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Haunted Mansion does right by the Disney ride’s scariest ghost

And no, we don’t mean the infamous Hatbox Ghost

Owen Wilson as Father Kent, confronting two ghosts in the hallway in 2023’s Haunted Mansion Image: Disney
Petrana Radulovic is an entertainment reporter specializing in animation, fandom culture, theme parks, Disney, and young adult fantasy franchises.

Disney’s 2023 movie Haunted Mansion is packed to the brim with ghosts lifted directly from the theme park ride. The notorious Hatbox Ghost, played by Jared Leto in the film, has a huge role, as does psychic-in-a-crystal-ball Madame Leota (Jamie Lee Curtis). But other, subtler ride appearances include the portraits on the walls and the ghosts dangling from the dining room’s chandelier. Some of the ghosts are allies for protagonists Ben (LaKeith Stanfield) and Gabbie (Rosario Dawson) and their friends. Others are genuine threats. Most, though, are just there for the #vibes.

But while the Hatbox Ghost gets a central role out of proportion to his historical appearance on the ride (though certainly in accordance with his huge fandom), the actual scariest ghost — and the one who has always been the scariest part of the ride, in my opinion — gets her time to shine in what’s definitely the spookiest moment in an often not very spooky movie.

[Ed. note: Spoilers ahead for Haunted Mansion, both the 2023 movie and the Disney Parks attraction.]

Jared Leto as the Hatbox Ghost, a sinister figure with a skeletal face, wearing a tall top hat Image: Disney

Haunted Mansion gives the Bride — aka Constance Hatchaway, a serial killer who murdered all of her husbands with an ax, and who now haunts the mansion’s attic — her time to shine. She doesn’t have a critical role in the movie, but her scenes are some of the most memorable parts, which is fitting for the character.

When I was a kid, I was terrified by the Haunted Mansion, but it intrigued me, too. After a traumatic experience with a haunted house attraction when I was very young, I resisted the Haunted Mansion ride during my first few Disney trips, even though I always had a fascination with Halloween and all things spooky. Finally, armed with internet access, I looked up the Wikipedia page for the ride, hoping that studying and memorizing it would prepare me for the horrors within.

The only part of that description that genuinely scared me was the description of the attic, where the Bride resides. (The current Wikipedia description is pretty bland, but I swear it was terrifying reading when I was a kid.) I braced myself for intense jump scares in that particular scene when I finally built up the courage to go on the ride, but it was actually pretty light in that regard. I enjoyed the whole experience thoroughly — and the attic scene stuck with me as the attraction’s most haunting moment.

While the Haunted Mansion is pretty creepy visually, the ghosts at the beginning of the ride are entirely benign. They’re just chilling in their home, moving books around in the library or dancing in a ballroom. It’s just a tour of a pedestrian day in the (un)life of a ghost.

That all changes once the ride reaches the attic. With the thump-thump of a beating heart and the swing of an ax as you pass each portrait of Constance and her latest husband, each new man loses his head in turn. You know this ghost isn’t friendly. The anxiety is heightened by the disappearance of the Ghost Host, the narrator who’s been extolling the virtues of the mansion to you from the moment you enter the attraction. He basically drops out at this point in the ride. Instead, you hear a discordant version of the Bridal March with Constance reciting her vows and really emphasizing that “till death do us part” bit.

The moment the characters in 2023’s Haunted Mansion spotted the attic, I knew the Bride was coming. I braced myself as Ben climbed the stairs, and even though I figured the door would shut behind him before the others joined, it still startled me. I knew what lay in the attic, but director Justin Simien slowly builds up to it.

A group of ghosts in Haunted Mansion, led by a snarling bride in white. Image: Disney

As Ben explores the attic, we see portraits of Constance and her husbands, and just like in the ride, they lose their heads one by one. It’s clear that there’s someone watching Ben, building up to a jump scare. But Ben immediately tries to dissuade the ghost from chopping his head off by telling her that he’s an ally to women, and her husbands probably deserved to die. That moment is genuinely funny — and a testament to just how well Simien pulls off a haunted house movie that older kids can still enjoy.

The attic scene isn’t Constance’s only appearance. She’s one of the biggest threats in the movie, aside from the villain. She leads ghostly mobs after the protagonists. We know she’s not simply a lost soul looking for something, like some of the other ghosts wandering the mansion — she’s a bloodthirsty murderer. When she snarls and raises her ax, it’s delightfully threatening. This isn’t a ghost that can be talked to, like Master Gracely, the owner of the house. She’s out for blood.

Haunted Mansion is scary, but not too scary. The jump scares are mostly punctuated by jokes, and much like the ride itself, the creepiness comes more from the dread in the atmosphere than any shocking scenes. Sure, the Hatbox Ghost reveal is kinda scary, but the attic scene gets the movie’s best buildup by far. Personally, I’m just glad Simien did right by Constance and her attic.

Haunted Mansion is out in theaters now.

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