Haunted Mansion, inspired by Disney's famous theme park attraction of the same name, is one of those projects that Guillermo del Toro has been enthusiastically talking about for years now - even though the potential movie has only seemed to have made limited progress since its announcement back at the 2010 International Comic-Con.
Over the weekend, the hard-working filmmaker participated in a Reddit AMA where he confirmed that he is still involved in developing the project - one that is attempting to finally climb over the hump that is "cracking the screenplay," as they say. The Haunted Mansion ride was adopted to movie form over a decade ago, as a family-friendly vehicle starring Eddie Murphy; del Toro, no doubt, has something a little more, shall we say, ambitious in mind than that, for his film - something that helps to explain the script having gone through multiple drafts by this point.
The next del Toro directorial feature is Crimson Peak, his throwback to the school of old-fashioned haunted house movie-making (think The Innocents and The Shining), where a heavy emphasis was placed on production design and the central building set piece. Haunted Mansion, tone-wise, is surely being engineered as a far more all-ages appropriate spooky show than the 'brutal', 'Gothic', and 'kinky' Crimson Peak, but it sounds as though both movies will place a heavy emphasis on creepy, fun, world design - all the more fitting for Haunted Mansion, for obvious reasons. However, that won't happen in full until the former's story has been properly locked down, as del Toro commented on during his Reddit session.
Well, I spent 2 weeks ago, I went back to Disneyland with the executives with whom I am developing the screenplay. It’s a hard screenplay to crack. We’ve done it a few times. We are on our third or fourth draft, with 2 different writing teams, and I think the main thing is to try to combine everything that is great about the ride into the movie, and to make it a really intense but with a sense of fun – just like the ride. It’s a tough balance, and I would be happy to report if we had the screenplay. We always feel like we are very close, but not yet. We have developed 50-60 pieces of art, We’ve developed maquettes of the Hat Box Ghost, over the body and face of Doug Jones, but we have not succeeded yet in cracking the screenplay. I have to believe that Disney will make this movie as soon as we crack the screenplay, but until then we cannot tackle it.
For those not up on their Haunted Mansion trivia, the "Hat Box Ghost" mentioned by del Toro is in reference to a ghoulish character originally included as part of the Haunted Mansion attraction (his image, seen below, is still commonly associated with the ride), but was cut shortly after it opened due to technical issues - something that gave rise to urban legends about the character having been dubbed too scary, over the years since then. Also, Doug Jones is the actor famous for playing an assortment of creatures and monsters on-screen, such as both Pan and the Pale Man from del Toro's Pan Labyrinth, and Abe Sapien in both of the filmmaker's Hellboy movies.
It's a known that del Toro and screenwriter Matthew Robbins (collaborators on the scripts for Mimic, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, and Crimson Peak) have put together a couple of Haunted Mansion screenplay drafts in the past. Beyond that, it's not clear who, if anyone, has done a substantial amount of work on the project's script; nor, for that matter, has any prospective director besides del Toro been mentioned thus far (probably because it's only really been del Toro who's talked in public about Haunted Mansion). Here's what the filmmaker said on that topic, during his Reddit talk:
It is a movie I would love to direct, but I would be happy to just produce it if the timing is not right. I, by the way, was named Guest for the Day for the Haunted Mansion the last time I did, which gave me unlimited access to ride the mansion several times during the day. Unfortunately it was just the moment my left knee decided to bust and I had to go back home with a busted knee.
As it stands, del Toro is currently putting together the Pacific Rim 2 script with Zak Penn (Incredible Hulk) for a 2017 release date; before he begins shooting that film, however, del Toro plans to make a "really bizarre" low-budgeted movie, as he revealed just last week. There are other belated del Toro projects that may still happen in the future (see: his At the Mountains of Madness adaptation), but none that currently seem to have that much of a better chance of climbing out of the depths of development limbo than Haunted Mansion.
Still, we're looking at a late 2017/early 2018 production start date for del Toro's Haunted Mansion (assuming he directs, that is), even in the best-case scenario. In the meantime, we'll continue to strive and keep you up to speed on the project's development, as more information is made available and/or del Toro keeps talking about it.