost. But I sure did run right to Netflix and add all of Nathaniel Parker’s BBC Inspector Lynley mysteries to my queue.


MPAA: rated PG for frightening images, thematic elements and language

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

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