A Haunted House: Film Review

This parody of "Paranormal Activity" and other found-footage horror films too often substitutes raunch for wit.

Found-footage horror movies are sent up in this parody starring Marlon Wayans.

Found-footage horror movies are long overdue for parody, but the blandly titled A Haunted House fails to rise to the comedic occasion. A few funny gags notwithstanding, this effort co-written by and starring Marlon Wayans -- who has more than a little experience with this sort of thing (Scary Movie and its sequels as well as Dance Flick) -- too often settles for raunchiness instead of wit.

Concentrating on the Paranormal Activity franchise with a little of The Devil Inside and countless other exorcism movies thrown in, the story centers on Malcolm (Wayans) and his longtime girlfriend Kisha (Essence Atkins) moving into a new house together. Malcolm’s relationship anxieties -- his friends have warned him that sex no longer will be part of the equation once there’s cohabitation -- soon take an otherworldly form. Rigging the house with surveillance cameras in the hope of catching some Kim Kardashian-style bedroom action, he instead discovers that there are things going bump in the night.

But that’s not all going bump in the night, since this is a particularly randy ghost who takes advantage of Kisha’s sleepiness to provide some paranormal sex that she’s all too willing to repeat. And it soon violates Malcolm as well -- “You’ve been alter-boyed,” Kisha tells him. It’s but one of many homophobic gags that give the film an unpleasant aftertaste, including a gay psychic (Nick Swardson) who can’t keep his hands off Malcolm. 

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Add to that the endless jokes about bodily functions, including a lengthy sequence involving Kisha’s explosive flatulence and a truly tasteless bit involving Malcolm unconsciously defecating on her late father’s ashes, and the film quickly veers into the unfunny. Wayans and director Michel Tiddes seem way off on their comic timing, as evidenced by a scene in which Malcolm pretends to vigorously hump his girlfriend’s teddy bears that starts out amusingly but goes on way too long. And the lame attempts at sexual humor, like when a swinger couple (Alanna Ubach, Andrew Daly) hosts a “Mandingo party,” fall painfully flat.

There is some wit on display, especially in a single-take scene depicting the couple attempting to have a quiet morning cup of coffee while the poltergeist wreaks havoc in the kitchen all around them. Their blase, deadpan reactions to the violent mayhem is funnier than any of the gross-out humor that the filmmakers so obviously relish. 

The film really loses its way in the final reel, when Cedric the Entertainer shows up as an ex-con priest attempting an exorcism on the newly possessed Kisha. The normally reliable star founders as he delivers an endless series of profane one-liners, as does veteran comic actor David Koechner as a security-camera installer who moonlights as a reality television star.

Wayans goes all out in his vigorous physical shtick, getting some laughs in the process, and the charismatic Atkins scores in moments like when the sleepwalking Kisha, captured on tape, breaks  into a series of impressive dance moves. But what A Haunted House ultimately demonstrates is that the parody genre is as played out as the film styles being sent up.

Opens Friday, Jan. 11 (Open Road Films)

Production: IM Global Octane, Wayan Bros. Entertainment

Cast: Marlon Wayans, Essence Atkins, Cedric the Entertainer, Nick Swardson, David Koechner, Affion Crocket, Alanna Ubach, Andrew Daly, Marlene Forte

Director: Michel Tiddes

Screenwriters/producers: Rick Alvarez, Marlon Wayans

Executive producers: Stuart Ford, Deepak Nayar, Brian Kavanaugh-Jones, Steve Squillante, Lisa Blum

Director of photography: Steve Gainer

Editor: Suzanne Hines

Production designer: Fred Andrews

Costume designer: Ariyela Wald-Cohain

Rated R, 85 minutes