Eerie Audio Files
Before the Haunted Mansion opened: preliminary works
For your listening (dis)pleasure, DoomBuggies.com presents an exhaustive collection of Haunted Mansion-related audio information and samples, each of which will take you into the Haunted Mansion's distinctive atmosphere of boundless mist and decay. To begin, let's explore the Walt Disney Studio's sound libraries and discover some sounds the WED Imagineers may have used as inspiration for their creations.
The Beginnings: Disneys spooky sound library
The Walt Disney Company is no stranger to innovative sound and audio work, as evidenced by Walt's experimentation with sound cartoons, and his breakthrough stereophonic recording of Leopold Stokowski conducting the soundtrack to Fantasia. So it is no surprise that one of the first aspects of the Haunted Mansion's development was sonic design. As early as 1957, acetate recordings of potential studio sound effects were being created, such as the example pictured below, which was labeled "eeire music" (sic) and "weird background music." In fact, this recording is believed to have been used in early "pitches" of scenes and effects from the proposed Disneyland haunted house to Walt Disney himself.
The recording, a 20 minute continuous loop of otherworldly harps and eerie glissando tones, is likely a recording created for Ken Anderson (pictured, above) to use as background atmosphere as he demonstrated various ideas and storylines to Walt during their many meetings.
Pitching to Walt
From its earliest days, the planning of Disneyland included a haunted house-type attraction. Walt Disney had placed Anderson, one of his most creative concept artists, in charge of the early "haunted house" development. As in all Disney projects, the conceptual approach involved a strong sense of story. Anderson immediately went to work to develop a cohesive story for the attraction.
For his pitch to Walt Disney, Anderson constructed miniature and then full mock-up models of how the proposed areas of the Mansion would appear. With Walt in the audience, Anderson would pitch the story and narration of the various themed tableaux. In addition to dramatic narration and lighting, Anderson used background recordings to get his point across. Many of these were pulled from the vast Disney Studio archive of sound effects and music. Of course as you know (if you have studied the Mansion's history), most of Anderson's early walk-through concepts were left behind when it was realized that only a ride could carry the capacity necessary for the "E" Ticket attraction that Walt wanted.
Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House
By the early sixties, Walt Disney Productions had developed an extensive collection of eerie sound effects for various productions - among them the Haunted Mansion attraction for Disneyland. In 1964, possibly in anticipation of an imminent opening of the attraction (which was still being called the "Haunted House" on occasion at that point in its development), Disneyland Records released "Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House" (DQ-1257; out of print but still readily available due to the massive number of pressings sold.) If you ever owned this record, you may remember the familiar opening track:
"You are a bold and courageous person, afraid of nothing. High on a hilltop near your home, there stands a dilapidated old mansion. Some say the place is haunted, but you don't believe in such myths. One night, a light appears in the topmost window in a tower of the old house. You decide to investigate. And you never return..."
This collection of sound effects and "stories in sound" contains some of the sound effects which can be heard on the actual Haunted Mansion ride soundtrack. On side one, a no-nonsense female narrator (voiced by an uncredited Laura Olsher, who recorded voices for other Disney records as well) sets up various situations, and then the sound effects take over and tell the story, usually with an ironic gag at the end of the track. Most of the tracks are fairly silly (though one of them is insensitive to cultural norms). The first track ("The Haunted House"), however, is classic audio heard in Halloween spook houses around the world.
Variations on a theme
Pictured at right are a number of the variations in the printed covers for the album, as well as a British version of the release (bottom). The artwork used on the American versions of the record was painted by WED artist Paul Wenzel as concept art for the proposed Disneyland Haunted House attraction, which was still in the planning stages when the art was produced. The British album uses a photo of the Haunted Mansion itself on the cover. All of the recordings are the same. Each cover proclaims "Here lies a most terrific collection of recorded sounds," and the back covers offer this disclaimer: "This particular Disneyland record, CHILLING, THRILLING SOUNDS OF THE HAUNTED HOUSE, is not intended for young, impressionable children from three to eight. It is intended for older children, teenagers and adults." While such a notice on a album today would likely be a cynical means by which to market the product to children, it is likely that in 1964, Disneyland Records honestly had concerns about the potential impact of a "horror" album on their good name. The runaway success and mulitple repressings of this record likely alleviated that fear, however.
Trivia time: many of the ghostly sounds on the album are from Disney's classic "Lonesome Ghosts" cartoon, which was an influence on Ken Anderson and his early designs for the Disneyland "Ghost House." Certainly, Anderson used some of these sounds for his Haunted House pitches and demonstrations.
Monster kids rejoice
The record was definitely influential on an entire generation of baby-boomer, chiller-theater-watching, monster-loving kids, being as widely distributed and common as it was throughout the '60s and '70s. Record reviewer "Zeke" shares a memory of the album on rateyourmusic.com:
"I can't remember how it came up, but my friend was telling me about his favorite record as a kid - this one. He thinks he begged his mom to buy it at the supermarket, thinking it was the music from the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland... and was probably miffed when he first played it and realized it wasn't. But he came to love the record, and it became one that he played all the time. He could still, by memory, recite the narration from entire tracks. He lost it somewhere along the way as he grew up, but missed it. It was his Rosebud, his Bobo. That weekend, of course, I looked for it and found a decent used copy. I brought it home, and my friend got a little misty-eyed when he saw the record cover. He took a few minutes to prepare, then we played it. I was amazed that even though he hadn't heard the thing in (is it possible?) 25 years, he was still able to lip synch the entire first side's narration. He knew exactly when each sound occurred in the stories, and would get excited when a particularly good ghostly moan was about to begin. He recalled a game he and his friends made up based on the suspension bridge piece - they'd pretend to walk along the rickety boards, and fall to the ground when the character fell to his death. Turns out a tune whistled by a character in one of the tracks is the generic tune my friend will whistle when spontaneous whistling is in order. We laughed as one long creak sound effect really sounded like a painfully squeezed-out fart. Oh how we laughed..."
The memory recounted above is a great example of the type of nostalgic reaction that can be caused by this enormously popular album. In fact, once it became plain that the record would be so successful, Disney decided to capitalize on the burgeoning Halloween market by changing the cover to pumpkin orange, and then a few years later, by adding some "spooky party hints" to the record sleeve.
Collectors should note that there are two distinct versions of the original white cover, and two distinct versions of the orange cover. The white variations are easiest to distinguish by the back covers, which feature differing versions of Wenzel's cover art (see left).
Fall in love all over again - buy your own copy
If you'd like to try to track down a copy yourself, visit Music Stack to see what's in stock. There are often merchants here who will sell the album along with a copy on CD.
The other "Chilling, Thrilling" Disney Record
Walt Disney Studios' Chilling, Thrilling Sounds of the
Out of print (Walt Disney Storyteller Records 2507B, Vinyl/Cassette release)
Released in 1979, this album of 26 "eerie" sound effects and seven "frightening situations" is a so-so follow-up to the classic 1964 collection. Possibly inspired by increasingly common horror flicks and the expanding Halloween novelty market, this surprisingly bleak release features a collection of average sound effects, with none of the humor of the earlier recording. Included at left are some samples this album's offerings.
Despsite the misleading similar title, the 1979 version of "Chilling, Thrilling Sounds" is quite unlike its predecessor, and doesn't contain any Haunted-Mansion-specific content (though the cover art does feature ravens and a coffin with a restless occupant trying to escape.)