It’s October, and that means Halloween. Hurrah for falling leaves, long dark nights, and lots and lots of pumpkins. And hurrah too for scary movies!
Disney may not be known for their scary movies, but every now and then, they produce something utterly, brilliantly terrifying. Throughout October, this special strand of The Mouse House Movie Club will look at some of the very finest spooky Disney offerings, so you can add a little bit of Disney magic to your frightening fun.
Mouse House Movie Club Goes Spooky #2: The Haunted House
Early cartoon shorts were heavily focused on the synchronisation of music and action. They had to be really. With complex dialogue impossible in the silent era and music so good at selling an emotion (a sad moment, a laugh, a scary jolt), it simply made sense to match sound to action. Sometimes this simply meant having a wacky bit of score to underline a joke or a clash of cymbals to highlight something frightening, sometimes it meant essentially turning the short into a mini musical and having the characters interact with the music. The Haunted House is an example of the latter; it’s just not a great example.
Don’t get me wrong, I love this short, but the musical section of it is completely misplaced. The plot finds Mickey caught in a storm and stumbling into a creepy house to find shelter. Obviously, as the title suggests, he encounters ghouls, ghosts, and other scary presences while in there, and it’s a really enjoyable little gothic tale… until one of the ghouls asks him to play piano so he and his chums can have a little dance. Then it becomes a variation on the superior The Skeleton Dance (even borrowing animation from The Skeleton Dance at some points) and it loses a little something in the shift.
The Haunted House was the first horror-themed Mickey short, and before the skeletons start having a hoedown, it’s really darned creepy. I love gothic visuals, and from the very first shots of Mickey in the rainy, windswept countryside, this is full of them. Whether it’s the eponymous house moving from side to side as the wind blows it around or something as small as the way the rain moves, there’s something iconic and cool about The Haunted House when it goes full gothic. So much of what we’ve come to expect from gothic films was shaped by early films like this, so it’s exciting and revealing to rewatch all these years on.
The really exciting action comes, of course, after Mickey enters the house – pushed in there by a malevolent tree (what is it with trees and malevolence?). Ub Iwerks and Walt have a huge amount of fun imagining creepy situations for Mickey to get himself into, and the short executes them all perfectly, my favourites being the self-locking padlock, Mickey’s sentient shadow, and the barrel of bones he falls into at the short’s end. It’s a beautiful blend of comedy and gothic horror that works so well… until they all start dancing for a super long time.
Don’t let that put you off though. The Haunted House may not be an unqualified success, but it’s still a success and definitely worth watching by the light of a pumpkin with a toffee apple hanging out your mouth.
Until next time… sweet screams.
(So bad. Again.)