There’s scope for a genuinely disturbing and subversive horror set in Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion, the attraction which first opened at the original theme park in Anaheim in California in 1969, with cloned versions appearing at the Magic Kingdom in Florida in 1971 and Tokyo Disneyland in 1983. There’s also scope for a properly funny, amiably creepy Goosebumps-type family comedy based on it. But this tiresome, convoluted piece of corporate IP product isn’t it; like the 2003 film version with Eddie Murphy, it feels cynical – though I must admit I have never seen the Muppets Haunted Mansion special.
This new attempt to cross-monetise the tourist walkthrough is laborious and joyless while the throwaway funny lines, which do exist, only serve in the end to remind you how clunky it really is overall. Writer Katie Dippold has worked on funny movies and TV shows such as Parks and Recreation and Ghostbusters, but this isn’t her A-game.
We begin with an almost unbearably extended, unsatisfying exposition sequence showing top scientist Ben Matthias (Lakeith Stanfield) meeting cute with his future wife, a haunted-house tour guide. Later we see him alone and really depressed and doing the tour-guide job himself; the explanation for this is withheld, but the reveal is anticlimactic. All this is quite apart from introducing us to single mom Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) and her young son Travis (Chase Dillon), who are moving into a creepy old New Orleans mansion little realising it’s haunted.
When she grasps the horrible ectoplasmic truth, Gabbie brings in various wacky experts: an exorcist priest (Owen Wilson), a medium (Tiffany Haddish), a professor (Danny DeVito) along with Ben himself. They are all destined to be trapped inside the creepy old dwelling, and to face the awful Hatbox Ghost (Jared Leto) – although he appears to be connected with a quite different house, thus sort of insulating the Haunted Mansion of the title from anything that is supposed to be bad.
Of all these people, it’s Haddish who comes closest to being funny or in any way interesting, although a cameo from Jamie Lee Curtis as an imperious soothsayer trapped inside a crystal ball does get a few laughs. In the end, it’s another piece of Halloween merchandise.
• Haunted Mansion is released on 28 July in the US, 11 August in the UK and 31 August in Australia.