If you were a kid growing up in the 1960’s or 1970’s, you knew somebody who owned a copy of Disneyland Records’ “Chilling Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House.” Probably a lot of you lucky kids had one yourself. An old spooky gothic mansion in the middle of a cemetery was an odd image for an album in the kids section, but it was the sort of thing that was sure to fascinate and taunt any kid with a thirst for the macabre, especially during an era which was having a renaissance in horror fandom. Being released on the Disneyland label, it disguised itself as a children’s album, although it clearly said on the back of the album “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.” But what parent is going to read the fine print of the back of the album? God knows my parents didn’t. They were buying me Prince albums when I was eight. As long as most parents were concerned, if its on Disneyland, and that means good clean family fun!
One of pop culture’s most famous sound effects lps, “Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House” saw two original releases – one in 1964 and a second one in 1973 – with a 180 gram rerelease in 2015. The generations of kids who have grown up with the internet and can find any sound bite they want at the click of a button, will never understand the art and appeal of the “sound effect” album. It’s a lost genre that the world no longer needs. But for a few decades there were collectors who completely nerded out on this stuff. They cultivated their collection of sounds like modern collectors cultivate discographies and genre lists, for the glory of having the most complete collection of every sound imaginable. That way, if someone in town needed a certain sound effect for their home-made movie, stage show or school project, the guy with the biggest collection of sound effects records would be a hero, at least in that moment anyway. Hundreds of sound effects albums were put out, but none were as popular or as recognizable as “Chilling Sounds of the Haunted House.” I think partially it was because of the beautiful cover, but the Disney seal of approval obviously didn’t hurt it. In 1972, by the time of its second more popular rerelease. “Chilling Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House” was a certified gold album by the Recording Industry Association of America – one of the only sound effects albums to be awarded a gold status.
When I was growing up I didn’t own this album. It was a kid named Nicky Carpenter, who lived across the street from me, that had it and when we were pulling out her stack of kids albums, this was the one that always attracted me the most. Nicky had one of those Mickey Mouse players, where Mickey’s hand was the arm of the record player, and I always wanted to listen to this album. But Nicky was always pretty disinterested in it, usually preferring the Mary Poppins soundtrack. I didn’t initially get it, but when I finally did hear it, I kind of understood. I might have been a bit underwhelmed. I’m not sure what I expected, but the album really didn’t offer to much for me who was not an audiophile trying to cultivate a sound effect collection. In reality, it wasn’t that scary. Sure, there was a bit of wind and creaking and moans and screams, but most of it was angry cats, angry dogs, angry birds, hums, sizzles, explosions and, most peculiar to me, dripping water sounds. The other side had a woman telling short little stories that set up the sounds you were to hear, and then you heard the sounds with no conclusion to the story. I suppose it was supposed to ignite the imaginations of youngsters, but as a child I enjoyed a full narrative, and the idea of an open-ended story was always confusing and disappointing to me. So, I’ll admit, that this particular album confused me. I more wanted to like it instead of actually enjoying it. But I’m aware that I didn’t share the feelings of every kid everywhere. I am fully aware of how influential it was to some kids, who played with this thing for hours, and eventually became sound engineers for television or film. There is a reason this album has a cult following to this day, and it has to be for more than the cover.
So, what was this thing anyway? “Chilling Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House’ was a collection of sound effects that was collected by Disney Studios and, apparently, used in many of their films. But what it really was an album that was put out to promote and popularize the addition to the famous Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyland theme park in California. Originally in one of Disney’s early concepts for the theme park, The Haunted Mansion was still being developed when the park opened in 1955. In 1961 the park announced to visitors that the ride was going to be opened for the 1963 season. Disney and his artists and architects began working hard on the highly anticipated ride, but by 1963 it was obvious that the ride, despite being built, was not going to be ready to be opened in time. Disney had to keep the public interested and, being a master marketer, Disney needed a product out to further advertise the coming attraction. But how do you create merchandise for a ride that hadn’t even opened yet that’s not connected to an actual Disney character or film? Well, horror films were a popular trope, and you can’t have horror movies without spooky sounds, so the sound effect album was a clever idea. Taking one of the hundreds of concept images created by Haunted Mansion creator, and Disney art legend, Paul Wenzel, Disney had it put on the front of the album jacket and put it out on Disneyland Records which was a major marketing success for the company at the time. Its doubtful anybody knew just how successful this album would become, but the spooky image appealed to kids, and it sold like hotcakes while getting the public excited about the Haunted Mansion ride at the same time.
The Haunted Mansion was one of the longest anticipated rides in Disney history, and although Walt himself previewed the ride himself in a 1965 episode of “The Wonderful World of Disney,” it wasn’t actually opened until 1969. Unfortunately, Walt Disney died in 1966, and did not see the grand opening of his project. But the ride was worth the wait, and it was, and remains to be, one of Disney’s most popular rides with a massive fan base all its own. It was rebuilt for the Florida and Tokyo theme parks, and has never had to be updated in over fifty years. For some strange reason which mystifies me, “Thrilling Chilling Sounds of the Haunted House” was one of only a few pieces of merchandise that was being created to market the ride during its initial opening, and as a result remained to be pressed and sold through the entire time of its development. It’s no wonder that it only took a few years after its opening to reach its gold record standing.
With the renewed interest in the ride’s success upon its opening, and the album reaching gold status, in 1974 Disneyland records brough it back and did the new pressing, with the same cover but now with an orange background instead of a white one and a label splashed on the cover saying that there were “Spooky Party Hints” as a bonus inside (I have never seen a copy of these spooky party hints).. This is the version of the album that I am most familiar with, and the one that I think most people of my generation know the best. That Halloween orange just pops. In fact, I have never seen the earlier version of the record when shopping for vinyl, and I come across this album a lot.
But before we leave the haunted house, there is one more person that contribute do the album we should acknowledge. Who was the woman who narrated the stories in the cheery sing song June Cleaver voice which seemed so odd on the album? Well, she was a voice actress hired by Disneyland Records named Laura Olsher, I’ve looked for information on Oshler and have found very little information on who she was or if she is still alive or not. Although hired by Disney for this high profile recording project, I can find little work credited to her. She did a few other recordings for Disneyland Records, including narration on “The Little Engine that Could” and “Learning to Tell Time is Fun” and she did voices on TV animated shows like Mister Magoo and The Pink Panther which are, strangely enough, not Disney productions. Who she is and what became of her beyond is a mystery sealed within the walls of the Haunted House.
One final note. The original acrylic painting by Paul Wenzel which was used for the cover of “The Chilling Thrilling Sounds of the Haunted House’ was sold at an auction in 2001 for a measly three thousand dollars. I’ve probably spent that much on records over the past year and a half. Some collector somewhere got it for a steal, but I am sure the painting would fetch far more if auctioned today. It is one of the most beloved album covers of my generation which always sparks immediate nostalgia for me when I come across it while digging for vinyl. Despite it not giving me chills nor thrills when I was growing up, I couldn’t resist buying it on one of my shopping trips. But I’ll admit, since buying this album I don’t think I’ve ever actually listened to it. I think I’ll put it on the old turn table now. What should I listen to? Ah! The sweet sounds of dripping water. Let the thrills and the chills begin!