Things You're Just Supposed to Know

Most of the time, Long-Forgotten assumes that readers are already familiar with basic facts
about the Haunted Mansion. If you wanna keep up with the big boys, I suggest you check out
first of all the website, Doombuggies.com. After that, the best place to go is Jason Surrell's book,
The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies (NY: Disney Editions, 2003; 2nd ed. 2009)
and Jeff Baham's The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion (USA: Theme Park Press, 2014).

This site is not affiliated in any way with any Walt Disney company. It is an independent
fan site dedicated to critical examination and historical review of the Haunted Mansions.
All images that are © Disney are posted under commonly understood guidelines of Fair Use.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Into the Dark Forest

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Before someone asks, I must say that the amazing synchronicity between this post and THIS ONE is coincidental.  I had no inkling what the next Passport blog was going to discuss.  The post you're now reading has been "in the can" and pretty much ready to go for over a month!  

Did any of Disney's animated films play any role in the development of the Haunted Mansion?  The current consensus among orthodox Mansionologists is: "Why yes, certainly, but only two or three of them."

Raise the topic, and you'll hear about Ken Anderson's 1957-58 plans to build the attraction around the Legend of Sleepy Hollow as interpreted in The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad, as well as his plans for a "Lonesome Ghost" character, inspired by the Mickey Mouse short of the same name.  That's what you'll read at Doombuggies.com, in Jason Surrell's Haunted Mansion book, and in any number of magazine articles or video presentations dealing with the history of the attraction, and as a matter of fact we talked about those in our earlier treatment of cinematic influences.  Those two are mainly of historical interest, however, since neither Ichabod nor Lonesome left any mark on the finished ride beyond a few ambiguous and incidental details.

Sometimes a third film is mentioned: the Night on Bald Mountain segment from Fantasia.  We discussed that one earlier too.  The wispy spirits in the graveyard and perhaps also the wraiths flying in and out of the ballroom windows may owe something to the famous Fantasia segment.



(Jeff Fillmore Life by the Drop)


Here's Disney historian Ed Squair citing those three films in The Making of the Haunted Mansion, included with the DVD release of the 2003 movie.




The Fourth Film

It's odd, because there is definitely a fourth Disney animated film that influenced one of the scenes in the Haunted Mansion, but it's never cited as an inspiration.  Why is that?  Beats me, except that these narratives do tend to get stuck in the same old groove after awhile, and we're all too lazy to rethink them.  The fourth film is Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and I'm thinking specifically of the sequence in which Snow White flees into the dark forest, and her terrified imagination turns ordinary trees into threatening demons.



This concept was recycled in the aforementioned Adventures of Ichabod mini-feature, and as we saw in the
earlier post on cinematic influences, one of the trees in that film may actually have inspired a few Mansion ghosts.


Okay, so where is the Haunted Mansion's own version of this?  Well duh, it's the short journey from the attic to the ground level in the graveyard, a passage through dark and threatening trees.  Seven of them, as a matter of fact.

Usually, when we embark on these excursions into Mansion backgrounds, we wander far and wide, but in this case I don't think that is necessary.  "The Dark Forest" as an archetype in dreams, myths, and legends is a rich topic, but in this brief scene I don't think the HM Imagineers went beyond the boundaries of Snow White any more than Ichabod did.  It's the Dark Forest as distilled through that one source.  I will cite one influence behind Snow White's scary forest, however, because it's quite possible the HM Imagineers were directly familiar with it.

Swedish illustrator Gustaf Tenggren was hired by Disney in 1936 and was a major influence on the look and feel of Snow White, bringing an Old World, fairy-tale storybook ambience to the film. Tenggren's influence on the Snow White forest scenes was particularly strong.  Compare this 1937 Snow White sketch to a sketch he did in 1924.


(Hat tip to Filmic Light for the Tenggren material)

This is probably as far back as we need to go for the roots of the scary trees in the Haunted Mansion.


Snow White's Scary Adventures

Between the film version of Snow White and the Haunted Mansion, however, came Snow White's Scary Adventures (that's the current name; it's had several), so in this case the animated feature had already been translated into a dark ride before the Haunted Mansion came along, and that ride in turn exercised its own direct influence on the future attraction.  Claude Coats worked on Scary Adventures, which was largely designed by Ken Anderson.

A comparison of the movie artwork with the painted flats and fully-dimensional trees in the original 1955 dark ride shows that the Imagineers wanted to preserve the look of the film in the forest scene.

(pix from The E-Ticket magazine, Summer 1992)

What did it look like in the dark?  We can't expect to find very many good photos of the original scene under show lighting conditions, but you can still get an idea by simply going on the ride, since this section of Scary Adventures hasn't been radically altered over the years.  In fact, there may be reason to believe that the trees that are there today are still the originals.  I base that conjecture on their appearance under regular light.  The trees in the now-defunct WDW Snow White ride looked, and the trees in the Tokyo ride still look, pretty good when the lights are on, but the DL trees?  Hideous, unrecognizable piles of what looks like melted plastic.

Walt Disney World:

(above and lower right: screen caps from video by Mousechat.net)

Tokyo Disneyland:

(pic by ywloop)

Now check out Disneyland:


Gross.  I don't know for sure, but it seems to me that's what fifty-seven year old mechanical trees might look like after being repaired and repainted over and over.  But even though they look like crap under regular light, they transform into the scary monsters we see in the movie whenever the show lighting comes on.  Such is the magic of black light.  Modern photography can better capture some of the feel.



Several of these trees are animated, of course, turning back and forth as you go by.


The Dark Forest Running Away from Snow White?

I think the most interesting discovery in examining the influence of Snow Whiteboth the film and the ride—on the "dark trees" section of the Haunted Mansion, is that the Imagineers consistently drifted away from Snow White as time went by, whether by design or accident.

To start with, the physical layout of the dark tree sequence in the Haunted Mansion bears some similarity to the depiction of the dark forest scene in the Ken Anderson-designed mural that graced the exterior of Snow White's Scary Adventures from 1955 until 1982:



It may be coincidence, but golly, imagine going down that path backwards in a doombuggy.


Not only that, but the trees in the HM were originally going to be animated, like the trees in the Snow White ride.  Note the references to "MECHANICAL TREES" on the blueprint.  This is from the spring of 1969, so that effect may have been scrapped pretty late in the game.  We don't know why.  Technical problems?  Cost overruns? Manpower shortage?  Or was it thought to be too obviously a Scary Adventures retread?

Then too, there may have been plans to put large and highly visible sets
of eyes on the trees, if that is the correct way to read this other blueprint:


"EYES IN TREE TRUNKS, 7 PAIRS," "EYES IN TREES."  There was something like this
in the Snow White ride, a further attempt to replicate what you find in the movie.

(Original pic from Davelandweb.  Enhanced by HBG2)

And for what it's worth, in a few of Marc Davis's
concept sketches, he puts faces on the graveyard trees.


But it is equally possible that the blueprint is referring to the eyes that were put into the seven trees.  I think most Disneylanders know that the eyes are there, but hey, how come you never see an organized photo spread with all seven identified?  Once again it falls to us at Long-Forgotten to perform a shamefully neglected task.  Here ya go, kids, and the numbers are even matched to the blueprint above for easy reference.


If the trees had been animated, and if the eyes had been made even more prominent than they are, then the debt to Snow White's Scary Adventures would have been hard to miss.


How Thick is that Thicket Out the Window?

The one for our doombuggy trail?  Since the scene is so dark, it isn't easy to come up with a photographic image of the Anaheim trees that replicates their look under show conditions.  The videos are hopeless.



Here's a nice 3D image, if you can do the "magic eye" thing.


The twisty railings are supposed to read as pieces of random underbrush and branches.
You're passing through a dense thicket, you see.  (This is WDW, but Anaheim's railings are similar.)


While we're on the subject, as of this writing, something is going on at the
DL HM with regard to the railing on the landing right outside the attic exit.

(pic by MasterGracey)

My guess is that they were told this area needed a higher, safer railing.  I include the photo mainly in order to show how the current Imagineers are still sensitive to the camouflage strategy in use with these railings.  Note how the post supports mimic a snarly bunch of brush.  As luck would have it, this photo shows those post supports against the background of the real shrubbery and dead branches they're supposed to imitate.


The current generation of Imagineers comes in for a lot of criticism around the blogs and chatboards, so it's only right to congratulate them when they do something well, even if it's a relatively small thing. Or maybe especially when it's a relatively small thing.

Anyway, back to the topic of thicket thickness.

The seven Disneyland trees are black and stout and have faces on them, resembling the Snow White trees.  Below, that's from the now-defunct Scary Adventures at WDW on the left, with Disneyland's HM on the right.


At Disneyland, they crowd heavily around you.  Some of the shrubbery between them extends up past the top of the doombuggies.  A few of the trees still have some foliage, further blocking the view.  Real twigs and branches have been incorporated, all dense and twisted.  Visibility through and past the trees is quite limited.  In a word, you're trapped.


Whoops, can't go that way.



That way doesn't look too good either.



Forget it.



Sorry.


The WDW thicket is a complete contrast.  The trees are thinner, lighter in color, utterly bare, and do not have faces.  Their twigs are thin and spidery, but they are arched and curved, never gnarled and twisted.  There is far less shrubbery, and it's lower down, almost at track level.


You see through these trees as much as you see the trees themselves.
These 3D's from the WDW Mansion may help you to get a feel for it.


Admittedly, I haven't been to the Orlando Mansion, but judging from backstage photos, on-ride photos,
and videos, it looks to me like a very different "dark forest" experience than the Anaheim original.

Photobucket
(From the Martin-Warren video, 2009)

Here's a side-by-side that shows the dramatic contrast
between the designs of the WDW trees and the DL trees.

Incidentally, that "eye" in the DL tree is actually an infrared light that invisibly illuminates the area for the night vision
security system.  I suppose there's some irony in that, since it's part of the system by which they keep an eye on you.


Heh.  Reminds me of Flowers and Trees.


It's difficult to say whether one is better than the other.  One is a dark cavern, the other seems more like a prison cell with bars.

The differences between the two sets represent further steps away from Snow White, but it's not possible to know if that was the motive.  It could all be coincidental; nevertheless the differences between the blueprints and the production figures, and even more so the differences between Anaheim and Orlando, consistently go in that direction.

If indeed the Imagineers were concerned that the HM thicket would look too much like a Snow White rip-off, they needn't have worried, since no one ever mentions the obvious Snow White correlations anyway.


Falling Off the Roof

According to the official WED summary of the ride, released in the summer of 1969, you exit the attic window, then you "suddenly 'fall' backwards off the roof," and then you "descend past grasping, demon trees."

(Collin Campbell's take on the attic exit)

Out you go.  Go on.  Scoot.  All it takes is faith and trust, and a little Omnimover track.

Some people have interpreted this as a fatal fall, so that you are now one of them as you make your way through the graveyard jamboree.  But the ghosts still ignore you, except for the popup ghosts, who are still trying to scare you, and nothing the Ghost Host says later on suggests a change in your condition.  Why you survive the fall unharmed is not explained.  One supposes that the same force that compelled you to move through the house (represented by the doombuggy) buoyed you up safely as you softly descended.

I only bring that up because there is yet another way to read this portion of the ride.  Normally, I am cool toward Freudian interpretations, but I have to admit that they work rather well here, so maybe this time there's something to that approach.  The house is the womb in which you have gradually been prepared for entry into another, different world.  You fall through the birth canal (and all that dark underbrush, heh heh) and miraculously land unharmed, borne up safely by invisible hands, and now you're in that other world big time.  Ta da, you've been born.  If you hold to the "death" interpretation of the fall from the attic, this Freudian interpretation plays right into your hands.

I'm not saying I fully buy into any of this, and I bring it forward with reluctance, because if you give them Freudians an inch they take a mile.  "Yeah, yeah, that's gotta be it!  And notice that the first person you see is a 'caretaker,' and why is there no bathroom or bedroom in the Mansion?  And...well, you KNOW what Constance and her hatchet are all about, don't you?  DON'T YOU??  And...."

Good heavens, wouldja look at the time?  We have to wrap this post up.  I'll see you all a little later.



Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Haunted Mansion is Blue, and Phantom Manor is Pink

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I've lived long enough to watch the modern feminist movement go through more than one intellectual stage.  In the 70's it was still called "women's lib" more often than "feminism" and a bad guy would be called a "male chauvinist" (with the option of adding "...pig") rather than "sexist," but it was the same thing.  I remember that at one point the argument de jour was:  "Men and women are the same, same, same, except for some incidental plumbing."  I don't think anyone ever really believed that, and going into the 80's I remember a countermovement within feminism that stressed how utterly different women were from men.  This was another extreme and ultimately indefensible position.  At times these neofeminist authors seemed almost ready to embrace the old stereotypes that women were...well...utterly different from men.  Sorta like this:  "Of course women are lousy drivers.  That's because their brains work differently than the brains of the men who devised the cars and roads."  Needless to say, that type of argument didn't last.

It seems to me that a commonsense middle position has since swept the field.  Men and women are very different, but neither sex is complete or better without the other.  Men are from Mars; women are from Venus, blah blah blah.  The trouble begins when the male psyche is taken as normative and the female psyche is looked upon as a deviation from that norm.  Enormous injustice has resulted from that.  Male and female psyches need to be equally respected, with no trivialization of the one, no idolization of the other.  At the end of the day, is there any other goal worth taking seriously?

I see a growing acceptance of this view not only within moderate feminist ranks but also within the general culture.  Is it possible we're actually learning?  Look below.  No one but a madman would run an ad like this today, and I dare say the men would be nearly as quick to roll their eyes as the women.

And if you think about it, the sexism at work here is implied rather than overt.  It's subtle, and yet it leaps off of the page for many (most?) modern readers.  This points to a transformation in the general culture.  I suppose they're out there, but personally I don't know any guys who long for the good old days when "women knew their place," and I'm pretty sure men and women alike find Gaston an obnoxious and ridiculous character.  Don't believe it?  Just you watch, and I'll prove it.


.                                                       No one EATS like Gaston,
.                                                       Has bad FEETS like Gaston,
.                                                       No one likes to sniff bicycle SEATS like Gaston!

There, see?  Gaston is a big jerk.  I wrote that new verse myself.  That's right, a guy wrote that!
" I can tell " ?   What's THAT supposed to mean?

I am not saying sexism is dead and there's nothing left to do; I'm just saying it's time to recognize (and rejoice) that an attitude of respect and equality seems to be emerging more and more as the expected, default position in the public square, and artificial arguments that few people ever really believed are losing their punch.  These days, instead of ads like the above you'll see articles about men and women and charts like this one in the same magazines, and the only gripes the editors are likely to get are from people who know there aren't three S's in "privateness."


This lengthy preamble is my preemptive strike against accusations of sexism from bitter diehards who despise the new consensus as insufficiently radical.  Stop sucking on that lemon for five minutes and go read this classic Dave Barry column.  I think we enter a very healthy stage when we can all laugh at ourselves, even when the topic itself is serious.  Who wants to be angry all the time?

Now that the cards are all on the table, and you know where I'm coming from, on with the show.


The View from Mars

For men, life is a test, a proving ground, an arena.  "The world" is other, it's an entity apart, indifferent to you at best and hostile at worst.  You pass through life, and you hope that your life's work leaves some kind of positive mark behind you, a change for the better.  But there will be inner and outer obstacles to this achievement, and those are dragons you must fight alone.  You are not a man until you defeat them.  Essentially, there are but two characters in the masculine drama: You, and Everyone and Everything else.  No matter how deeply and sincerely you are bonded to someone else in love, they can never fight your fight for you.

None of this is news, and you can find plenty of support for it in sociology and psychology.  This quote will do as well as any:

Men are made, not born. Across a broad sweep of cultures, this central theme recurs with stunning regularity [....] Unlike women, men must take actions, undergo ordeals, or pass tests in order to become men. They are told to “be a man” whereas women are not told to “be” women (though certainly women too are socialized into gender roles). In this way, a surprising number of cultures converge in treating masculinity as something that must be created by individual and collective will [....] Culture after culture features rites of passage from boyhood to manhood. Only select men can achieve “manhood,” and it must be won individually.      (Joshua Goldstein, War and Gender [2001])

The same passage in that book points out that "being a man" means going against instinct, against what "comes naturally."  If a "real man" is injured while engaged in a worthwhile task, he ignores the pain and does his duty.  If a "real man" is angered, he suppresses his retaliatory impulse and dispenses justice dispassionately, fairly, and rationally.  And most importantly for our purposes, if a "real man" is frightened, he does not panic and run away but continues to move forward despite his fear.


The View from Venus

The female outlook on life is quite different.  The emphasis is on being rather than doing.  The world is not a foreign territory, a wrestling opponent, or a dark passageway en route to somewhere else.  It's home.  It may be a happy one or an unhappy one, but it's home.  You're not out to recreate the world from scratch but to understand it and discern the harmonious whole in which you are certain you somehow have a place.  That requires diligent and uninterrupted attention to relationships with other people.  (Repeat that sentence ten times.)  Tests consistently show that on the whole, women evidence less interest in individual accomplishment and more interest in cooperative activity to achieve a common end.  There is also a conviction that feelings and intuitions carry their own weight of validity, and since they play as big a role as anything else in determining what people actually say and do, that's a perfectly pragmatic notion.  Women have an innate conviction that the world we all live in now is supposed to be a secure, happy, and beautiful place.  Again, there's nothing particularly radical or novel about this analysis.


Gendering the Mansions

I've never been to Phantom Manor in Paris, but I've read about it and seen plenty of photography and video, and I've listened to the soundtracks.  It's obvious that PM represents a self-conscious departure from the Haunted Mansion formula used in Anaheim, Orlando, and Tokyo.  Based on everything I've seen and heard, I have to say that I don't like PM as much, but I don't have a big problem with it either.  So long as the others are still around, PM represents variety, a different take, a change of pace, and on its own terms it seems to succeed well enough.


However, here's my theory as to what really drove them to do something different:  The Haunted Mansion is a boy, and Phantom Manor provides the necessary counterbalance.  It's all girl.

When I say that the HM has an essentially masculine character, while Phantom Manor is essentially feminine, I have to stress that this has NOTHING to do with appeal. I have to say that because, inevitably, I get a chorus of retorts along the lines of "Well, I'm a guy and I LOVE Phantom Manor," etc. That's irrelevant. That's not what I'm talking about.  Girls are interested in guy things, and vice versa, and besides that there's a little man in every woman, a little woman in every man (and they're all scrunched up and very uncomfortable), so appeal isn't the issue.


The Man in Mansion

People unconsciously reflect their outlook on life in anything creative that they do, from important projects to "trivial" ones—like building a haunted house attraction.  In fact, I think one of the reasons spookhouses are perennially popular is that in their own goofy way, they are allegories of life, and it's essentially life as seen from a man's point of view, because men build them.

Think about it.  Whether we are speaking of those garage quickies with rubber masks and flashlights that we made as kids, or Disney's Haunted Mansion itself, most haunted houses are essentially the same thing:  A one-way trip through a dark, twisted corridor past scary scenes representing manifestations of death and the threat of death, until you emerge on the other end, preferably through a different door than the one you came in (so as to keep it a corridor in form).  With these kinds of make-believe haunted houses, you never pretend that you're moving in.  It isn't your house.  You pretend that you're exploring it, moving through it, and escaping it eventually.

(upper left pic photoshopped from original by Matthew Hunter Ross)

The only task upon entry is to keep going. The only way you can fail this task is if you chicken out.  If you should panic or collapse in fear, someone has to come and rescue you.  Which is pretty embarrassing.

It's not hard to decode the allegory.  You're born.  There's no turning back now.  You pass one scary unknown after another until you leave this world. As long as you keep going, you feel you've succeeded in the most basic task, because this world, with all of its threats and perils, didn't defeat you.  You didn't collapse; you conquered your fears and kept going.  That's a masculine scenario.  However, nothing in the allegory addresses the male need to accomplish something with his life.  It only speaks of the necessary prerequisite.  After all, you'll never succeed if you don't persevere.  You must conquer your fear of failure, or of death, or simply of the unknown, before you can hope to achieve anything worthwhile.

This is the backbone of the "Story and Song from the Haunted Mansion" script.  "C'mon, let's keep going" is Mike's mantra all the way through.  He takes a dominant leadership role (typical enough for 1969) and poor Karen his girlfriend is a stereotypical female, dragged along by Mike much of the time. They see frightening, threatening, and inexplicable things, and they have to make ad hoc decisions without even knowing if the decisions will make things better or worse. ("Quick, in this doorway!" "Hold the candles; I'll try to open one of these windows." "Come on!  It's the only way."  "Come on! Stay close.")  Mike understands the situation instinctively.  You do the best you can. You act. You'll only make it through if you manage to control your fear and keep going.

The spookhouse ordeal is very simple:  (1) go in, (2) pass through a series of dangerous and frightening scenes without wetting your pants, (3) go out.  Congratulations, you did it.  Running that gauntlet is a rite of passage for boys.  Admittedly, it's a rite of passage for many girls too, since it's a ticket to "older kid" status rather than "manhood" per se; nevertheless, no girl regards getting up the nerve to go on Zombie Castle as the next step toward becoming a real woman.


If all of this is true, it should not be surprising to learn that the spookhouse has been something of a testosterone spill from the start.  To begin with, it's a mechanical construction, a great big jerkety-bang electric train set.


One of the first acknowledged masters of the spookhouse genre was Bill Tracy.  Tracy invented many of the popular "stunts" that still populate many a carnival dark ride, and his Whacky Shacks and Pirates' Coves were wildly imaginative, psychedelic nightmares (of which few survive).



And Tracy was . . . well, a guy.  He loaded up these rides with ludicrous, over-the-top gore, toilet jokes, and buxom, scantily-clad damsels in considerable distress (torture chambers, fiendish saw mills).  Tracy's admirers are a little squeamish about this last feature, and I certainly have no interest in defending everything he did.  My sole purpose here is simply to point out the overwhelmingly masculine character of these rides which helped define the genre.

Marc Davis was a real guy too.  Absolutely nothing girlie about the man.


He's famous for rejecting the notion of "story" in the dark rides he helped develop in favor of a series of experiences.  And sure enough, it has often been observed that the true "story" of the HM is not a story at all, it's you-going-through-a-haunted-house.  Those real-time experiences are the story, and you are the main character.  This is consistent with the whole spooky dark ride tradition, where the tableaux are loosely connected at best and generally function as a series of tests of your nerves, confronting you with the reality of death.  What has not been observed is that this approach reflects a quintessentially male outlook on life.

YOU as main character + THE WORLD as an ordeal
you pass through = masculine view of reality.



The Manner of Phantom Manor

A popgun string of disconnected experiences is not particularly interesting to females.  There needs to be some sort of story, however threadbare, before it engages them, because human relationships are what it's all about.  Look, you're never absolutely alone.  Life is a web.  Everything is connected to everything else.  True, the Haunted Mansion has no story, but the world it presents hangs together so well that it always feels convincingly like there could be a story (better: like there IS a story), and apparently that's enough for female Mansion aficionados to feel at home.  It's really what sets the HM apart from the typical spookhouse, where the various scenes often have no logical connection whatsoever with each other.

But women have their own idea of what horror is, and it's not hard to find it.  There is a thriving literary sub-genre known as "Female Gothic" or "Women's Gothic" (with its own sub-genre, the "Gothic Romance"), which has been fueled by a steady stream of female authors, going back virtually to the birth of the Gothic fiction genre, and it has been sustained down through the years by a predominately female readership.


(I suspect that some of you readers are much more qualified than I to approach this subject, and I will look forward to any comments that may result in a revised and improved survey.)

Traditional Female Gothic novels stick to a predictable template:  A young, virginal woman, unattached, becomes trapped in some sort of evil enclosure created by a perversion of normal human relationships, especially with regard to men.  Thus, her father, or uncle, or beau, men who should naturally take a protective role, turn out to be monsters of depravity.  Other women (usually older) may be extremely cold and cruel, or uncommonly naïve and stupid, perverting and weakening the natural roles of motherhood or sisterhood or friendship.  Quite often the parents are good, but they both die while the Gothic heroine is still young, leaving her vulnerable to less virtuous relatives.  Clergy are invariably weak and often evil, offering no help and no solace.  In brief, the safety net of proper human relationships turns out to be a spider's web, and there is no escape, because that web is reality, it is life.  What should be home has become a trap, a dark castle full of terrors.


In traditional Female Gothic, the heroine is eventually rescued by some kind of knight in shining armor.  A man's response to the same situation would be, "This sucks.  I'm outta here.  And if Uncle Silas tries to stop me, I'll just whack him with this fireplace poker.  If I fail, hey, at least I failed trying."  But that contrast misses the point.  The Gothic heroine may pick up the poker at some point, but don't count on it.  She is much more reluctant to go that route because she simply does not see an alternate reality.  These books depict for female readers a nightmare, and it's a nightmare of helplessness and isolation, the collapse of goodness and beauty in a world with no apparent exit.  In light of the feminine view of reality, that is a chilling concept indeed.  It's a formula that sells and sells and sells.

Female Gothic invented the denouement known as the Supernatural Explained, and the genre has continued to lean heavily upon it.  You learn at the end that the ghostly doings were nothing but malicious tricks with wires and trapdoors, or else it was all a mistake, and we're treated to a "scientific" explanation of the supernatural phenomena.  (Think of the Nancy Drew mysteries, some of which borrow not a few elements from this genre.)  This comes as exceptionally good news because the book then concludes by revealing that the wholesome web of reality is still the real one, and the dark and horrible one was illusory.  The terrors were errors and the nightmare is over.

So how does this relate to haunted house attractions?

Little girls like to make haunted houses too, but unless she's got a lot of tomboy about her, what you typically get is theater, not the dark twisted corridors described earlier.  She's got her shawl and robe and is mistress of some castle (or whatever) and you're met at the door by this pint-sized Morticia Addams.  She'll likely have you sit down (not "keep going") while she tells you all about life in her castle, delivered in the most sepulchral voice she can manage.  You're a spectator.  You're invited to relate to someone else's make-believe life.  Phantom Manor, here we come.

It should be painfully obvious that Phantom Manor is just a Female Gothic novel turned into a ride.  It has all the ingredients.  Imagineers say they picked the name "Phantom Manor" because it's not too different in French and English, and I believe them.  That just makes coincidences like this that much more revealing:

(from 1966)

Even the bad guy in the cover art looks familiar.


In Phantom Manor, nothing is your story: it's entirely Melanie's story.  The basic plot is that Melanie's father killed her fiance and kept her a prisoner in the house.  Now their ghosts haunt the place.  There's a lot more, but many details are purposely kept vague.

So you see Melanie's ghost, and— "Why look, she's...she's crying!  Poor thing!  What could have happened here?"  You're sucked right in, now it's relate, relate, relate.  Men can certainly do this, but with women it's like breathing.


You can see the contrast with the HM already in the stretching room.  Unlike the portraits in the other Mansions, at PM you just get the same message repeated over and over.  It's Melanie-in-peril x 4.  In the Haunted Mansions, the Ghost Host tauntingly invites YOU to commit suicide. In Phantom Manor, you're only a spectator, a witness to a murder.


Phantom Manor is plainly theater.  It even has a lush, cinematic musical score (it's magnificent), but if you just can't seem to give a rat's bladder about Melanie, then a lot of PM is bound to be tedious.  Part of the problem for me is that I'm not impressed with Julie Svendsen's portraiture.  Her Melanie has no personality.  I'm sorry, but to me she looks like a stuffed deer.  Maybe I'm missing something that others see.



Wonderful Worlds of Color

I'd like to take a quick look at an argument that some may find weak and subjective.  Be that as it may, I think gendering is apparent even in the graphic artwork for the two rides.  Look at the uses of color.  The Mansions have kept to a remarkably consistent palette of greens and blues over the years, with occasional warm splashes of orange and yellow.  Your mileage may vary, but it feels masculine to me.  Boy's room colors.


Now turn to Phantom Manor.  Is commentary even necessary?  The swish of lace
petticoats whispers through this artwork.  And *sniff* do I detect a trace of perfume?




So What?

Okay, so the HM is blue and PM is pink.  Are there any significant conclusions to be drawn from that?  With regard to Phantom Manor, no, not many.  It's there.  It works.  It provides a gender balance otherwise missing.  There aren't any plans to tamper with the ride.  You go, girl.

With regard to the Haunted Mansions, however, the foregoing discussion may explain why many fans resist and resent the importation of "story" into the ride, whether it's Constance and her husbands or the Dread Family.  It's not just that it goes against Davis's prescription; it's a lot more visceral than that.  There is this inarticulate but nevertheless very real sense that the ride is being emasculated by such alterations.  Possibly the foregoing discussion will be helpful for some of you Mansionites who are equally uncomfortable with those changes but haven't quite been able to put your finger on the reason.  Is "castration" the word you're searching for?