I got my first look at The Haunted Mansion when I was 14-years old. In spite of the fact that I was completely enamored with classic horror at the time, I was still afraid to step inside that foreboding house at the end of the road. What was going to happen inside? Were people going to jump out at me (my biggest fear)? Was it going to be silly? Was it a show that we were going to watch from a little room?
When the ride attendant stuffed us all into that little room, I got really worried and then crazy things began to happen. The room, wasn’t a room at all. It was an elevator. The magical paintings on the wall got increasingly creepy and then we were plunged into darkness. A hanging man. A scream. A crying baby and near panic, then the doors opened and I was led into an even more disorienting darkness. A long haul with windows that appeared to show a storm brewing outside. But how could they be windows if we were underground!
Wait! We’re underground! (That thought freaked me out all by itself). Then we rounded the corner and saw the ride. I went from dubious and afraid to bursting with anticipation. The music. The effects. The way the car turned this way and that so you didn’t miss the next trick. And then I saw that ballroom. I fell in love and I’ve been in love ever since.
The Haunted Mansion has the power to change you and that is what Foolish Mortals is all about. Creepy Kingdom podcaster James H. Carter sat down with me to talk about his plans for a very special Haunted Mansion documentary. Listen in. . . if you dare!
What compelled to make a documentary about the haunted mansion?
James: I have a podcast called the Creepy Kingdom podcast. The focus of it is the creepiness of Disney. I’ve been doing that show for a few years, and from that, I had a lot of artists or filmmakers on the show who were Haunted Mansion fans. I met so many people that were affected by the haunted mansion that I decided I wanted to dig a little deeper to see how the Haunted Mansion affected people’s personal and professional lives.
I know a lot of people wonder how The Happiest Place on Earth could be creepy, but as you know most fairy tales started off in a very dark place and Disney Disneyified them. Maybe this was their way of giving back to the original roots.
James: Most people think Disney is the opposite of creepy but I don’t. I never did. I was affected by the creepiness of the theme park and the Disney films from a very young age. Snow White and Pinocchio, the first two Disney films, have some of the creepiest sequences in any film, not just Disney films. Evil Queen wants the heart in a box, going through the creepy forest. In Pinocchio, the bad kids are sent to be slaves in the salt mines and turn into donkeys. These are horrifying concepts. I just gravitate toward dark and creepy and I love Disney, so I decided to marry the two together and create a podcast about it.
The documentary is more about the fandom for the ride than the history of the ride, is that right?
James: Those are two different stories with a clear path. The history of the Haunted Mansion is so detailed and rich and complicated. It took 10 years of development and so many different cooks had their hands in the pot. That’s why you have one half of the ride that’s really serious and scary and the other half is silly and goofy. That’s an interesting story for sure, but not the one I was interested in telling. There are books about the history of the mansion, but there’s nothing I could find that focuses on the fandom. That’s what inspired me and that’s the direction we decided to go.
There are people we’ve talked to that work in the special effects field, particularly in the horror genre, who experienced Haunted Mansion at such a young age, they were mystified by it and wanted to figure out how they pulled off the illusions. That’s what made them want to follow their career path.
Tell me about your first experience with the ride.
James: I was probably 11 years old the first time I visited The Haunted Mansion. I had no frame of reference for what it was. I assumed there was something ‘haunted’ about it, but the experience of going in the stretching room and leaving the room and it was like. . is there a ride in here somewhere? Where are we going? And then going down the hallway and those portraits changing in front of me. . I thought that was mind blowing. They’re a little more subtle now than they were originally. There used to be a lightening strike and you’d see the flash of the changes. That’s the way it was when I was a kid. Now, they slowly transform and stay a little longer so you can see what the change is.
As a kid, it left such a huge impression on me –making that right hand turn and seeing the endless Doom Buggies come by. . . wow. It was a special treat, for sure.
To pay for the documentary, you’re running a Kickstarter campaign with some amazing perks for Haunted Mansion fans.
James: After the launch, we had people reach out wanting to contribute to the campaign. So it’s evolved into this ever-growing beast. One we put up but we’re all sold out of is the Mystery Boxes. What’s in it, I don’t know. . . it’s a mystery. People were really excited about them.
Imagineer Terri Harden is offering an exclusive hatbox ghost that she’s going to handcraft. We’re limiting those to five. (To the left is concept art for an exclusive pin).
Disney artist Kevin-John Jobczynski is going to make someone a Haunted Mansion portrait in the style of his Disney art. He’s done an amazing portrait of the hatbox ghost for the Disney gallery.
I’m sure there are a lot of people “dying” for that perk. What’s the next step?
James: We started a few things out-of-pocket so we had footage before we launched the Kickstarter. When you’re putting a film on Kickstarter, people want to see some film. Running this Kickstarter is a full-time job, there are so many working parts. So we’ve stopped production because of it and we’ll continue once we reach our funding. We’re eager to get started.
We plan to travel to different places around the country to meet and talk to people and that’s going to take a lot of time. We plan to be shooting between June and November and we hope to premiere early 2017.
Now the question I like to ask all of my interviewees: what is something you’ve kept since you were a child?
James: Keeping with the theme, it was actually one of the earliest books I ever remember getting and I still have it. It was an adaptation of a Disney short called ‘Lonesome Ghosts‘. The book was called ‘Haunted House’ (CB: the version I found is called ‘Ghost Chasers’ but it appears to be the same book). It’s Mickey, Donald and Goofy hunting ghosts. I loved this book and I see my being drawn to Disney’s creepy side because I got this book at a very young age. The book is cool because on each page is a mini record, about the size of a coaster, and you had this player that you put up to the record and the sound would come out of the page.
I still have the book. I don’t have the player. Every time I talk to someone about it they don’t remember it. You’re the first person who remembers it.
I not only remember it, I found it! It’s a Fisher Price “Talk to Me” player.
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