No movie genres are more different than humor and horror, yet none have interbred more often. Their latest offspring is "The Haunted Mansion," a sort of "Abbott and Costello Meet the Mummy" with enough high-tech effects to stock a Disney theme park. Which isn't that surprising, since the movie's main inspiration (so to speak) is Disneyland's ride of the same name.
Eddie Murphy and Marsha Thomason play a husband-and-wife team of real estate brokers, who have two bright children and lots of arguments about whether Dad needs to spend more time at home. The chance for a huge commission brings them and their kids to a spooky old manor containing a melancholy young man (Nathaniel Parker) and a weirded-out butler (Terence Stamp), along with a passel of secret passageways, mysterious messages, and ghosts galore.
Murphy can be a crafty comedian when he's got good material to work with, but the screenplay by David Berenbaum ("Elf") is rarely as funny - or scary - as it wants to be. Neither is Rob Minkoff's directing, which puts so much energy into orchestrating the film's flashy ectoplasm that there's little left over for first-rate comic timing and clever camerawork.
The movie does have its pleasures. Wallace Shawn is perfect as an obsequious servant, Jennifer Tilly makes the most of her small role as a disembodied soothsayer, and Stamp exudes the finely tuned campiness that Vincent Price contributed to so many Edgar Allan Poe pictures of yore.
It would take more than talented players and computer-generated visuals to raise such a silly story to memorable heights, however. While it may supply giggles and shivers to preteens, grownups should think twice before entering this all-too-haunted house.
• Rated PG; contains violence.