The Disney Movie 2023 Haunted house is jam-packed with ghosts lifted straight from the theme park ride. The famous Hatbox Ghost, played by Jared Leto in the film, has a huge role, as does the crystal ball psychic Madame Leota (Jamie Lee Curtis). But other more subtle appearances include the portraits on the walls and the ghosts hanging from the dining room chandelier. Some of the ghosts are allies for protagonists Ben (LaKeith Stanfield) and Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) and their friends. Others are real threats. Most, however, are just for the #vibes.
But while the Hatbox Ghost plays a disproportionately central role to its historic appearance on the ride (although certainly in keeping with its huge fandom), the scariest ghost – and the one that has always been the scariest part of the ride, in my opinion – gives him time to shine in what is definitely the scariest moment in an often not very scary film.
[Ed. note: Spoilers ahead for Haunted Mansion, both the 2023 movie and the Disney Parks attraction.]
Haunted house gives the bride – aka Constance Hatchaway, a serial killer who murdered all her husbands with an ax and now haunts the mansion’s attic – her time to shine. She doesn’t have a critical role in the film, but her scenes are some of the most memorable parts, which suits the character.
When I was a kid, I was terrified of the Haunted Mansion, but it intrigued me too. After a traumatic experience with a haunted house attraction when I was very young, I resisted the haunted ride on my first trips to Disney, although I’ve always been fascinated by Halloween and all things scary. Finally, armed with internet access, I consulted the Wikipedia page for the ride, hoping that studying and memorizing it would prepare me for the horrors it contained.
The only part of this description that really freaked me out was the description of the attic, where the bride resides. (The current Wikipedia description is pretty bland, but I swear it was terrifying reading as a kid.) actually pretty lighthearted in that regard. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience – and the attic scene stuck with me as the attraction’s most haunting moment.
While the haunted mansion is quite visually creepy, the ghosts at the start of the ride are quite benign. They are just relaxing at home, moving books around the library or dancing in a ballroom. It’s just a pedestrian day trip into the (non)life of a ghost.
Everything changes once the ride reaches the attic. With the boom-boom of a beating heart and the thump of an ax in front of each portrait of Constance and her last husband, each new man loses his head in turn. You know this ghost is not friendly. The anxiety is heightened by the disappearance of the Ghost Host, the narrator who has been bragging to you about the mansion’s virtues from the moment you enter the attraction. He basically gives up at this point in the ride. Instead, you hear a jarring version of the Wedding March with Constance reciting her vows and really emphasizing that ’til death do us part’.
The moment the characters in 2023 Haunted house spotted the attic, I knew the Bride was coming. I braced myself as Ben walked up the stairs, and even though I thought the door would close behind him before the others joined him, it still surprised me. I knew what was in the attic, but director Justin Simien is slowly building it.
As Ben explores the attic, we see portraits of Constance and her husbands, and just like in the merry-go-round, they lose their minds one by one. It’s clear there’s someone staring at Ben, spooking. But Ben immediately tries to talk the ghost out of chopping off his head by telling him he’s an ally of women and that his husbands probably deserved to die. This moment is seriously funny – and a testament to how Simien pulls off a haunted house movie that older kids can still enjoy.
The attic scene is not Constance’s only appearance. She’s one of the biggest threats in the movie, aside from the villain. She leads ghostly mobs after the protagonists. We know she’s not just a lost soul searching for something like some of the other ghosts wandering the mansion – she’s a bloodthirsty murderess. When she growls and raises her ax, it’s delightfully menacing. He’s not a ghost to talk to, like Master Gracely, the owner of the house. She is bloodthirsty.
Haunted house it’s scary, but not Also frightening. The jump scares are mostly punctuated with jokes, and much like the ride itself, the goosebumps come more from the terror in the atmosphere than from any shocking scenes. Sure, the Hatbox Ghost reveal is a little scary, but the attic scene gets the best buildup of the movie by far. Personally, I’m just happy that Simien did well by Constance and her attic.
Haunted house is out in theaters now.