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: Imagineering a Disney Classic (NY: Disney Editions; 2015). That's the
re-named third edition of The Haunted Mansion: From the Magic Kingdom to the Movies (NY:
Disney Editions, 2003; 2nd ed. 2009). Also essential reading is 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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Friday, October 15, 2010

Borley Rectory: A Third-hand Source?

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This is essentially a footnote to the preceding post.  We discussed there Jean Cocteau's La Belle et la Bête (1946), a film that exercised an influence on the Mansion, according to the Imagineers' own testimony.  And no wonder, since in its own way the Beast's home in the film is a thoroughly haunted house, enchanted and alive.  One item in La Belle that we highlighted was the fireplace in the dining room, with its living busts on either side of the hearth:



If the Haunted Mansion Imagineers drew inspiration from Cocteau's film, I wonder if it's possible that Cocteau in turn drew some inspiration from a haunted mansion, specifically, Borley Rectory, once known as "the most haunted house in England."




As it happens, the dining room at Borley Rectory had a fireplace
with a striking pair of busts on either side of the hearth.




Borley Rectory was at the height of its fame in the early 1940's, thanks to a series of best-sellers by the famous "ghost hunter" Harry Price.  Conceivably, Cocteau may have seen photos like these while doing research of his own into houses that were supposedly infected by the supernatural.


Of course, the similarity between the fireplaces could be purely coincidental, but it's fun to contemplate the possibility that a "real" haunted house influenced a film that in turn influenced our favorite haunted house.
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3 comments:

  1. Without wandering too far afield from things relating directly to the Haunted Mansion (although our favorite house, she does tend to drag you through the whole gothic / chiller genre before arriving back at her front gates), I'm wondering if there should be some discussion of the "old dark house" genre thrillers which enlivened much of the 1920's. These thrillers often ended up with the conclusion that ghosts were in fact not the agents of evil in the house, but they do share some strong similarities with our Mansion, especially in the early versions of the attraction with sliding panels, arms poking out through holes in the wall, and other forms of patently ridiculous "haunting".

    It's all in the family - in the 1927 version of The Cat and the Canary, Paul Leni stages a long tracking shot through a hallway with drapes billowing in the wind, an obvious source for a similar scene in the Cocteau Belle et la Bete. And I've always seen that scene in the Cocteau as a wellspring for a number of features of the ride - the portrait hallway's windows and raging storm, and of course those silly doors near the endless hall with billowing curtains hung within. The wind whipping the tattered curtains of the ballroom windows is a very obvious direct visual quotation.

    If we want to get reaaaaally esoteric, if we observe the Cocteau hallway scene, we see that he has staged Belle on a platform with wheels so she sees to glide down the hall without moving her feet. It's exactly like being in a doombuggy - we move forward effortlessly, supernaturally gliding through the halls thanks to some unknown force.

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  2. Yes. Of course, tracking influences on influences gets blurrier and blurrier as you go. I try to caution readers not to bet any real money on such connections, but if you've got all the proper caveats in place, it's worth introducing these things into the conversation, in my opinion, because they can stimulate someone else to notice something they hadn't before and bring forth some hitherto-unknown puzzle pieces they've been sitting on.

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  3. The real similarity between the famous Borley Rectory and HM appears at the Tokyo counterpart's facade. There is this amazing wing building, protruding from cliffs, which bears an uncanny resemblance to Borley Rectory and the still-existing Rectory Cottage. I've visited Borley two times in the 1990s, so I can definitely say that the similarity is not far-fetched -- even if it is purely accidental.

    As for the fireplace, the one in Rectory's dining room was brought to England from Italy. There is indeed a similarity between the Cocteau B&B version – but, as you said, I wouldn't bet my money on the connection... However, I'm certain that at least Ken Anderson's researches on haunted houses have included Borley Rectory. As you said, from the 1940s the Rectory has been one of the most documented haunted houses in the world, with plenty of typical ghost legends - phantom coaches, headless figures, otherwordly organ music, etc... As the Raynham Hall ghost photo is so obvious inspiration for one of Anderson's sketches, there may be even more connections to English haunted houses, such as Borley. I'll keep my eyes open. :)

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