Some people say that laughter is the best medicine. A good joke can bring someone’s day up from demoralizing to kind of okay. It can take them from happy to great. It’s one of the best mood changers. That’s why people enjoy comedic films. They’re a break from life. Life can push you down, but comedies tend to bring you out of that funk, even if only for an hour and a half of your day.
When it comes to movies, there are a few different places to go for comedies. Horror comedies are a pretty big subsection of horror, allowing lighter moments within the blood, gore, and frightening things. Romantic comedies bring jokes to relationships, lightening what could feel very sappy. When it comes to movies where comedy is the front and foremost thing, there are the raunchy comedies, the satires, the slapstick humour, the dialogue heavy joke-tellers, the situational comedies, and the spoofs, among many others.
The most difficult of these to pull off seems to be the spoof or parody film, though it seems like it should be one of the easier ones to make. That’s because the quality depends on how hard the people behind the movie are willing to work to make the comedy into actual comedy. There are two schools of parody filmmaking. One is to take the source material, make a farce of it, and have the jokes naturally flow from the tropes and movies being parodied. The other is to fill the source material with as many references to the source material or other things as can possibly fit into the runtime. Neither are great for originality or creativity, but one of them is much more potent for entertainment value.
The current phase of parody films began in 1988 when Keenen Ivory Wayans put out I’m Gonna Git You Sucka. There were plenty of parodies before that, thanks to Mel Brooks and the Zuckers, but it’s here that this narrative really starts. This put Keenen Ivory Wayans on a path, along with his siblings, that would lead to Don’t Be a Menace in South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood. Shawn and Marlon Wayans wrote that one. The trio of siblings would team up with the writers of parody film Spy Hard, Jason Friedman and Aaron Seltzer, to create the definitive spoof of the turn of the millennium with 2000’s Scary Movie.
Scary Movie captured a broader audience than the Wayans’ previous parodies had, and grossed more than either of them or Spy Hard. It was so successful that a sequel was released the next year. The reason that this is considered the definitive spoof of the new millennium is that it managed to influence the movies that came after. David Zucker would take over the Scary Movie franchise at the third movie, following the departure of the Wayans family. The Wayans family would go onto more comedies, not all spoofs, but including Dance Flick. Marlon Wayans, specifically, would go onto the A Haunted House series and Fifty Shades of Black. Friedberg and Seltzer would do a long line of parody movies that would never reach the success of Scary Movie.
For the sake of comparing the trope jokes to the referential jokes, the focus will be on the Marlon Wayans trio of parody films and the Friedberg and Seltzer films that followed the release of the first two Scary Movie installments. It’s these two paths that help to highlight the differences and similarities between the two methods. The two paths that can be carved with modern parody, taken by two different creative teams from Scary Movie.
The weaknesses of parody films are apparent throughout the filmography of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer. When people think of how bad spoof comedy can be, it’s Friedberg/Seltzer that commonly pop up in conversation. The two guys are notorious for the referential style of parody that causes more groans than laughs. It all starts in their marketing.
In the years following the release of Scary Movie, Friedberg and Seltzer were all over the place with their parodies. They followed up Scary Movie with Date Movie, Epic Movie, Meet the Spartans, Disaster Movie, and Vampires Suck. Many of these movies, notably Epic Movie and Disaster Movie, were much more about the references to other properties than they were about actually finding the jokes within the movie that they were structured as. It got so bad that the marketing of their movies was always “From two of the six writers of Scary Movie.” They were referencing themselves to get people to recognize them. The worst was yet to come though.
The Starving Games, which came out in 2013, was the pinnacle of their referential career. It was a parody of The Hunger Games, though parody might be a stretch. There was the shell of a Hunger Games story in there. The character, named Kantmiss, was in a Hunger Games scenario. Most of the movie wasn’t about finding the humour in that. It was about referencing as much content as possible. When Kantmiss fired an arrow, it went through a balloon being flown by James Franco’s character from Oz: The Great and Powerful. While she was running through the woods, she bumped into Annoying Orange and the Fruit Ninja. They weren’t jokes. They were non-sequiturs meant to get the audience to think “Oh, I know what that is.” This kind of storytelling is why parodies get a bad name.
Since then, the writer/director duo has redeemed themselves a little bit. They tried something a little more original in Best Night Ever. Though most people don’t like it, there was the smallest amount of promise that showed how the pair could make something decent if they tried. They just don’t usually try. They stepped up their game with Superfast!, which played into the tropes of the Fast and Furious franchise, poking fun at them instead of shoving references into them. It wasn’t as good as what Marlon Wayans has been doing, but it was a step in the right direction.
Speaking of Marlon Wayans, this week’s movie is A Haunted House 2. It parodied the horror movies of the time, just like Scary Movie fourteen years earlier. This time it was movies like The Conjuring, Sinister, and Annabelle that were put into the crosshairs. This was an improvement on A Haunted House, which had taken on the found footage horror craze. It’s tough to parody found footage because it becomes more about parodying the style than the stories. A Haunted House 2 wasn’t about the style, though. It was about the tropes of the movies.
One example of how A Haunted House 2 does parody properly was when it riffed on the clapping game from The Conjuring. Malcolm (Marlon Wayans) agreed to play the clapping game with Wyatt (Steele Stebbins). Wyatt went to hide, and Malcolm went to find him. The clapping came from the darkness of a wardrobe. Malcolm went to the wardrobe and couldn’t find anyone. When he turned around, hands came out of the clothes. He attacked the “spirit” who was going after him, which happened to be his girlfriend, hiding on him. It took the moment and expanded on it in a comedic way. It had the character becoming involved in the moment instead of reacting to it. This action helped to create good humour.
Marlon Wayans’s movies have gone above and beyond with their parodying, too. A Haunted House and A Haunted House 2 were parodies with some dumb humour to them, like most. But it wasn’t simply about a comedic take on the material. Marlon Wayans made sure it was a comedic racial take on the material. It wasn’t about getting laughs out of how people would react in a paranormal situation. The movies were about how a black man would react in a paranormal situation. Marlon Wayans heightened his performance in terms of black stereotypes, allowing his racial background to shine through the parody. It was another level for the jokes to rise to, making things that little bit funnier.
The family that helped to kick start the current era of spoofs is the family that seems to be driving it into the future. The Wayans Brothers hit the big screen world with I’m Gonna Git You Sucka and Marlon Wayans is still going strong with A Haunted House and Fifty Shades of Black. It’s this racial twist that seems like it will be pushing parodies forward. They need to be about something to survive. A filmmaker can’t live on referencing something else. There needs to be more to a parody than that. There needs to be more than the surface layer. Marlon Wayans knows that and gives a reason to care about what he’s doing.
Friedberg and Seltzer, on the other hand, go the road more traveled and try to find an audience in surficial references. They don’t go deep with anything they do. It might allow them to get a broader audience, but the quality is hurt because of that. Though none of these parodies will be considered greats, like Airplane! or Young Frankenstein, there is a difference in quality that can be seen between the work of Marlon Wayans and the work of Friedberg/Seltzer. It all has to do with the effort they put in to craft their jokes. The bare minimum leads to lesser quality.
Laughter is the best medicine. That’s how this whole discussion started, and how it will end. Jokes are a subjective thing. What one person finds funny might not be what another person finds funny. A person who tries to be funny has a better chance of being funny, though. They have a better chance at figuring out what makes an audience laugh more. The audience might not be bigger, but it will be more loyal. The laughs will be stronger. People will have a better time. When someone watches a Marlon Wayans parody film, they’re more likely to forget their problems and have a good time than a Friedberg/Seltzer movie. Which medicine do you think will go down better?
- Date Movie (week 164), Superfast! (week 229), A Haunted House (week 34), and Fifty Shades of Black (week 219) were mentioned in this post.
- Another spoof that was covered for the Sunday “Bad” Movies was 30 Nights of Paranormal Activity with the Devil Inside the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (week 10).
- Michael Tiddes directed A Haunted House 2. He also directed A Haunted House (week 34) and Fifty Shades of Black (week 219).
- Marlon Wayans has made four Sunday “Bad” Movies appearances. He was in Norbit (week 227), A Haunted House (week 34), A Haunted House 2, and Fifty Shades of Black (week 219).
- A Haunted House 2 was Jaime Pressly’s fifth movie for the Sunday “Bad” Movies. She was previously in The Oogieloves in the Big Balloon Adventure (week 39), Torque (week 43), Cruel World (week 47), and DOA: Dead or Alive (week 191).
- Affion Crockett and Dave Sheridan were both in A Haunted House (week 34), Fifty Shades of Black (week 219), and A Haunted House 2.
- Essence Atkins and Cedric the Entertainer were both featured in the two A Haunted House (week 34) movies.
- Marissa Welsh returned to the Sunday “Bad” Movies with A Haunted House 2 after showing up in Jack and Jill (week 101).
- Finally, A Haunted House 2 saw the second appearance of Lawrence Moran, who was in The Swarm (week 253).
- Have you seen A Haunted House 2? What do you think of it? What do you think about spoofs? Let me know in the comments.
- Do you have any movies in mind that you think would fit nicely into the Sunday “Bad” Movies blog? Put your suggestions into my Twitter feed or into the comments. I’m always up for movies I don’t know of.
- Another place to find me is on snapchat (jurassicgriffin). Add me if you want. Or don’t. Not many people do.
- We’re going into another big week. Week 275 is quickly approaching. It’s only seven days away. As such, there’s a special bad movie coming up. It’s one that you might think I should have watched long ago. I saved it, and I’ll be checking it out this week. Not for the first time, mind you. Battlefield Earth will be next week’s movie. Come back for that post. It’s sure to be good. See you then.