Everybody who’s ever been to Disneyland or Walt Disney World has a favorite attraction. Mine has always been and will probably always be the Haunted Mansion.
Like the ancient and wizened geek I am, I’ve always been interested in the origins of the Mansion, both in terms of its special effects and whatever sources were influences to its designers. I covered most of the FX in two articles I wrote for Storyboard Magazine way back in 1989 (under my real first name, Howard). Specific influences, however, have been harder to confirm. I guessed years ago that the Hallway of Doors was based on a scene in Robert Wise’s 1960 film, The Haunting. But it wasn’t until 2009 (that I know of) that one of the Mansion’s designers admitted they studied The Haunting for ideas.
For Christmas, my wife gave me a copy of The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney’s Haunted Mansion by Jeff Baham. (You can order it here.) It’s the book I’ve been waiting for, and I say that not because my articles from 1989 were used in its research (and, thank you, Jeff!), but because it’s as exhaustive as it could possibly be. This is the Haunted Mansion book I’ve always wanted: no Disney-approved fluff. Just pure, unadulterated facts and interviews all about my favorite house of dark shadows.
In 2009, I stumbled upon a couple of possible influences from the ’50s that, before, I never would have guessed the original designers ever saw. In hindsight, they make perfect sense, especially since we’re talking about Imagineers who had been pimply-faced comic readers only a very few years before when these comics had been published…and perhaps their children were reading them, too.
Here are some covers from EC Comics, the highly-influential and notorious publishers of the sui generis Tales From the Crypt. I can see the Imagineers in the 1960s, looking for inspirations on which to design gags and rooms for the Haunted Mansion. As far as I know–and I haven’t finished Jeff Baham’s book yet–these possible sources have never before been mentioned by Imagineers. And if you’ve ever read any of the comics or seen the HBO show that was based on them, you’ll know that they embody the same combination of humor and horror as does the Haunted Mansion.
You be the judge:
Did this inspire Madam Leota’s seance?
Was this the original caretaker at the graveyard?
Was this layout the inspiration for the mirror alcoves and their respective Hitchhiking Ghosts at the end of the attraction?
Did this cover inspire the coffin scene?
And was this the inspiration for the Ghost Host and the Stretching Room? Note the elongated angle, and the portraits on each side. It’s almost exactly what you see from below as lightning strikes high above you in the Mansion.
In 2009, I wrote a post on my old blog about the Haunted Mansion. I’ve revised and repurposed it here.