Jim Evers is a workaholic real estate agent who has little time for his family, wife, Sara, teenager daughter, Megan, and ten-year-old son, Michael, who has arachnophobia. After missing his own wedding anniversary to seal a business deal, he promises his family to go on a weekend away to a nearby lake. Sara is contacted by the occupants of the Gracey Manor, located in the bayou swamps of New Orleans, and an eager Jim drags them along to do business there.
They meet Master Edward Gracey, his stern butler Ramsley, and other staff Emma and Ezra. Master Gracey invites the family to stay the night when a rainstorm floods the nearby river. When Jim is taken to the library by Ramsley, he becomes trapped in a secret passageway. Michael and Megan encounter a "ghost ball" which leads them to the mansion's attic where they find a portrait of a woman resembling Sara. Sara meets Master Gracey who explains that his ancestor's lover Elizabeth Henshaw seemingly committed suicide via poison, and his ancestor followed suit via hanging.
However, Jim encounters gypsy woman Madame Leota, whose head is encased in a crystal ball. After briefly being scared away, Jim and his children learn that all of the mansion's residents are actually ghosts, cursed to be trapped in the mansion until Master Gracey and Elizabeth's ghosts are reunited, and Master Gracey believes that Sara is his lover reincarnated. In order to break the curse, Madame Leota sends the Evers family, minus Sara, into the mansion's cemetery and to a mausoleum to fetch a key.
Jim and Megan locate the key but awaken all of the mausoleum's undead inhabitants. Thankfully, they escape unharmed, Michael rescuing them and overcoming his fear of spiders. Madame Leota points the Evers to a trunk in the attic, Jim finding an old letter from Elizabeth to Master Gracey with the promise of marriage, revealing that her suicide was false. Ramsley appears and reveals that he murdered Elizabeth to prevent Master Gracey from abandoning his home and heritage. To hide the truth, he traps the children in a trunk and literally throws Jim out of the mansion.
Master Gracey reveals to Sara his ghostly self, and obsessively believes she is Elizabeth. Ramsley approaches Sara and blackmails her into marrying Master Gracey for the sake of her children. During the wedding ceremony, Ramsley poisons Sara's drink with iocane powder so that she will die and return as a ghost and end the curse. Madame Leota gives Jim the confidence to ram his car into the house, save his children and confront the ghosts. He gives the letter to Master Gracey, revealing him the truth about Elizabeth's death, and Master Gracey confronts Ramsley for murdering her.
An enraged Ramsley summons wraiths to kill the group, but a fiery dragon emerges from the fireplace and drags Ramsley into the mouth of the Burning Hells for his actions. Ramsley seizes Jim and attempts to pull him down with him to Hell for ruining his plans, but then Master Gracey rescues Jim while Ramsley is dragged into the Burning Hells forever. Sara succumbs to the poison, but the ghost ball arrives and possesses her body, revealing itself to be Elizabeth's ghost. Elizabeth and Master Gracey kiss, and Sara is revived. In gratitude and seeking redemption, Master Gracey gives the Evers the deed to the house, allowing them to do what they want with it as long as they remain happy. The ghosts all depart the mansion and move on to Heaven.
The film ends with the Evers driving off to the lake, accompanied by Madame Leota and four singing busts who end the film with their own rendition of "When the Saints Go Marching In". After the closing credits, Madame Leota bids farewell to the audience and invites them to join the dead.
- Eddie Murphy as Jim Evers
- Marsha Thomason as Sara Evers/Elizabeth Henshaw
- Terence Stamp as Ramsley
- Nathaniel Parker as Master Edward Gracey
- Jennifer Tilly as Madame Leota
- Aree Davis as Megan Evers
- Marc John Jefferies as Michael Evers
- Wallace Shawn as Ezra
- Dina Waters as Emma
- The Dapper Dans as the Singing Busts (voice)
- The fact that the mansion is located in New Orleans is a reference to the fact that the original Disneyland attraction is located in New Orleans Square.