By Chaz Lipp
There’s no good reason to look too deeply at A Haunted House, the Paranormal Activity spoof written by Marlon Wayans and Rick Alvarez and directed by Michael Tiddes. In fact, based on whether you’re already a fan of the Paranormal films and/or spoof comedies in general, you probably already know whether or not this is for you. I didn’t expect to like it, which may be in part why I enjoyed it as much as I did. The “found footage” horror subgenre was in need of a good sendup, and A Haunted House gets the job done pretty well.
Let’s face it, most parody films suck. The heyday of the ZAZ team (David and Jerry Zucker with Jim Abarahams, the writer-directors behind Airplane!, Top Secret!, and The Naked Gun) was not only relatively brief, it was decades ago. Even the franchise Marlon Wayans co-founded, Scary Movie, has fallen on hard times as the fifth installment just opened to underwhelming response. I’ve sat through quite a few of these horror spoofs, including such dreck as Stan Helsing. Heck, even the great comedy genius Mel Brooks bombed with Dracula: Dead and Loving It.
I underestimated what Wayans and his cohorts were capable of, as A Haunted House is a consistently funny (not all belly laughs, but lots of giggles) 86-minute lark. Wayans stars as Malcolm Johnson, apparently a successful musician (he has lots of instruments in his house, though we never really learn about his job). His girlfriend Keisha (Essence Atkins) is moving in and he’s simultaneously excited and nervous. Will cohabitation be all he dreams of, or will it be something less? When your girlfriend brings a demonic spirit with her, you might as well batten down the hatches for something else entirely.
Just like Paranormal Activity, everything we see in House was captured with handheld video cameras, webcams, and security cams. Pots and pans begin rattling on their own, doors move by themselves, and eventually Malcolm and Keisha are being rapidly dragged across the floor. Mixed in with all these familiar “found footage” clichés, we get tons of rude and crude sight gags—more of which hit their target than miss. I particularly liked the subplot involving Malcolm and Keisha’s sexual incompatibility, eventually resulting in Keisha’s romantic interest in the ghost haunting their house.
David Koechner stops by as a security cam installer (whose doofus brother, played by Dan Sheridan, is taping him for a reality show). Nick Swardson pops in as a psychic with a crush on Malcolm. Rosa (Marlene Forte) is Malcolm’s creepy housekeeper (who reveals a seriously wild side, captured on cam). And Cedric the Entertainer evokes the late Richard Pryor’s classic Exorcist-themed standup bit as Father Doug Williams, brought in late in the film once Keisha exhibits symptoms of possession.
Not unlike the Paranormal Activity series, A Haunted House presents somewhat of a mixed bag in terms of high definition presentation. The Blu-ray transfer is good overall, though the night vision footage and security cam footage lacks the detail and clarity of the daytime sequences and close-ups. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack is surprisingly inventive while accurately replicating the sound design of the Paranormal series. The effects are liberally spread across the entire spectrum, with lots of cool little sounds emanating from the rear channels and full-bodied bass from the subwoofer.
Say it ain’t so! The so-called “special” features include a two minute expanded trailer and THAT’S IT! When I say “expanded” trailer, I literally mean that in lieu of the theatrical trailer, we get a version in which the various brief film clips are punctuated by ten second sound bites from a few of the primary cast members. Misleadingly titled “How to Survive a Paranormal Presence,” this isn’t a featurette or anything even worth watching. Maybe A Haunted House 2 (yes, it has been announced) will feature some actual supplemental material.