‘A Haunted House’ movie review: Marlon Wayans parody of Paranormal Activity


In the opening few minutes of A Haunted House, a small dog is run over by a car and killed; Marlon Wayans’ Malcolm Johnson attempts to resurrect it with jumper cables before running down the street in tears with the lifeless corpse in his arms. Comedy! 

A Haunted House, directed by Michael Tiddes and written by Wayans and Rick Alvarez, follows in the grand tradition set by Scary Movie more than a decade ago and beat to death by the Jason Friedberg-Aaron Seltzer Movie movies, including Date Movie, Epic Movie, Disaster Movie, and Vampires Suck.

The best compliment I can pay to A Haunted House is that it’s better than most of those films. That said, it’s still terrible. Such is the state of the modern day spoof, the ZAZ days of Airplane and The Naked Gun long forgotten. Idea for the next one: Spoof Movie, a sendup of everything these films do wrong. When the result is terrible, you can call it meta. 

A Haunted House purports to send up the found footage horror genre, the Paranormal Activity series, in particular, with some dashes of The Last Exorcism and The Devil Inside. It’s a genre ripe for ribbing, with a lot of clichés and overused devices just begging to be torn into. 

But this isn’t that kind of comedy. No, this is the kind of comedy that makes reference to something you’ve seen before, and because the tone is lighter, it’s supposed to be funny. No setup-payoff jokes – those are difficult to write and properly execute. The characters don’t participate in the telling of jokes: they are the jokes, because they’re gay, or black, or sex-crazed.

There is precisely one gag here that amused me. Most of the Paranormal Activity films take place in dead silence, and we just stare at the screen, waiting for the loud “boo!” that’s inevitably around the corner. A Haunted House got a smile from me with the “boo!”, though it ain’t exactly high comedy. Spoiler alert: it’s a fart joke (one of many, many fart jokes the film has to offer). 

There’s no plot to speak of in the film, just an assortment of sketches centered around the concept of a ghost in the house, with Wayans and Essence Atkins as the terrified couple. The absence of a plot, and the relatively short (80-minute) runtime make this somewhat tolerable, but make no mistake: it’s garbage just the same.

Mainstream comedy took a turn towards nihilism around the time of There’s Something About Mary fifteen years ago, and the genre has yet to recover. That film had a sweetness to match its mean-spirited humor, but few films since have managed to understand the appeal. The humor in films like A Haunted House is akin to pointing a finger and laughing; after grossing 20 times its budget in the US alone, it may as well be pointing at us. 

A Haunted House


Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky

Jason Pirodsky has been writing about the Prague film scene and reviewing films in print and online media since 2005. A member of the Online Film Critics Society, you can also catch his musings on life in Prague at expats.cz and tips on mindfulness sourced from ancient principles at MaArtial.com.

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