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, 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; 2nd ed. 2016).

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.


Monday, January 10, 2022

Maleficent's Torture Chamber

Clickbait title, I know, but actually, it's accurate, so why not?

Makes a pretty good trivia question, too. We have learned that the happiest place on earth has been home to an awful lot of graveyards, but a medieval torture chamber? Try this one on your favorite Disneyland trivia lover and see if they're stumped:  

Is there currently a torture chamber anywhere at Disneyland? Not torture scenes, mind you, but an honest-to-gosh medieval torture chamber?" 

(You need to stipulate like that, because torture scenes there are aplenty. They would include dunking the mayor in POTC, forcing Wendy to walk the plank in Peter Pan, and the queue for Spider Man on a hot day.)

Some of the scenes in the older versions of Snow White's Adventures would have qualified, but those have mostly been scrubbed. If we're restricting ourselves to gloomy dungeons with implements of torture sitting around, then there is one and there is only one. It's in the Sleeping Beauty Diorama (aka the SB walk-thru).


pic by Roger Weeks

I ran some of what follows past good buddy Chris Merritt, one of the masterminds behind the 2008 version of the walk-thru, and he was so tickled by it that I was encouraged to go ahead and do a post. I'm going to label it an excursus, like I did with the Tom Sawyer Island graveyards, even though a slender case could be made that the ultimate source of inspiration for the scene above also left a mark on the Haunted Mansion. The connections are so pathetically weak, however, that I'm not going to pretend this is a legitimate Mansion post. It's an excursus into the roots of one scene in the Sleeping Beauty Diorama. I don't expect much blowback anyway, because Mansion fans tend to be fans of the Sleeping Beauty film and the walk-thru attraction as well.

There are plenty of good reasons for this crossover fandom, by the way. There's the Eleanor Audley vocal connection between Mdm Leota and Maleficent. There's also what we might call a common DNA to both attractions due to their mutual emergence from the imagination of Ken Anderson, who was in fact working on the earliest concepts for the HM and on the original SB walk-thru at the same time.


There is also the fact that the humble, A-ticket, Sleeping Beauty walk-thru was by far the most special-effects-laden attraction at Disneyland prior to the advent of audio-animatronics, and most of those same effects were heavily re-used in the HM (e.g. Pepper's Ghost, mirror trickery, lighting and shadow effects of all sorts, and ingenious use of forced perspective). This comes as no surprise, since special effects wizard Yale Gracey was responsible for much of the magic on display in the walk-thru, although he has never been properly credited for it.


Imaginary Prisons

For the "ultimate inspiration" promised above, we go back two and a half centuries. Meet Giovanni Battista Piranesi, a Venetian artist of repute:

He did thousands of etchings. These could be mass produced and sold in portfolios at affordable prices. He was best known for his renderings of ancient Roman ruins and landmarks, done in realistic fashion but also with a heavy dose of romance and fantasy. The etchings were the 18th century equivalent of coffee table books, aimed at a middle/upper class clientele who would love to travel to see all these famous historical places but would probably never be able to do so. Some of his etchings became pretty well-known, like his rendition of the Pantheon:

Anyway, according to one account, some time in the 1740's Piranesi fell ill, and upon recovery he began a series of etchings based on visions he "saw" while in a feverish delirium. Unlike anything else he had done, these were entirely imaginary. The series was called "Le Carceri d'invenzione" (Imaginary Prisons) and was published in two editions. We are concerned here with the second, 1761 edition.

The Imaginary Prisons set is widely admired and recognized as an important influence on later artists in the Romantic and Surrealistic schools. They are indeed pretty amazing. I think there is good reason to think that Ken Anderson laid them under contribution when he designed Maleficent's dungeon for the SB walk-thru.


You can see the entire set of 16 prints HERE. They're all good.

Torture Devices! (or...something)

The Sleeping Beauty movie did not come out until 1959, but the walk-thru attraction opened in 1957, while the film was still in development. That's why the original diorama contained scenes that never appeared in the movie. Eyvind Earle did a concept painting of Maleficent summoning her demons for a celebration. This is not a concept for the movie but for the walk-thru:

I don't see much here that looks like it could have been inspired by Piranesi, unless the coffins (or are they iron maidens?) in the corner were inspired by these, which are equally ambiguous as to what they are.

If we want to hunt down possible influences on the Earle painting, I think there are better candidates elsewhere:

The Ken Connection

But never mind Earle. It was Ken Anderson who designed the actual scene in the walk-thru, including all the torture implements. The original was revamped entirely in 1977 (the wretched "Barbie doll" version), and that one closed in 2001. But the current incarnation, which opened in 2008, tries to adhere as closely as possible to the look of the Earle-Anderson version. We actually have a pretty good idea of what Maleficent's dungeon looked like in 1957 (here recreated by Chris Merritt):

Amazingly enough, even though interior photos of the original SB walk-thru are EXTREMELY RARE, a photo of precisely this scene came to light just last year, posted by Mark McGuire at the Vintage Disneyland site on FB. It took a little knob-twiddling to improve the readability of the photo, but there's been no fiddling with the contents, I assure you. The pieces seem to have been moved around.

pic by Mark McGuire

Besides all this, I've seen Anderson's blueprints for the dungeon furnishings (but I can't show you them).

Not all of Maleficent's toys were inspired by Piranesi. The guy spread-eagled on some sort of frame obviously comes from Earle's painting, and the guy strapped to the wheel just as obviously comes from this cheerful little number rather than the wheel in Earle's artwork.

But the weird "star wheel" and the spiked sawhorse with descending arrow points in the middle certainly came from the Imaginary Prisons.

The catwalks too, I think. Ken needed something to disguise the top edge of the glass pane slanting across the stage, and now that it seems certain he took ideas from Piranesi, we're probably safe in concluding that he took the design of the catwalks from there as well.

Digital recreation by Chris Merritt

See now the following post for an additional item that may be from Piranesi.

The Big "So What" Moment

To me, the most interesting thing in all of this is that the actual function of the borrowed devices is unclear. In fact, even though Piranesi's prisons are full of what are obviously implements of torture, it's not at all clear what they are or how they would have been used. They are wholly imaginary, perhaps the product of Piranesi's delirium, and it's apparently enough that they look like scary torture devices, even if they are ultimately indecipherable.

I wonder if that very fact may have been the thing that attracted Anderson to them. This is a Disneyland attraction, after all, and this is a scene in a fairy tale. How many historically accurate torture devices do we really want to put in this tableau? Wouldn't it be better to put in something more suggestive of a torture chamber than a literal reproduction? It's enough that that wheel and that rack (if that's what it is) are included. Maybe Anderson welcomed the opportunity to introduce items that were deliberately much vaguer, things less factual and more fantastical.

Merritt was particularly pleased by the Piranesi discovery, since neither he nor Tony Baxter had any idea what these crazy things were, and they decided to simply follow Anderson's blueprints as slavishly as possible, all the while wondering what the hell they were making.

Almost none of this survived into the movie, although if you're paying attention, you'll notice a chopping block in Prince Phillip's cell. It made a good perch for Diablo, but that seems to be all that's left of Maleficent's torture chamber.

Haunted Mansion Connections?

Like I say, this is pretty thin gruel, but for what it's worth . . .

It has been noticed that the 1761 edition of the Imaginary Prisons set incorporated here and there what look like "impossible objects."

Not surprisingly, it has been suggested that Piranesi was an influence on M. C. Escher. These are often compared:

Since that particular Escher piece is the obvious inspiration for the WDW HM "Grand Staircase" scene, Someone might argue for a connection here between Piranesi and the Mansions at second or third hand.

I think a slightly better case may be made that some of Nathan Schroeder's concept art for the 2003 Haunted Mansion movie could have been inspired by the Imaginary Prisons artwork. Here's Schroeder:

Alas, not much of this design for the crypt scene made it into the movie, which rejected those heavy stone arches in favor of lighter wrought iron work. Admittedly, that's more in keeping with a New Orleans setting, and besides, it offered greater flexibility for camera angles.

But anyway, compare Schroeder with some of the Piranesi etchings above, as well as some others in the set, like this one. There's enough there to at least raise suspicions.

I'm afraid that's about all you're going to get in the way of Mansion connections. Sorry.



  1. This is so fascinating to me - I had no idea where Ken got these wacky devices from. I can't imagine that "star wheel" one was real!

    1. I'm wondering now whether the star wheel is a giant form of the Ninja shuriken / "throwing star," in a sense similar to the super-sized blade on a pendulum in Edgar Allan Poe's story ... handheld sharp weapons made more terrifying through enlargement. ???

    2. Curiously enough, Craig, Poe's "Pit" is thought by some to have been inspired in part by Piranesi's "Prisons."

    3. Possible, though I doubt shuriken were that well known in that west at that time. Stranger things have happened, though.

  2. Yes, I suppose just having a lot of spikey and pokey bits on devices is enough to get the "point" across! (Insert rim shot)

  3. Even though I've never been to a Disney park, I love your posts - so well written, deeply researched and engaging. You may already be aware but Susannah Clarke, the author of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, released her latest novel year before last and it's called Piranesi and about a man who appears to live in world that resembles the Imaginary Prisons - it's beautiful and strange and a gripping read, I'd recommend it to anyone ^_^

  4. Interesting! And thanks for the kind words. Maybe you're aware that there have been several attempts to render the Prisons in 3D. One of the better efforts is here:

  5. He was certainly fond of his banisters, balconies, and balustrades!

  6. This post isn't thin gruel but a hearty repast; there are so many rich antecedents to the HM. Some more Anderson/movie/dark ride connections: early ideas for "Snow White" the movie had the witch kidnapping Prince Charming and chaining him to a dungeon wall, then releasing a flood which would slowly rise and drown him. The storyboard sketch for this sequence is very reminiscent of a Piranesi, vaults and chains and torture devices galore. Next to the Prince are the bones of previous victims, which probably influenced that tot-shocking scene in Disneyland's first version of Snow White's Adventures, the lightening flash illuminated, writhing skeleton ( GO BACK!)

    There is also a color sketch for the 1955 SWA used in publicity, though the ride which opened was mostly different. The first scene had riders in the queen's dungeon, passing a man being stretched on a wheel by a hooded executioner who looks similar to the one in the Haunted Mansion, singing with the headless knight.

    So spring any idea at the Mouse House, if it isn't used initially it may just bide its time.

    1. Hi Stefano -

      "There is also a color sketch for the 1955 SWA used in publicity, though the ride which opened was mostly different. The first scene had riders in the queen's dungeon, passing a man being stretched on a wheel by a hooded executioner who looks similar to the one in the Haunted Mansion, singing with the headless knight."

      This is unfamiliar to me - is it somewhere on the web? Thanks! - CM

  7. Hi! I'm not sure how often you check your comments, but I thought I'd tell you about some odd changes I noted about the HM at Anaheim as of Feb 8, coming out of the post-holiday refurbishment. Sorry if someone already pointed them out/you already noticed.

    Well, there's a LOT of changes. Going in order: Clem Hall-looking Alligator Gal (open mouth and frowny look) in stretching room, but the whole stretch room was in poor condition with the prints *wrinkled*. The whole place post-boarding was dusted and polished; the endless hallway mirror was so polished you can see multiple "copies" of the candelabra! Letters to the deceased have been added to the conservatory funeral scene but they're hard to read in such a quick glance. Leota's chair has been moved significantly to the side of the table, where it blocks the view of the table from the entry side. A small model of the building exterior has been added to Constance's attic, and the whole place seems less dusty. The graveyard caretaker has a new face, or at the very least a new beard/hairstyle that's now brown, which gives him a much different look than before. And, perhaps concerningly, the hitchhiking ghosts didn't appear in the mirror; they were just mirrors. I hope it's just a broken effect and not a plan to replace them!

    Have you heard of any of these? I'm especially curious about why the stretch room portrait changed, since I thought we were stuck with the "modern" prints forever--unless someone decided to change them again!

    1. Thanks a bunch for the review! Since I haven't been back to see the place, I've taken the liberty of showing your comments to other doom bugs, some of whom have been there, to see their reaction. I'll post further replies as relevant.

    2. Thanks for the response! I just went and rode the Mansion again on March 1st, and yeah, all the changes are still there--unfortunately including the lack of anything in the mirrors at the end! No hitchhikers of either physical or cgi variety. I also got some photographic evidence (albeit with my mediocre phone camera) of the Clem Hall styled Alligator Gal in her unfortunately wrinkled state. She doesn't look *exactly* like Hall's Gal, but she's decidedly NOT the one you have listed as the "modern" face on your post about the subject, and she has that frowny look that's closest to Hall's. I could send my photos, if you want, but I'm not sure how much use they would be.

  8. Schroeder’s concept art for the crypt which was inspired by Piranesi, may not have have come to fruition in the HM movie, but it is fully realized in the crypt of the HM video game. LOVE THIS BLOG!

  9. Schroeder’s concept art for the crypt which was inspired by Piranesi, may not have have come to fruition in the HM movie, but it is fully realized in the crypt of the HM video game. LOVE THIS BLOG!

  10. By the way, here's a 1942 very active haunted mansion / Charles Addams homage in the college humor magazine The Old Line:

  11. There was also supposed to be a scene in Snow White and the seven dwarfs where it shows the prince being kidnapped and held in the dungeon and he escapes Errol Flynn style after being released by The woodland creatures just in time to save snow. A shame it never came to fruition because it would have given his character way more depth. Prince Philip basically got handed the scene.