Co-directors, co-writers and co-stars Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon certainly know how to beat to death the ‘two-genres-in-one’ showcase as witnessed by the hapless horror-comedy ‘Hell Baby’. Garant and Lennon, known for their cockeyed collaboration on the consistently amusing ‘Reno 911!’ (along with its film counterpart), arbitrarily mesh together the ingredients of gore and giddiness resulting in a strained frightfest that renders this so-called haunting hoot as a macabre misfire in the making.
The reassuring news is that ‘Hell Baby’ is not as horrendous as another of its kind such as the insufferable ‘Transyimania’ for instance. However, it does have that grating on the nerves vibe that was so evident in the redundant ‘Scary Movie’ film series that just could not take a hint for surrendering its recycled ribaldry. ‘Hell Baby’ strives to be wickedly off-kilter but Garant and Lennon cannot manage to get any fresh mileage out of its toothless devilish impishness. There have been a rare few horror-comedies that one can count on their fingers that have proven skillful in balancing sadism and silliness (the clever ‘Cabin In The Woods’ immediately come to mind) but it is safe to say that ‘Hell Baby’ misses its irreverent mark entirely.
As part of ‘Hell Baby’s ‘creative construction’”, the crude mockery is displayed in a string of thinly veiled sketches that thrives for any measurement of outlandishness hoping that the labored joke would stick as tossed mashed potatoes to a cafeteria wall during an afternoon food fight among hyperactive high school students. Occasionally, ‘Hell Baby’ solicits a cheesy chuckle here and a jarring jolt there but the goal is to spread out the chills and cheekiness throughout this 98-minute tepid fright farce and not allow it to pop up less times than a reclusive Howard Hughes public sighting from yesteryear.
In this tiring exorcism spoof, parents-to-be Jack and Vanessa (Rob Corddry and Leslie Bibb) decide to move into a dangerous and dilapidated house in a rough-and-tumble section of New Orleans. The run-down ‘dream-house’ is nicknamed ‘House of Blood’ and for good reason, its histrionics have included some of the most horrific murders committed under its rancid roof. Nevertheless, Jack and his very pregnant wife Vanessa make a go of it and imagine their ragged and spooky mansion as ‘home sweet home’.
Naturally weird and wacky occurrences begin to unfold for the couple and their unborn bundle of joy. In particular, Vanessa seems possessed by some demonic force that has her acting strangely and speaking incoherently as if she swallowed a foghorn during lunchtime. Vanessa’s cravings for bloody dripping meat and other bizarre impulses intensifies as the deteriorated dwelling takes its toll on their doomed domestic existences.
In addition to Vanessa’s erratic behavior, other creepy considerations are taken into account. A nosy neighbor named F’resnel (Keegan Michael Key) regularly strolls in and out of their horrid house casually while informing the clueless inhabitants about the legendary lunacy that has happened in the past regarding their mysterious place. Soon oddball visitors (besides F’resnel, of course) begin to become part of the sinister scenery. A horndog hag (who entertains the warped thought of making Jack feel ‘sensually satisfied’), a wandering dog and bed-ridden decaying corpses all invade the jumpy premises while adding to the on-going befuddlement.
The other sources that cater to the creepy craziness and hand include a couple of kooky cops on the scene (Rob Huebel and Paul Scheer) as well as a tandem of unorthodox Vatican exorcists Sebastian and Padrigo (Garant and Lennon completing their trifecta of baseless acting, writing and directing) trying to spread some holy-minded help on the beleaguered marrieds.
There are many components of ‘Hell Baby’ that can be automatically dismissed—the familiar gags that fall flat and fruitless, gruesome goofiness that feels cheaply manufactured, shameless mugging and improvising and the overall high-jinx factor that has all the goosebump juiciness of a homemade Halloween costume. Only the inclusion of Key’s intrusive F’resnel and Riki Lindhome as Vanessa’s sister register any concrete reasons to plant a cynical grin on one’s face.
The dastardly dimples of evil-minded babies and condemned properties have been parodied countless times before so there is no effective new, borrowed or revised satirising that ‘Hell Baby’ utilises to its pesky potential. In short, all that remains is a diaper rash of an awkward horror-comedy that has pooped on its own meager pranks.
Hell Baby (2013)
1 hr. 38 mins.
Starring: Rob Corddry, Leslie Bibb, Thomas Lennon, Keegan Michael Key, Robert Ben Garant and Riki Lindhome
Directed by: Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon
MPAA Rating: R
Critic’s rating: * ½ stars (out of 4 stars).
(c) Frank Ochieng 2013