A Haunted House

2013 - 86 minutes

Rated: R

Directed by: Mike Tiddes

Written by: Marlon Wayans, Rick Alvarez

Starring: Marlon Wayans, Essence Atkins, Nick Swardson, David Koechner, Cedric the Entertainer, Dave Sheridan

A Haunted House opens with a dog death and ends with a fart; what’s in-between is just about as funny as the bookends. This is a spoof that only succeeds in showcasing its own stupidity.  The construct is taken from Paranormal Activity, which is ripe for parody now five years into the series,but any clever subversion is lost on director Michael Tiddes and screenwriters Marlon Wayans (who also stars) and Rick Alvarez. They clearly prefer rambling, incongruent strings of bodily function gags that most middle-schoolers would find juvenile and painfully unfunny.

Malcolm (Wayans) moves into a suburban home with girlfriend Kisha (Essence Atkins), eager to document every aspect of their cohabitation with his video camera. A series of strange occurrences lead the anxious Kisha to believe a ghost is haunting the home. Malcolm takes some more convincing, but as the bumps in the night grow cruder and cruder, he’s forced to believe. The couple enlists the help of a team of security techs/ghost hunters (David Koechner and Dave Sheridan), a psychic (Nick Swardson) who’s more interested in a sexual liaison with Malcolm than contacting the evil spirit, and an ex-convict priest (Cedric the Entertainer).  As the entity’s power over Kisha grows, the movie mimics The Devil Inside for a convenient demonic possession anti-climax.

Wayans is no stranger to the horror spoof, having worked on the first two entries in the Scary Movie series. While not great by any means, those movies at least targeted some tropes of the genre they were lampooning and had some fun with it. A Haunted House uses the video/security cam aesthetic from Paranormal Activity, but uses it only to set up rudimentary sex, drugs, toilet, and race “humor.”

There aren’t jokes about why Malcolm or Kisha (or potential victims in the found footage movies that play it straight) would be filming the most mundane of moments or how all this content gets edited together so cleanly. Instead, attempts at comedy consist of Malcolm drunkenly defecating on the ashes of Kisha’s father, the smelliness of Kisha’s bowel movements, the ghost anally raping Malcolm, et cetera. It’s as funny as it sounds. Or smells.

I must admit to one mild giggle. At one point Malcolm and Kisha attempt to ignore the ghost it hopes it will get bored and leave them alone. As they sit in the kitchen and pay no mind to the rattles and crashes around them, there’s a line about switching from glass to plastic cups so they wouldn’t shatter. It actually approaches something that’s well-thought-out.  

The moment is fleeting, however, and soon we’re back to things like Koechner’s character begging to use the N-word and Malcolm and Kisha’s swinging friends coyly attempting to arrange group sex with Malcolm’s thuggish cousin. No one comes out unscathed in this orgy of idiocy, least of all the audience.

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