The “Paranormal Activity” film franchise has been so successful that it’s easy to see why there is an entire movie devoted to lampooning them. And while there are a number of uproarious belly laughs in “A Haunted House”, the satire is thin and, dare I say, rather transparent. The filmmakers feel the urge to veer away from spoofing the ghostly horror series to mine more ghastly targets, namely those of the scatological and sexual kind, and it ends up making this haunted house feel more like a frat house.
I’ve never been a big fan of the “Paranormal Activity” movie franchise. The films keep repeating the same scares over and over (slamming doors, errant noises, furniture moving inexplicably, etc.) and have thus lost a lot of their novelty. The series also has spent too much time obsessing over its back-story about the sisters being haunted. (Here’s my take on what’s wrong with the girls: http://exm.nr/PMpqZW) Surprisingly, “A Haunted House” doesn’t take on some of those more hoary parts of the franchise. Instead, it starts employing a plethora of dirty jokes that push past the source material, the boundaries of good taste, and limits of its R-rating.
True, writer/star Marlon Wayans and his co-screenwriter Rick Alvarez target most of the better bits from the franchise, including the baby powder on the floor from the first film, and the oscillating fan from the third. But their true passion is aimed at jokes of the more sexual, scatological and racial kind. Some of the shtick sticks to the wall, and some of it just stinks. There are more poop and fart jokes here than anything since “Blazing Saddles”. And the sexual gags, while uproarious, have precious little to do with the “Paranormal Activity” movies.
When Wayans’ character practices his lovemaking skills on his girlfriend’s stuffed animal collection, it’s almost an NC-17 gag, and an arbitrary one too. Same with later on when the ghost shags both Wayans’ willing girlfriend character (played by a game Essence Atkins) and him. It’s hilarious, but what does it have to do with the haunting? Did the specter want to screw them as well as screw with them? Even a comedy needs some logic, but this film isn’t too interested in such clarity. Come to think of it, neither was the fourth movie, a series low point. (You can read my withering review here: http://exm.nr/OTqAHC)
Towards the end, Cedric the Entertainer shows up as a surly priest and riffs all over the place, spouting off a ton of blue one-liners that don’t have much to do with the ghost story either. In turn, the film starts riffing on all sorts of other recent ‘found footage’ horror movies like “The Possession” and “The Last Exorcism”. It even vamps the decade old “Blair Witch Project” series and that gag seems incredibly dated. What? Director Michael Tiddes didn’t feel compelled to vamp good horror films of the last few years like “The Cabin in the Woods” or “Sinister”?
I’m sure all this flatters the folks behind the “Paranormal Activity” movies but they should be worried too. The special effects, frights, and performances in “A Haunted House” play almost like ‘the real McCoy’. That doesn’t bode well for a horror series that has already become laughably bad and is more apt to find its audience rolling in the aisles rather than jumping out of their seats.