It seems rarer and rarer that filmmakers are able to hit that perfect blend of comedy and horror that results in something pleasing to fans of both genres. Looking at a couple of past examples, there are classics like “Evil Dead 2,” a horror film that was so over the top that you couldn’t help but find some of it really amusing, and more contemporary attempts like “Tucker & Dale vs. Evil,” which mainly used and reused the same joke, but kept finding new, brilliant ways of approaching it while mixing it with horror elements. You could even throw in the amazing “The Cabin in the Woods” as an example of a great horror film with a twisted sense of humor. Now we come to “Hell Baby,” which looks to duplicate the success of its predecessors by offering up “comedy” with a twist of horror.
The film begins with Jack (Rob Corddry) and his pregnant wife Vanessa (Leslie Bibb) moving into an old house. That same day, they are informed of its disturbing past by F’resnel (Keegan Michael Key), a “neighbor” who randomly pops in and out of their house whenever he feels like it. It’s not long before strange things begin happening in and around the house, including the odd appearance of a dog and an old woman who wanders in one night, leading to an unfortunate misunderstanding with the police. Eventually the house begins to have effects on Vanessa, making her behave not quite like her normal self.
It’s hard to guess at what filmmakers Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon were thinking putting out this film. Assuming they were going for a horror-comedy, it’s a failure on both levels because it doesn’t go nearly far enough in either area, and thus is ineffective. However let’s take a look at both areas in an attempt to pin down where everything went wrong. First, it doesn’t push the horror elements as much as they needed to be pushed. Every now and again there’s a little bit, but up until about the last 10-15 minutes, you may forget you’re watching a film that’s part horror.
The other problem here is that all of its horror is parody, which can work sometimes, but you’re not exactly going to be shocked if the horror if making fun of a far better film like “The Exorcist” or “The Omen.” At the very least it does end up making fun of some horror films that were pretty bad themselves (I was reminded of “Basket Case” and “Amityville II,” to name a couple). But let’s move on to what I would have to call the biggest nail in its coffin.
Garant and Lennon’s attempts at humor are absolutely terrible. It’s as though they have no idea what comedy is or how it works. This results in a series of gags that they must think are absolutely hilarious, but are actually extremely sad and cringe-worthy. For starters, they continually have F’resnel appear out of nowhere to scare Jack and Vanessa. It wasn’t funny the first time, but they keep doing it anyway to the point of it becoming very irritating and predictable.
Then there are the two cops (Rob Huebel and Paul Scheer) who continually show up to pester the main characters. They’re written and performed in such a way that’s supposed to show how odd they are, and again, I’m sure Garant and Lennon thought it must have been a laugh-riot, but once again, it merely results in more annoyance for the audience. The final running gag actually features the writers/directors themselves playing two priests sent from the Vatican to investigate a case. They’re typical movie priests (they drink and smoke), but made far worse in an attempt to make them more humorous. What they really are is just one more reason to avoid this film.
It really comes as no surprise to learn that Garant and Lennon are co-creators of “Reno 911!,” one of the least funniest, most unwatchable shows ever devised. As I mentioned, they seem to have no idea how comedy works, but at least it’s not at the level of Adam Sandler (i.e. it’s not all scatological or sex-related). That being said, we do get a scene that has most of the main characters vomiting for a minute or two. These guys really need to go back to basics in order to discover what works well for the genre and what doesn’t. A good first step would be to warn them to avoid the likes of everything they’ve done thus far.
They could have taken a good example from any of the films listed at the start. In order for a film like this to work, you have to be willing to push the envelope in at least one of the areas. Since comedy isn’t really their thing, perhaps they could have gone for a more horror-oriented approach, amping up that side of the story in order to get the audience engaged. “Hell Baby” may not be as bad as “Scary Movie 5” or “Movie 43,” but they came dangerously close to reaching that level of incompetence. I guess you could say their level of bad humor barely managed to save them. At least that counts for something. 1/4 stars.
Starts tomorrow in limited release. Now available on Video on Demand.
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