One website I used to frequent was a comedy-focused movie review community called Spill.com, and I can still vividly recall the Spill Crew’s review for the first “Paranormal Activity” film. One of the crew members satirically mentioned that if the main characters were replaced with a black couple, the end credits would be scrolling up within seconds because the protagonists would have bolted right the hell outta that creepy building. There was a moment like that in “A Haunted House,” in which Marlon Wayans has the U-Haul truck all packed up the morning after one potentially supernatural occurrence.
Such moments, as well as a Ouija board reading with an illiterate spirit and an injurious take on “Paranormal Activity 3’s” falling furniture gag, are the mild joys in a film that only seldom takes aim at the dartboard of qualified genre mockery. “A Haunted House” finds this Wayan brother returning to the familiar corridors of the horror movie spoof genre, which the Wayan clan pulled off reasonably well in the first “Scary Movie.” And since the novelty of found-footage has yielded some of the more profitable and talked-about horror movies in recent years, it seems only natural that the subgenre would get a spoof movie all its own.
The film’s main target is one of the best examples of found-footage to date, “Paranormal Activity,” though it is occasionally crossed with arguably one of the worst examples, “The Devil Inside.” Marlon Wayans and Essence Atkins settle into a new residence, only to experience a whole lot of unsettling paranormal disturbances. Doors moving, bumpy noises, invisible forces pulling victims across the hardwood floor, et cetera. And all of it is caught on a constantly recording video camera. To help the couple better understand these spooky phenomena include a sketchy security camera installation duo (David Koechner and Dave Sheridan), a priest of dubious religious training (Cedric The Entertainer), and a mousy gay psychic (Nick Swardson).
In a way, I respect spoof movies that relentlessly throw joke after joke at the audience, hoping against hope that some of them will stick better than others. Innovators like Mel Brooks and David Zucker took a very similar approach to spinning exhausted genres into rapid-fire farces. But there is an important difference between “A Haunted House” and something like “Young Frankenstein,” and it has to do with the genres they is ridiculing. Mel Brooks’s gags were often silly, but through his screenplay and direction, he was also able to highlight the vulnerabilities and clichés that were rampant in genre films. Take for instance the bookcase scene in “Young Frankenstein,” which put a comedic spin on the old hallmark of the revolving door that reveals a secret passageway through some kind of triggering mechanism.
Perhaps I am overthinking the film by comparing it by the yardstick of a classic like “Young Frankenstein,” but is it so much to ask for a little bit of comedic evaluation to go along with the absurdity, especially when dealing with a format as deserving of criticism as found-footage? Granted, the comedy here is considerably more advanced than the assault of empty-calorie pop-culture references practiced by Friedberg and Seltzer. But too often, the humor adds up to cruder variations on otherwise carbon-copy scenes from the films being parodied. Remember in “Paranormal Activity” when the Activity slinked into the bedsheets with the slumbering couple? Introduce rough sex as a variable to this scenario, and you now have an understanding “A Haunted House.”
VERDICT: 1.5 out of 4 stars