The Set

Haunted Mansion

PUTTING UP THE HOUSE

A few familiar ghosts from Disney's theme-park attraction cameo in Eddie Murphy's new comedy. But when it comes to the mansion itself, renovation rules. The house has been reimagined as a grander Southern Gothic extravaganza by Oscar-winning production designer John Myhre (''Chicago''). ''We didn't want to make it decrepit,'' he says, explaining that Murphy plays a real estate agent anxious to list the property. ''It had to appear sellable.'' In other words, beneath the cobwebs you'll find good bones. As Myhre researched Deep South homesteads (this one's meant to be outside New Orleans), he found that the Civil War destroyed many of the grandest, so he drew on East Coast Vanderbilt manses for interior inspiration. Built as a series of sets in a Glendale, Calif., warehouse, Myhre's old house is ''very 1880s'' -- ornamented with metalwork, oriental carpets, and vast lighting fixtures. The hall gives the audience a taste of spooky interiors to come, so Myhre created an archway between the staircases that resembles both a tomb and a ''mouth that sucks you into the house.''

[BOX]

Do the pair of standing figures with candelabras look a bit...funereal? They should -- they're modeled on statuary common in old cemeteries.

Custom made using various metals, the enormous chandelier weighs in the neighborhood of 1,500 pounds and matches all the other spooky sconces.

DINING ON A GRAND SCALE

Remember the fireplace in ''Citizen Kane?'' This one might be bigger. It's a 25-foot-high behemoth, built to suggest a hellish, cast-iron furnace. The dining table, says Myhre, is ''comically huge'' -- perhaps 35 feet across, with chairs roughly 9 feet tall. In the film, a creepy butler named Ramsley (Terence Stamp) ushers Murphy's family into this room for a meal. The elaborately patterned place settings, arranged atop a tablecloth garnished with black spiderweb lacing, have all the right cutlery for a Victorian feast featuring clams, crawfish, and snails. ''To kids who just want some pizza,'' says Myhre, ''it's absolutely disgusting.''

Originally posted Nov 14, 2003 Published in issue #737 Nov 14, 2003 Order article reprints