For a scary ride, I’ll take X2 at Magic Mountain, which made me regret large chunks of my life, and thankful, when I arrived back on the platform in several emotional pieces, that I’d been given this second chance to live better – thank You, Lord – I will honor the oaths I made during that second face-first 100 foot plunge towards the ground [stares into the middle distance] oh geez – I just broke the pen I was holding – uh, where was I? I’ll admit I’m drawn to the gore-filled Halloween mazes at Knott’s and Universal, et. al., but do I really need that stuff in my head? My very strong preference over thrills and gore is for an uncanny atmosphere with a counterpoint of humor. For this difficult balancing act, is there anything better than Disney’s Haunted Mansion? Nope.
I know a lot about the Haunted Mansion, cuz I’m a big ol’ nerd, but still learned things from this slim little volume by Jeff Baham, The Unauthorized Story of Walt Disney’s Haunted Mansion. For example: the treatment of the famous theme music is handled differently in each part of the ride – melancholy creepy organ at the beginning, weird wind in the “Doombuggy” loading area, manic waltz in the ballroom – all the same tune, done in different ways – but you knew that, right? Here’s the cool thing I learned: they got those wicked, twisty little notes and sucking trills for the funky “graveyard band” section by re-scoring the main theme backwards, playing and recording it like that (ie – in reverse), then reversing that recording in the ride itself. (Check it out. In fact, you should be listening to the soundtrack while reading this review – go back and start over. The graveyard band is the second track on this list.) This unauthorized history of the ride is full of that kinda arcane knowledge.
You get a prehistory of the mansion – even a theory as to how the idea of a haunted house may have first entered Walt’s fecund young mind. Here are details of the technological breakthroughs that made the ride possible, its torturously long development, and a blow-by-blow of the artistic differences that could have killed it. Key old-school Imagineers, including Rolly Crump (who also adds a Foreward) and Alice Davis make appearances. You get a moment by moment breakdown of the ride (no pun intended – but this is a ride you actually want to break down while you’re on it – not so you can neck with your S.O. but so you can drink in all the details of the environment you normally whizz right by – I’m all “Girl, back up off me – I’m trying to read these Marc Davis-style gravestones before they fix the ride”). Anderson, Atencio, Baxter – gah! So many awesome people are featured here in their interviewable, corruptible, mortal states. Can you tell I liked this book? If you’re into Disney, Imagineering, haunted houses, amusement parks, immersive environments, art design, sound design, set design, design design, dead things, funny things or making rad stuff just for the sake of making rad stuff – you will dig this book because the Haunted Mansion is the best. thing. of. its. kind. ever. (Though you could make a solid argument for Pirates or Indiana Jones.) (Uh… yeah, okay – or Spiderman or the Potter rides – But dude – this thing was built in the 60s, and it is still amazing.)
My fave character in the whole ride is the terrified dog next to the gravekeeper. Love that faithful little guy.
TOO MANY BONUSES:
And for more of the same, check out Episode 280 in the archives of the excellent Season Pass Podcast. This is your best behind-the-scenes theme park podcast, right here.