When considering Hell Baby, one must first consider its parentage. First fully coined by Scary Movie in 2000, though perhaps vaguely initiated before that by Scream, the spoof-horror (or horror-comedy) is a relatively new subgenre of the scary movie. Usually working in the context of a generic horror plot—slasher film, haunted house, demon-possessed, etc.—the spoof horror spends its time using the archetypal conventions expected with a horror film to make light of the overall situation. How very meta of this subgenre, right? What seems to be the most difficult aspect of this group is balancing the horror with the comedy. That is, at the end of the day, we are still watching horror movies, so the desire and need to scare is of primary concern; yet, there remains a rather overwhelming inability to do just that. Think Scary Movie versus The Cabin in the Woods. While The Cabin in the Woods is definitely more meta than Scary Movie, in that it is a horror story inside of a larger horror story, both films are spoofs to be sure. The most telling difference between them, however, is that the former remains much sillier than its revisionist counterpart, while the latter never loses sight of it being a horror movie first and foremost. Not only does The Cabin in the Woods have a more linear plot line that Scary Movie does, but also it contains some good old-fashioned scares between all the laughs. Thus enter Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon’s Hell Baby, a spoof horror that takes on the haunted house/invading demons motif that still runs throughout so many of today’s horror films (The Conjuring anyone?). Starring Rob Corddry (Children’s Hospital), Leslie Bibb (Burning Love), Keegan Michael Key (MADtv), and Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon (both of Reno 911!), Hell Baby tells the story of Jack (Coddry) and Vanessa (Bibb), an expecting couple who move into a haunted house in New Orleans. Once Vanessa becomes possessed by the demon already inhabiting their house, Jack calls upon two Vatican-based priests (Garant and Lennon) who have taken a liking to more secular habits (har-har) such as smoking, alcohol and female strippers to perform an exorcism before it is too late. Well is it too late? I suppose you will just have to see the movie to find out, but given that its title is indeed Hell Baby, you all can probably figure it out.
Given its spoof horror status, when judging the merits of Hell Baby, it behooves me to contextualize this in the line of horror comedies that came before it, only because as any quick perusal of IMDB will reveal that spoof horrors are not usually well received. Considering their overwhelmingly poor performances and super saturated scripts, most more than deserve that fire of critical panning. Yet, strangely in this particular contrast, the context reveals why Hell Baby holds up. It is not that Hell Baby doesn’t feature the absurdity of the Scary Movie series. In fact, Hell Baby embraces this silliness. Sure, Hell Baby is nowhere close to good. True to spoof horrors, it is plagued by overacting, scattered plot tangents and awful dialogue, but those aspects are also what make it a contender for the upper-echelon of its subgenre. Unlike other smiling ghouls, Hell Baby actually keeps up with the scares. I could not count the number of times the film made me jump. Even better is that those jumps came with a whole slew of laughs. Is it possible that the duo of Garant and Lennon have perfected the laugh to thrill ratio that so many spoof horrors miss? Well, “perfect” is a strong word, but they sincerely raised the classroom average for their peers. Aside from creating a great balance of scares and laughs, Hell Baby, nearly on par with Anna Faris, also inhabited its overacting. Particularly noteworthy in this category is Keegan Michael Key who plays the couple’s funky next door neighbor turned squatter. Key manages to create a perfect Louisianan caricature while still hitting almost every punch line out of the park. Garant and Lennon as the two Italian priests should also not be overlooked when their accents almost rival Brad Pitt and company’s in Inglourious Basterds.
Overall, if you are looking for a horror comedy, then I definitely recommend Hell Baby, as it takes a regular spoof horror and amps up all that separates it into its own subgenre. But, if you tend to not like this kind of movie, then I would steer clear as its wackiness may possess you for an entirely different reason. I mean really, what Vatican priests do you know that like female strippers? Den of Geek Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars