In my recent review for “Bigfoot: The Lost Coast Tapes,” a found footage mockumentary about a doomed Bigfoot expedition, I complained about its reliance on tiresome clichés. I then suggested that, with just a little extra effort, the filmmakers might have been able to turn it into a parody: “God knows the found footage genre is ripe for one of those.” So it is. Had I known that “A Haunted House” would be the first offering of a found footage parody, however, I would have kept my big mouth shut. Here is a movie so unendurably awful that dental surgery would have been a preferable experience. Badness would have been something for it to aspire to. Perhaps this is my punishment for giving a positive review to “Meet the Spartans,” which currently ranks 100th on IMDb’s Bottom 100 list.
This is movie is an embarrassment – a desperately unfunny, hopelessly strained effort that suggests no one involved has any understanding of comedy. A basic joke is essentially a tirade of crude references and gestures, all of which are stretched well beyond the breaking point. Consider an extended sequence in which a scantily clad Marlon Wayans, who’s also the co-writer and co-producer of this mess, simulates obscene sexual acts and positions on a plush animal; the only thing he has succeeded in doing was humiliating himself. This will eventually be followed by a scene in which Wayans is sodomized by a ghost. When his character looks at the surveillance footage of himself the next day, he inadvertently uploads it onto the internet. My God, what rich, sophisticated humor this movie offers!
Unlike the Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer parodies, which poke fun at just about every movie made during the time of its release, this film specifically targets the “Paranormal Activity” franchise and “The Devil Inside,” another movie I liked in spite of almost universal disdain. So this is karma. Wayans plays Malcolm, who, true to the characters in found footage mockumentaries, films everything with a handheld camera. At the start of the film, his girlfriend Kisha (Essence Atkins) moves into his house, which is soon thereafter plagued with bouts of paranormal activity. It’s possible they have a poltergeist, or that they’re being haunted by a demon. Could it have anything to do with Kisha, who once sold her soul to the devil for a pair of Louis Vuittons?
A series of people are brought in to help Malcolm and Kisha get to the bottom of things. There are surveillance experts who have not one but two self-produced reality TV shows. One is played by David Koechner as an obnoxious pervert. The other is played by Dave Sheridan as an offensive simpleton typecast. There’s a psychic named Chip (Nick Swardson), who’s obviously gay and spends virtually every one of his scenes talking to Malcolm in lustful innuendos. And then there’s a ghetto-mouthed priest played by Cedric the Entertainer. On the basis of his performance in this film, he may want to consider replacing the last word of his stage name. Oh, and there’s also a couple played by Andrew Daily and Alanna Ubach. As evidenced by their filthy dialogue, all they want to do is swap partners. Ubach’s oversexed character not only wants to have a mandingo party, but actually gets one.
Having just provided this plot description, I’m wondering why I even bothered. These types of films typically aren’t noticed for their stories. There’s nothing wrong with this, as long as the filmmakers are actively working towards being funny. That’s not the case here. “A Haunted House” is so bereft of humor that at one point, it literally resorts to pre-adolescent fart jokes. It also resorts to ethnic slurs that cross the fine line between satire and cruelty. In one corner, we have Malcolm’s Hispanic maid, Rosa (Marlene Forte), who’s at her worst during a scene shot on a handheld camera mounted to a the motor of an oscillating fan. In the other corner, we have Kisha’s parents, who are scene on a videocassette tape shot in 1988, specifically at Kisha’s birthday party. The tape ends with the father using his belt to whip the young Kisha’s bottom. If there’s one thing that isn’t funny in any context, it’s child abuse.
When the film isn’t being offensive, it’s simply plodding along. For the first twenty minutes or so, some audiences are liable to forget that they’re watching a parody of found footage mockumentaries; the references to ghosts are at that point infrequent and all but overshadowed by monotonous verbal and visual gags. That “A Haunted House” currently has a 7% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes is nothing short of astonishing. Which audiences do that miniscule percentage represent? One almost wants to track each person down and ask what it was about this particular film he or she found enjoyable. The only silver lining is that “Scary Movie 5” will be released later this year, and it too will parody the found footage genre. Maybe this time, it will be done right. I can only hope.