Review: Come for the Weak Gags in 'A Haunted House,' Stay For the Homophobia

The homophobia that saturates first time feature filmmaker Michael Tiddes' Marlon Wayans vehicle, “A Haunted House,” is not mere joking around. It comes from a place of hate and he, Tiddes, Wayan and co-writer Rick Alvarez must be held accountable. The relentless gay bashing appears in almost every one of this (alleged) comedy's episodic sequences, a leitmotif of ugliness and intolerance, present only to coax audiences into audible “ewwwwwws!” It's easy to rile up a crowd when they are in the dark, and by the time “A Haunted House” made it to the final reel I felt as though I were surrounded by liquored-up hooligans ready to tie someone to a Wyoming fence.

There are ways to joke around with race, religion and sexual orientation. Indeed, “A Haunted House” actually has a few good gags in it. During one scene spooked-out Essence Atkins (a very talented performer) is urging her husband Wayans (who, I might also add, is naturally gifted with comic chops) to go into a room with a baseball bat and beat up what she's sure is an evil spirit. He's terrified – shakes his head “no, no” and reminds her that opening that door is a “white person move.” He looks directly in the camera and says “if this were a movie there'd be a black woman in the audience right there shouting don't you open that door, fool!

That dances on the line of being offensive (because, yes, anything that ascribes universal behavior based on ethnicity is, by definition, offensive) but it is funny. It's funny because it is inclusive and, in a small way, celebratory. Not all black women at a horror movie talk to the screen, but the ones who do are wonderful. It is a positive thing, as well as being a little bit of a real thing.

Gay men who are incapable of being anywhere in the vicinity of a straight man without pouncing like a wolf at raw meat is very much NOT a real thing, and anyone who lives in the real world would know that. Perhaps people who make films where gay men do nothing but make handjob gestures and lasciviously loll their eyes every time a straight man is near so audience members (like the couple behind me) can shout “that's nasty!” don't live in the real world. More importantly, it isn't clever, it isn't cute. It's hurtful and clearly springs from damaged, insecure minds.

“A Haunted House,” its despicable bigotry aside, is also a not-very-good comedy. It has some zings here and there, the one I quoted above being the best. It also has endless, comedy-free zones where the scene just refuses to end. First the friends who are swingers come over. Then the awkward security camera installers come. Then the wife gets possessed at night. Then she gets raped. (Oh yeah, rape jokes. Forgot.) Then the pots and pans fly around. Then HE gets raped. (Yeah, more rape jokes, this one soaked in more homophobia.) About twenty minutes before the end Cedric the Entertainer, a man who can make me laugh just by breathing, shows up, but he is wasted on a sequence of dirty talk and pop culture references – the lowest of the lowest common denominators.

“A Haunted House” is, ostensibly, a spoof of the “Paranormal Activity” films, but it is really an opportunity for Wayans and Atkins to stretch-out with some sketches. The plot mechanics are atrocious. Nothing is explained and the trace elements of a narrative arc are dispensed with when the movie decides it is time to be over. When the leads have good material, they can play to the camera like the best and really make you laugh. When they have nothing to work with, it ends up as what Wayans leaves on the living room carpet during his drunken bender scene. A revolting close-up of human excrement.

Grade: F

Movie & TV Awards 2018