A Haunted House (2013)

JANUARY 11, 2013


And lo it came to pass that I would end up in the very same spot (AMC Burbank 16, screen #15) that I saw Vampires Suck for the first wide release horror spoof since. While Paranormal Activity has yielded a few parody films, A Haunted House is the only one to get the ultimate endorsement: a 2000+ screen theatrical release, where it's free to make as much money as the PA films themselves. The difference between this and Vampires Suck is that I paid (well, via Moviepass) to see this one with a paying audience, whereas the Twilight spoof was a free screening.

I know it seems insane, but I was curious and thus had to see it with a normal crowd: if people are paying to see this sort of nonsense, will they be more critical of its attempts at humor? Free screenings are filled with people off the street (literal and figurative), 2nd rate critics such as myself, etc - it's a safe bet that half the people in there are there out of obligation or a lack of anything better to do. But this: these folks went out on a Friday night to a place playing 15 other movies, and forked over 12.50 a piece to see Marlon Wayans hump stuffed animals for five minutes straight (not an exaggeration, I think) and react to his girlfriend's flatulence.

AND THEY LOVED IT. Seriously. There were a couple of instances where the laughter drowned out the dialogue, and to them the 4th fart joke was just as hilarious and clever as the 15th. I was actually kind of fascinated by the reaction; it was a pretty diverse crowd in both age and race, so there was no "Well young kids think it's funny" type thinking - the guy a few seats over was older than me and he laughed just as much as the juvenile shit as he did at one of the film's four jokes that made me laugh (after the ghost seduces Kisha one night (she thinks it's him at first), she goes out and buys a new perfume called "Entity" - that one went over all but our two heads).

The other three? 1. A spoof of PA3's oscillating cam reveals what the maid is up to when the owners aren't home, which includes a pretty good sight gag where she's running a drug ring and beating her employees. 2. Mild amusement at an extended sequence where the couple and the ghost get stoned and make a prank phone call parodying the "Three people..." bit from Devil Inside (the only other film besides the PAs to get spoofed, though there's a quick Blair Witch joke stolen from Fright Reviews 2). 3. Most shockingly, a line from Nick Swardson, who is quite possibly the unfunniest man in comedy (yes, I'm including low-hanging fruit targets like Dane Cook and Carrot Top), who mutters a nearly silent "Ick" after Wayans explains that he sleeps with his girlfriend.

Because, you see, Swardson's psychic character is gay and infatuated with Wayans, and that's the key to every single one of his character's jokes. Cedric The Entertainer is the film's exorcist, and his one joke is that he trained to be a priest in prison and thus behaves in a very un-priest like manner (he has cocaine in his crucifix! HAH!). Andrew Daly plays Wayans' swinger best friend who likes to watch his wife be pleasured by others, hinting at the potential with each and every line, as if there was literally nothing else in his head other than his desire to watch other men fuck his wife. David Koechner has TWO elements to his character: he's not only a wannabe ghost hunter mocking all 589 of the cable shows about such folks, but also a bit racist (laugh #5 almost happened courtesy of him begging Wayans to let him say the N-word. "You can call me a cracker," he offers). And that's it. The same gags over and over, plus all the fart jokes. And those guys only appear once each until the film's final 15 minutes, so most of it is just Wayans and Kisha bickering or engaging in bedroom antics. It's pretty sad that I saw the first one coming (PA's familiar low rumble "score" starts up, but of course it's just the start of a long, heavy fart) and that I thought it would be the last, or at least the last for a while, but no. She keeps farting, letting Wayans mug, spray air freshener around, etc. The scene, to which all humor is derived from farting and the ghost does not appear, runs for 3 minutes. Comedy!

In fact I was actually kind of surprised that it was a real ghost at all. With so many of the spoof scenes like this just devolving into real world explanations (farts, the maid acting suspicious for no reason, Wayans coming home drunk and trashing the place in a stupor), I fully expected a "twist" where the ghost just turned out to be a live-in burglar or something (maybe one of Wayans' 54 siblings in a cameo), but to its credit they commit to an actual ghost, even if they don't commit to explaining fuck all about it. Kisha reveals she sold her soul to the devil for a new pair of shoes, but I'm not sure if that's it since we see a flashback to her as a young girl already being haunted. So either she was the world's most fashion conscientious 8 year old, or like most things with this movie, it's just a meaningless throwaway line designed to amuse and not think about by the time the next scene begins.

And there are plenty of those. The ghost rapes Wayans at one point and he somehow uploads the video of it to the internet, but no one ever mentions it - and that could even be the source of genuine humor since Swardson's character would clearly be affected by such a development. It's also shockingly lazy on a production level - the video of Kisha as a little girl is clearly 16x9 footage that they squeezed horizontally, because no one on the crew could figure out how to crop an image to 4x3 in order to simulate VHS. A lengthy scene goes by where Koechner hooks up Wayans' webcam to the rest of the surveillance, and then in the VERY NEXT SEQUENCE Wayans puts together the fan-cam, saying that Koechner left a blind spot - no one mentions that what the fan-cam shoots is the same hallway as the webcam, and the kitchen table that we see more clearly from one of the fixed cameras. And there's a jump cut every 2 seconds; I'm pretty sure that Cedric and Koechner were allowed to just riff endlessly and the editor just used whatever lines he thought were best, disregarding the fact that it makes zero sense that the camera would cut 7 or 8 times in that moment. To me, spoof comedy works best when the filmmakers have a clear sense of what made the movies they are spoofing work - what I see here suggests they watched some of the first movie and maybe the trailers for the sequels and went from there. Great "subtle" product placement too - I have no idea what Wayans' character does for a living, but I will just assume he's the creator or designer of Saints Row 3 to explain why he has not one but TWO posters of it hanging in his house.

But whatever. Most of the crowd loved it and most certainly didn't care, and if I was laughing more than 4 goddamn times I probably wouldn't either. I don't begrudge or look down on those who enjoyed it, and I knew what I was in for with the fart jokes and such, but I guess I had some optimism that they would have put a little more effort into things. I mostly enjoyed the Scary Movies, and I doubt I've "matured" that much since I last watched any of them (in fact I know I haven't - I watched the Exorcist spoof at the beginning of SM2 recently and still laughed harder than I did at any of this stuff), so I was hoping for at least some of that spark here. There's something really soul crushing about seeing a movie you hope will be mildly OK as a timekiller and it can't even measure up - it's worse when you feel like an alien because everyone else seems to think it's amazing. Oh well. At least it was relatively free of pop-culture references, putting it miles above Friedberg/Seltzer level rubbish. And I enjoyed the end credits - they were quite stylish and eye-catching. Well done, whoever you are!

What say you?

P.S. There's a Snakes on a Plane joke, so while David Ellis' death was sudden and sad, at least we can take comfort knowing that he didn't live to regret making a movie that would provide ammo for this movie's jokes. Oren Peli and William Brent Bell have to live with it.

1 comment:

  1. Ugh, there are few things I hate more in this world than all these stupid spoofs. And I really hate that people seem to love these kinds of movies so much.
    Have to say that I really like David Koechner, though.

    Good review - it was nice of you to give this movie, which I'm sure is a cinematic masterpiece, a fair chance!


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