Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Countdown to Halloween: A Look At... Missing in the Mansion

A positive Look At, yay!

I…suck at being current, what I’m gonna Look At today was posted in 2012 and I found out about it less than a month ago. Missing in the Mansion is a short found footage film (don’t look like that, some found footage films are great) made by a couple of lads called The Daws Brothers (not the Doobie Brothers) who are internet filmmakers. It’s up on YouTube and it’s pretty damn good. What enticed me to view it is it’s actually based around an alleged real haunting and a real urban legend for The Haunted Mansion – which is my favourite theme park ride and one of my favourite things ever – and a macabre Disney fact that really no-one should be surprised about; the fact is that people spread ashes in Disneyland, with the Haunted Mansion being a prime location for such activities because, well, it’s a fucking haunted house, the urban legend/real haunting relates to ghostly phenomena surrounded a child, usually said to be a little boy, which has been witnessed by numerous Cast Members.  I am a confirmed and unashamed believer in ghosts and as such I think there’s very little chance that the Disney Parks don’t have a few spooks floating around – no matter what criteria you subscribe to when it comes to making a ghost Disney’s got it covered – from sudden deaths to places that’s important to the deceased to last resting places to imprints of strong emotions – it’s all at Disneyland. I am however a bit sceptical of ghost sightings in the Haunted Mansion; it just seems a bit suspicious that real ghosts have been seen in a place filled with pretend ones by people who spend their entire shift immersed in a pretend-haunted environment usually after hours when an already creepy ride is at its creepiest. The counter argument being that it IS a fan favourite and a preferred place to illicitly scatter ashes so while any ‘experiences’ could be put down to the mind playing tricks due to the environment (as I just did, being a dick) there’s also a much bigger chance of it being haunted than many other attractions. Oh and I don’t know of any incidents of anyone dying on the Haunted Mansion (or Phantom Manor) but people have had heart attacks all over the parks so I would be very surprised if someone hasn’t croaked on one or more versions of the ride.
Anyway, Everyone neat an’ pretty? Then ooooon with the show are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin

Missing at the Mansion (2012, YouTube)
Quick Summary: On July 6, 2012 three friends went missing. They were last seen at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California. A Cast Member working in Lost & Found discovered a camera that belonged to them containing the following footage. It has not been altered in any way.
Kevin Randall is filming his brother Scott’s proposal to his girlfriend Jess when Jaws pops outta the water at Disneyland. He proposes at the entrance to Sleeping Beauty’s castle and she says yes. They go on the Mad Tea Party, it’s a small world, Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and its all fun and games, until Scott suggests going on the Haunted Mansion. Jess, a Cast Member, doesn’t want to go, in fact two of her co-workers took the day off just so they didn’t have to work the Mansion, as they queue Jess and Kevin explain that today is the anniversary of the death of a little boy called Joshua, who died of Leukemia and who’s mum spread his ashes on the ride about 36 years ago, he is supposed to appear every year – today.  Scott doesn’t take things seriously but Jess REALLY does, and is not pleased with his teasing and calling for Joshua. When the lights go out in the Stretching room so the Ghost Host can show you his way out Scott screams, Jess berates him for being  dick, but when the light go back on, Kevin can’t find him, Jess is too pissed off to care and rides in the same Doom Buggy as her soon-to-be-brother-in-law instead.
Jess swears she sees Joshua in the endless corridor and then they both hear Scott’s voice coming from the coffin in the conservatory – and the camera picks it up, then they hear a little boy’s voice from behind the doors of the Corridor of Doors, one jump scare later and the layout of Madame Leota’s Séance Circle reveals all the other Doom Buggies are empty, by now the two are scared. It only gets worse for them – in the Grand Ballroom the swinging wake has an extra guest – Joshua; then in Constance’s wedding photographs in The Attic, there’s Scott, next to the black widow bride, this does for Jess, she needs to get off the ride; the ride obliges and an unseen THING pulls her from the Doom Buggy despite Kevin’s best efforts, as the ride moves through the Graveyard she calls to him from amidst the socialising happy haunts. Kevin turns and finds Josha beside him, “what did you do with her?” he asks, Joshua only points ahead; from the buggy in front comes the Hatbox Ghost, with Jess head in his hatbox, he lunges at the camera. The ride comes to an end and a Ride Operator finds the camera.

On a partially related note: I hate the way people show off engagement rings, with their fingers together like they’re going to backhand someone and sometimes they wiggle their fingers? That really pisses me off and I have no idea why. On a completely related note, that summary shows just how in-depth (read: sad) my Haunted Mansion knowledge is; I didn’t have to look up a single name or location.

To get it out the way first the acting is good but not always brilliant however while they have a great production values and I’m guessing everyone attended stage and/or film school this is still an amateur production so you’d have to be a bit of a bastard to complain about that, especially as the acting never sinks to a quality you could call ‘bad’ and doesn’t come close to matching the lack of skill displayed in most classic B-Movies – or the whole of Twilight. The actors also get an additional kudos because the brothers didn’t actually have permission to film on Disney property (technically everyone has permission to film on Disney property but only home video shit and not always in rides) and thus any on-location scenes were being filmed surreptitiously over around 3 days – a set-up not lending itself to multiple retakes.

Redheads are always the answer.
Dialogue also stays at the decent level, managing to sound natural and spontaneous pretty much throughout; nothing is a bigger deal breaker in a found footage film than being able to notice that someone wrote and rehearsed what you’re seeing and avoiding anything sounding or feeling like it isn’t happening to everyone for the first time is the first thing you should be doing when making an entry into the sub-genre. There are just two instances that stood out – one is Kevin’s exposition dump about Joshua while queuing, he knows exactly how many years ago Joshua died etc, it feels exactly like what it is – an exposition dump, a few extra ums and ahs, an additional ‘I think’ or ‘about’ here and there and it could have been avoided. The other is the mention of Club 33 – that just bugs me as someone who knows a fair bit about Club 33, the waiting list is about 10 years, these people aren’t old enough to be on it yet let alone be members, I get why it was used (it denotes a special occasional and is easily recognisable) but it should have been replaced with something less elite, there’s enough expensive restaurants in Disneyland to pick from. Regardless of these two nitpicks the cast deserve a round of applause for keeping things feeling so natural especially as they rehearsed the shit out of everything before filming (due to the aforementioned filming without telling Disney). While we’re patting the team on the back, the brothers deserve a big ol’ whack for their screenplay, Joshua exposition notwithstanding there’s a good few things that I’ve outright stated in the summary that are only hinting at, or said without actually saying it, during the film but is still clear enough; things like the boys being brothers and Jess being a Cast Member – no character ever says ‘come on you’re brothers’ or ‘I/you work here and I/you know’ because they probably wouldn’t. They know these things because they’ve known each other for a long time, and it goes that extra step in making the film feel real, in fact I feel kinda annoyed that I have to refer to things like ‘actors’ and ‘scripts’ in this Look At because it means admitting that it isn’t real.

On the production side of things everything’s pretty much fantastic, especially for what I’m taking to be a self-financed film; Joshua does look a little special-effects-y when he’s in the Doom Buggy but he does look like he’s actually in said buggy when the behind-the-scenes video shows he very much was not. The Hatbox Ghost however is fantastic; professional standard prosthetic, make-up and green-screen effects (they went to a proper place to do it) and the comping of Scott’s head onto the wedding photo is seamless, Christ I wish the last TMNT film had SFX this good. Actually to just nail my colours to the mast as it were – practical effects all the way, computers should be used to enhance, or when practical effects just can’t do what needs doing.

But the film’s best quality is it’s perfect use of the ride to tell a ghost story; now the boys were obviously lucky in that the ride itself is laid out very much like a horror film (hell, pretty much all of Disney is laid out cinematically, it was intentional and is one of the things that sets it apart from other theme parks, even today) with everything becoming more overt as the ride progresses. So it isn’t particularly difficult to take the ride’s progression and use it for a basic ghost story plot, it is however difficult to do it this well and tie it to a completely different plot this well: combining each story set piece perfectly with a ride set piece so that even I can’t complain – and I can be an obnoxious nitpicky bastard of a fan. It’s why I bothered to list where and when things took place in the Mansion so specifically in the summary, I COULD go through explaining why each is so well paired but that would take a lot of words and this is already bloody long, if you’re a Haunted Mansion nut watching the film (or reading my summary) you should get it, if not then just take the word of a Haunted Mansion nut that they used the ride brilliantly and fitted it with their story (or fitted their story with it) even better

I know I’m talking to myself but all you imaginary fuckers go watch this now, but hurry back and be sure to bring your death certificate (I am so sad). 

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