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A Haunted House

2013 | 86 min | R | 1.85:1

A Haunted House


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Theatrical release date

 11 January, 2013
 19 June, 2013

Country of origin

 United States

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A Haunted House


Screenshots from A Haunted House Blu-ray

A Haunted House Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, January 11, 2013

The Wayans Family already had their way with horror film parodies, having masterminded (or slapped together) 2000’s “Scary Movie” and 2001’s “Scary Movie 2.” Apparently, the lure of slapstick was too great for star Marlon Wayans, who returns to duty with “A Haunted House,” which pilfers most of its material from the “Paranormal Activity” series and last year’s unexpected exorcism smash, “The Devil Inside.” As to be expected with a Wayans endeavor, the picture is crude, desperate, and permissive with its actors. What’s surprising here is how lazy “A Haunted House” is, doing away with the relative polish of “Scary Movie” to merely stitch together fart jokes and abysmal improvisations, gradually doing away with any type of connective tissue or, in the final act, elementary moviemaking coherence.

Buying a new house in the suburbs, Malcolm (Marlon Wayans) is eager to move in with girlfriend Kisha (Essence Atkins), even though he’s wary of the changes living with a woman brings. After a brief honeymoon period, the couple soon discovers they’re living with a ghostly presence that visits them in the middle of the night. Gearing up with camera equipment, Malcolm is ready to capture evidence of the haunting on his hard drive, only to record a series of bizarre encounters that find the poltergeist raising hell in the house and pleasuring Kisha. Calling for help from a psychic (Nick Swardson) who openly hits on Malcolm, a coke-snorting priest (Cedric the Entertainer), and a pair of security cam specialists with their own ghost hunting cable show (David Koechner and Dave Sheridan), the couple finds little comfort, watching as their house is overwhelmed with a demonic presence, eventually possessing Kisha.

There’s an enormous amount of material to be pantsed when dealing with a “Paranormal Activity” parody, leaving me to wonder why Wayans (with co-writer Rick Alvarez), with all the nonsense that’s made the film series a fortune, is so fixated on breaking wind. To be completely fair, there’s actually one inspired bit in “A Haunted House,” observing Malcolm, after securing evidence of a ghostly presence, immediately putting the damned house up for sale, packing up his belongings into a U-Haul and tearing off to safety. Of course, the poor bastard quickly realizes he can’t unload his home in such a wretched market. Now there’s an unusual morsel of cleverness buried under layers of gross-outs, gay panic, and marijuana humor. In fact, it’s so on the money and efficiently executed, I suspect no one from “A Haunted House” had anything to do with it.

One beam of comedic sunlight aside, Wayans keeps imagination in short supply during “A Haunted House,” holding to a steady rhythm of bodily function gags and weird sexual humor, with Andrew Daly and Alanna Ubach playing married friends of Malcolm and Kisha, feverishly interested in arranging a “Mandingo Party.” Even less appetizing is time spent with Swardson’s psychic character, who works overtime to tempt Malcolm into a liaison, even go as far to frame Kisha as a carrier of herpes, which of course is true, resulting in a scene where the disgusted boyfriend frantically writhes around his bathtub, using gasoline and a wire brush to scrape the disease off his body. For additional discomfort, there’s an exchange between Malcolm and Koechner’s doofy security cam guru where the professional tries to trick his customer into allowing him to use the N-word. I’m not even sure what the point of that joke is. I found myself returning to that question repeatedly during “A Haunted House,” also wondering why Wayans, a 40-year-old father of two, chose to include a scene where Malcolm, in a drunken state, defecates on his living room floor, with director Michael Tiddes (his lone credit is a job working on the “Fred” show) offering numerous close-ups of the evidence.

There are several “Paranormal Activity” jokes that slightly ding the powerhouse franchise, including a recreation of the oscillating fan gag from the third movie, while overnight encounters with a possessed Kisha are silly (she spends one night working through numerous dance trends while Malcolm sleeps) but never funny, despite Atkins’s perky performance. The final act eventually gives way to broad “The Devil Inside” ribbing, forgetting that most audiences already found the source material hilarious.

The third act of “A Haunted House” (with its tasteless anal rape jokes) dissolves into chaos to cover for the lack of a conclusion, which, for a normal picture, would be a disappointing revelation. However, this is Wayans Country. I’m just delighted that the film actually ends.

Starring: Marlon Wayans, Cedric the Entertainer, Nick Swardson, Alanna Ubach, Essence Atkins, David Koechner
Director: Michael Tiddes

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