In a recent interview with HitFix, Marlon Wayans used the similarly timed releases of his found-footage horror comedy A Haunted House and the fourth Scary Movie sequel as an excuse to rant against the franchise he helped launch. He discussed the differences between what he described as a passion-fueled labor of love like A Haunted House and a cynical exercise in pandering and exploitation like Scary Movie 5. At his most delusional, Wayans huffed that there’s an art to comedy, and his new film embodies it. So it’s tempting to imagine what Wayans considers the best example of its meticulous comic craftsmanship. Would it be the two-minute-long sequence where a nearly naked Wayans simulates an enthusiastic orgy by dry-humping a series of stuffed animals? Or the scene where he’s anally violated in his sleep by a horny, bisexual, pot-smoking ghost? Or maybe Wayans feels the many flatulence jokes in the film better illustrate his comic philosophy? It’s unclear, but what’s certain is that Wayans has a unique, self-serving idea of what art entails.
Wayans, who also co-wrote the screenplay, stars as a video-camera enthusiast who invites girlfriend Essence Atkins to move in with him. Things go wrong from the start when Atkins runs over Wayans’ dog, and get worse as the house is wracked by paranormal activity, chronicled both by Wayans’ webcam and video camera and by a series of surveillance cameras installed by a racist electronics guy (David Koechner). Evil spirits aren’t the only forces with a keen interest in the couple: Atkins and Wayans are also the subjects of unwanted sexual advances from a gay psychic (Nick Swardson) and an equally aggressive, horny pair of swingers played by Andy Daly and Alanna Ubach.
A Haunted House isn’t entirely devoid of inspiration. There’s one truly clever gag where Wayans deals with his ghost-infested house the way folks in haunted-house movies always should, but never do: by getting the fuck out. Alas, if he stayed away, there’d be no movie, so he’s back in a heartbeat, and ruing the difficulties of selling a house in this difficult market, haunted or otherwise. In keeping with his comedy philosophy, Wayans sought out talented comedians and improvisers for supporting roles, like Daly, Koechner, Dave Sheridan (from Scary Movie), and Cedric The Entertainer. He hired the best workers for the job, but the craftsmanship here isn’t just lacking, it’s nonexistent, and the found-footage conceit is little more than a rickety structure to house an endless gauntlet of hackneyed jokes involving sex, flatulence, pot, and feces. As an ex-con exorcist, Cedric The Entertainer has an amusing riff with Koechner where the two prepare for an exorcist by doing blow and instantly becoming overly chatty, big-talking, delusional coke buddies, but it’s too little, too late. If the sluggishly paced, virtually laugh-free Haunted House is Wayans’ conception of a passion-fueled labor of love, it’s horrifying to ponder what he’d consider a mercenary cash-grab.