How Justin Simien Found The Right Tone For ‘Haunted Mansion’
With Disney’s Haunted Mansion set to hit theaters tomorrow, director Justin Siemen sat down with The Direct to talk about how the film came out.
A reboot of 2003’s Haunted Mansion film was in development in 2010 when Guillermo del Toro attempted to create his own version of a Haunted Mansion movie. Ultimately, Disney decided that Del Toro’s vision for the film was too scary, and brought in screenwriters Katie Dippold and Simien.
Not Pulling Punches
According to Simien, despite Disney’s reservation’s about the Del Toro film, he didn’t want his Haunted Mansion to pull any punches.
‘“But I do know that I was really adamant about the movie not pulling its punches because the classic Disney movies don’t pull their punches. The classic Disney movies are terrifying to this day. And they’re more terrifying as you get older and recognize the existential implications of things like Donkey Kid Island and being haunted by your stepmother and your uncle killing your father. And all of these moments, you know, they make these movies sort of iconic and stay with you for your whole life when you lean into that stuff.”
Taking Inspiration From Walt and His Imagineers
In the end, Simien wanted to create a blend of horror and humor. Just as Walt Disney Imagineers did in creating the original attraction.
“And that was a big touchstone for me. The sort of correspondence between the Imagineers and Walt Disney making the ride because they thought about this to back in the 60s, should it be scary? Should it be cute? Should it be fun? Or should it be a musical? Should it have no music? What should it be? They figured out a way to make a blend that I think is sort of essential to why the ride is so successful. So I leaned on that a lot.”
When crafting his vision for the film, Simien borrowed from some of his favorite horror movies growing up.
“And then there was like the movies that I grew up with ‘Ghostbusters’ and ‘Neverending Story’ and, for me it was ‘Nightmare on Elm Street’. That might be a little too horror for this. [I meant to also say] ‘Little Shop of Horrors’, but these sort of family movies that nonetheless sort of take place in these fantasy horror realities and are grounded with practical special effects and comedic actors, comedic ensembles, movies also like Clue. Those were also touchstones that I referenced a lot in communicating the vision for this film.”
In the end, Simien found his tone. Haunted Mansion is a family film that will give children some jump scares while providing laughs for parents. Marc Davis would be proud.
Disney’s Haunted Mansion is in theaters July 28.
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