When a director’s previous credits include only a short film and two critically-panned TV series’ (one of which is “Fred”), you can safely bet that his theatrical debut will be less than exceptional. Michael Tiddes proves this rule with his crime against humanity in cinematic form, “A Haunted House.”
Perhaps it is unfair to lay too much blame on Tiddes, as “Haunted” comes off as an improv movie shot over a long weekend. Hastily packaged as a parody of the “Paranormal Activity” movies, it was then left to ooze onto the heap of garbage that the cinematic parody has been reduced to. Long gone are the glory days of Mel Brooks and Jim Abrahams, when parodies used the framework of common film tropes to produce humor. Now, movies like this alongside the “___ Movie” series trundle out year after year, holding up pop culture references and pointing at them, expecting mere acknowledgement to be worthy of laughter.
If you think I’m being a tad dramatic in my rhetoric here, you may have a fair point. But I’m not the only one. “Slate” has called the makers of modern parody movies “symbols of Western civilization’s decline.” “The Austin Chronicle” described them as “a national shame” and claimed they were “setting back civilization thousands of years.” These films really are awful. Just watch “Airplane” and “Disaster Movie” back to back and try to disagree.
Turning away from the genre as a whole and looking with more scrutiny at “A Haunted House,” we find that there are some positive aspects. It’s short for one, clocking in at only 80 minutes. It also doesn’t stoop quite so low as some other parodies by simply relying on pop culture references for humor. That’s pretty much the only nice things I can say about the movie.
The actors are all washed-up comedians, including Nick Swardson and David Koechner, who stumble through their offensive caricatures disguised as characters with as much dignity as they can muster. Marlon Wayans stars and is also credited as the writer. If Wayans truly did write this, and it’s not just a series of improv scenes strung together with little narrative cohesion, then he has to feel serious shame.
Much of the movie’s running time focuses on Wayans alone, relying on him to shoulder much of the burden of maintaining humor. He fails miserably. Rather than laugh-inducing, long stretches of this film are cringe-inducing. It’s like watching someone embarrass themselves in public. There’s no cleverness, no subtlety, no nuance. It’s exactly what you expect; racism, homophobia, misogyny, fart jokes, and every lowest common-denominator of humor are trotted out and awkwardly thrown at the audience.
There is one single joke that did feel like a real parody joke. At a certain point in the film, upon learning his house is haunted, Wayans instantly packs up and moves out of the house. It’s a simple gag, but it works. It feels reminiscent of a Mel Brooks movie. The joke being, why don’t people in haunted house movies ever do that? It’s a legitimately funny observation. However, you will most likely be too dead inside by that point in the film to muster a chuckle. Unless you’re the kind of person who watches these movies. But if you are, you probably don’t read reviews.