Three Movies that Inspired Disney's Haunted Mansion

Lisa Tate

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Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion turned 50 earlier this month, and whatever changes, additions and overgrowth is going on in the world of Disney, the original antebellum mansion in New Orleans Square is still a favorite.

It took more than a decade to complete, but on Aug. 9, 1969, guests got to visit the “999 Happy Haunts” of the mansion, and they haven’t stopped hitching a ride in the Mansion’s “Doom Buggies” ever since.

Some of the reasons for this attraction’s staying power include attention to detail, the special practical effects that still hold up today, and humor. More than anything, the Haunted Mansion isn’t a mere gore-filled, jump, scare fest (although those can be fun). It is a classy, Gothic, ghost story filled with memorable characters, each with a personality of their own.

To create such a story that resonates with riders of all ages, the Imagineers and creators drew from several sources, ranging from classic horror tales, to movies, to real people. To celebrate this ride’s golden anniversary, here are three movies that in some way influenced this timeless attraction:

London After Midnight

Sometimes referred to as The Hypnotist, this 1927 silent film was directed by Tod Browning, the horror master behind Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, and the controversial, disturbing Freaks. Lon Cheney’s lurking, leering Man in the Beaver Hat is often cited in fan sites as a possible inspiration for the Hatbox Ghost, who disappeared from the Mansion for 45 years before joining the spirits again in 2015.

Beauty and the Beast (1946)

Although there have been several adaptations (including, of course, Disney's) of this romantic fantasy by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont, Jean Cocteau's beautiful French film is considered one of the classics in French cinema. Those who love perusing the eerie decor of the Haunted Mansion will recognize that the arm sconces towards the end of the ride are influenced by the hanging arm chandelier-like sconces seen throughout the enchanted castle.

The Loved One

In 1965, this dark satire on the funeral business was billed at the time as a motion picture “with something to offend everyone.” In other words, it was hilarious. Think Death at a Funeral meets It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. Like many of the madcap comedies of the 60s, it had a cast of thousands, from Jonathan Winters to Rod Steiger, and Liberace (as a funeral director) to James Coburn. It was newcomer Anjanette Comer whose influence is seen in the Haunted Mansion, as her soft-spoken creepy funeral hostess was the inspiration for eerie “Ghostess” (often referred to by fans as Little Leota) who bids attraction riders farewell.

Even the favorite phrase, “If you decide to join us, make final arrangements now,” was inspired by Comer’s, "We hope that one day he may decide to join us."

Hurrrry Baaack…

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