In the long history of the spoof film, the horror genre has probably been skewered above all others. What other genre has such a specific fanbase, takes itself so seriously and yet is riddled with clichés, inconsistencies and all-out idiotic behavior? Going all the way back to 1980’s Private Lessons up through the Scary Movie franchise, the unnoticed subtleties and all-too-noticed repetition of the genre has gotten its beating and then some even as it tries to invent new ways to scare you. Where could Hell Baby, the latest work from Reno 911 partners-turned-screenwriters Thomas Lennon & Robert Ben Garant take us that the Wayans and Zuckers haven’t? If your answer is 90 minutes of near laugh-free absurdity with its own sense of laugh track repetition, you would be dead on.
Rob Corddry and Leslie Bibb play an expectant couple moving into a fixer-up in a distinctly non-white section of New Orleans. Their neighbor (Keegan Michael Key), who has turned sidling into a disturbing art, informs them of the home’s history. “House of Blood” is just one of its many monikers. Sure enough they begin warding off an ugly demon who possesses her and an even uglier old woman trying to suck another kind of life out of him. Somehow this info reaches the Vatican where a pair of exorcists (Lennon & Garant) are called in to save the day, but not before enjoying the local cuisine over and over again.
Lennon and Garant clearly belong to a brand of comedy that dictates that if it works once, run the joke into the ground until at least hitting the rule of three. The problem is that none of the jokes work the first time. The neighbor’s constant reappearing, a pair of local cops (Paul Scheer & Rob Huebel) trying to give Corddry the third degree and the climactic exorcism/birth which turns into a full-fledged game of Punch-the-Baby. They cannot even find new ways to battle the little beast. Just punch, punch, punch away until an audience is clamoring for another munch, munch, munch on a po’boy sandwich scene.
Someone needs to explain how a group of people chowing down with graphic audio detail is meant to be humorous, let alone advance the basic cause of the spoof. A character angrily admitting that he is “tired of being startled” is an amusing commentary directly influenced by the loud stinger music meant to frame an audience into a false sense of terror. Showing the effects of marijuana on a driver casually pulling away is just another pot joke. If that driver is impaired to the point that it’s the only manner in which they can run away from evil, now you have yourself a gag worthy of a spoof. This is a feature film. Not Funny or Die.
Whatever Lennon and Garant brought to TV’s Reno 911 has been lost in their feature film screenplays like Night at the Museum, The Pacifier and Let’s Go to Prison; none of which have been any good in even 22-minute intervals. Whether brought in for rewrites or sold out to committees before the final product, the duo claimed before their first Sundance screening that this was the one they were most proud of because it was all theirs. That is something they may want to rethink, because Marlon Wayans’ A Haunted House no longer owns the title of the worst horror spoof of 2013.