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Marlon Wayans built his career on irreverent spoof comedies, with performances in Scary Movie and its sequel, both of which Wayans' brother, Keenen Ivory Wayans, directed. His latest send-up, A Haunted House, lampoons the Paranormal Activity franchise, and, inexplicably, the maligned and forgotten The Devil Inside. Ten minutes in, I was chuckling at some of the material, but A Haunted House quickly veers into expectedly banal waters, dragging on for another unfunny hour of fart and rape jokes. At least this production, unlike the upcoming Scary Movie 5, was brave enough to grab an R rating. That's about all I can say positive about this poorly constructed dud.
The plot is of little concern in movies like A Haunted House, but Malcolm Johnson (Wayans) asks girlfriend Keisha (Essence Atkins) to move into his spacious home, which becomes the stage for the comedy. The house is obviously a carbon copy of the one in Paranormal Activity, and Malcolm, obsessed with filming everything, sets up the same bedroom camera angle as Katie and Micah. Malcolm's primary objective? Filming his bedroom Olympics with Keisha, who is having none of it. During promotion for the film, Wayans said A Haunted House isn't necessarily a parody, but a haunted-house thriller where the characters don't act like typical, foolish white leads. Fair enough.
The problem with spoofs (Sorry, not buying your description, Marlon!) like A Haunted House is their tendency to decay while unspooling. The moment the film is exposed to air, it begins to lose its luster. Although I was laughing at some of the early jokes, I wanted the movie to end by the 45-minute mark. Not good considering it only runs 86 minutes. Also, why are Wayans and Director Michael Tiddes spoofing Paranormal Activity now, six years after it came out? The Paranormal Activity sequels basically spoof themselves. And, if this is supposed to spoof the whole found-footage genre, I would think cracking wise at some better targets would have been top priority. Re-creating a scene from The Devil Inside to allow Cedric the Entertainer to call a possessed Keisha a "crazy bitch" and constantly re-iterate how "fucked up" the situation is? That's kind of lazy. And why is Wayans constantly naked?
The best bits of A Haunted House are Malcolm planning his lovemaking strategy on a teddy bear, and, I'm embarrassed to admit, Malcolm and Keisha smoking a joint with a ghost. David Koechner pops up as a security tech convinced Malcolm wants a backyard camera to capture some hot-tub action, and his overtly racist comments about Malcolm's grilling style are Wayans at his self-aware best. Also amusing are friends Steve (Andrew Daly) and Jenny (Alanna Ubach), who push Malcolm to swing with them. Less funny are duplicitous housekeeper Rosa (Marlene Forte) and sexually aggressive psychic Jim (Nick Swardson). A Haunted House is almost funny when it colors outside the lines, but when it returns to strict imitation, the only thing scary is the running time.
Shot like a found-footage thriller, A Haunted House isn't a particularly handsome beast, but the 1.85:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer still looks quite good. Everything is sharp and clear, with good detail and texture. Skin tones are accurate, black levels good, and colors well saturated. There's only a bit of crush when things go handheld, and digital manipulation is not a problem.
The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack replicates the aggressive bangs and shakes of this horror spoof nicely. The subwoofer works overtime when the film blares its "spooky horn" before each ghostly non-scare. Dialogue is clear and the music is rich and balanced. Ambient effects and haunted-house clamor jump to the surround speakers, and this mix is quite immersive. English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles are available.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
Universal releases A Haunted House in "combo pack" format, which includes the Blu-ray, a DVD copy of the film, and an insert with codes to redeem iTunes-compatible and UltraViolet digital copies. The discs are packed in a Blu-ray eco-case, which is wrapped in an embossed slipcover. The only real extra, How to Survive a Paranormal Presence (2:07/HD), is nothing but the trailer with a few interviews spliced in. You also get Universal's standard BD-Live Portal and My Scenes Bookmarking Feature.
I did not expect A Haunted House to be good, and in that way it met my expectations. There are a few chuckles in this found-footage spoof's early minutes, but Marlon Wayans and company can't sustain the laughs for 86 minutes. The targets, including Paranormal Activity and The Devil Inside, are stale, and the detours into better comedy are few and far between. Skip It.
William lives in Raleigh, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.