Co-written, co-produced, and starring Marlon Wayans, the Paranormal Activity spoof A Haunted House is not a classic on the level of the original Scary Movie (which Wayans co-wrote with his brother Shawn). But if you don’t expect much out of it, you might find yourself cracking up as much as I did during its 86 minutes. I have no shame regarding my adoration for goofy sight gags, fart jokes, sex jokes, and generally poor-taste humor. I can’t explain why it’s funny sometimes, but not others (I could, actually, but that would require a very lengthy analysis). I’d put the hit-to-miss ratio in A Haunted House at about 60/40, which is good enough for a lighthearted, low-intensity comic romp.
The entire approach taken by Wayans and director Michael Tiddes mirrors the “found footage” style of the Paranormal Activity movies. All the footage was shot on handheld digital cameras or surveillance cameras. Wayans plays Malcolm Johnson, a musician who whose girlfriend Keisha (Essence Atkins) is moving in with him for the first time. Before long, strange things begin happening, suggesting the existence of a supernatural presence. Keisha eventually displays signs of demonic possession.
Obviously, if you’ve seen any of the Paranormal Activity movies, that should all sound pretty familiar. Upon this formulaic framework, Wayans and his co-writer Rick Alvarez hang a lot of gags, some inspired, some tired. The best material actually manages to scratch a little below the surface, exploring the insecurities Malcolm has about his relationship with Keisha. Almost immediately following her move-in, Malcolm realizes his fantasy version of living with a beautiful woman doesn’t match the reality.
Pigging out on hamburgers, taking a crap with the bathroom door open, wearing sweats to bed instead of lingerie, and farting all night long, Keisha isn’t exactly the sex goddess he expected. But when she shows more sexual interest in the spirit haunting their house, Malcolm really begins feeling inferior. In fact, while she has routinely neglected the sexual needs of her boyfriend, Keisha begins actively trying to summon the demon spirit after it has its way with her one night.
Along for the ride are David Koechner as Dan, a racist surveillance camera installer (he can hardly accept that Malcolm owns such a nice house) with a reality show of his own, Nick Swardson as Chip, a gay psychic with designs on Malcolm, and Cedric the Entertainer as Father Doug Williams, an exorcist brought in to deal with Keisha’s possession. Each of these supporting players brings something humorous to the table, milking the admittedly thin material for laughs as it builds towards a somewhat anarchic climax.
On Blu-ray, we have a 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer that very much evokes the look and feel of the Paranormal Activity series. The focus remains sharp for most close-ups, but less so for the more distant wide shots (mostly security cam footage). There’s the expected mix of grainy night-vision footage and occasionally harsh lighting (both natural and artificial). All in all, it looks just fine and accurately mimics its inspiration.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is quite satisfying, also taking its cues from the Paranormal films. LFE activity is limited, but when it does kick in (for the low, pulsing hum of ghost-related activity) it’s powerful. There’s a fair amount of surround effects to keep things interesting. Dialogue is never hard to understand, even during the more chaotic, multiple-character scenes.
In the special features section, the only item is a promo piece called “How to Survive a Paranormal Presence.” Basically a very slightly expanded trailer, this runs about two minutes and has less than 30 seconds of interview material from the primary cast. How much fun would a commentary track with Wayans, Koechner, Swardson, and Cedric have been? Maybe we’ll find out with a future release, as A Haunted House has apparently been greenlighted for a sequel. Hey, why not? Six percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes be damned, I had a good time with this.