Comedy and horror seem to go hand-in-hand. Each must elicit a certain emotional reaction from the audience that can alter mood, attitude, and perception. It’s no wonder then, that the two genres have been connected since before the medium of film even existed. Some members of the sub-genre focus more on the horror side of the equation and others tend to lean more on comedy. Some try to be highly sophisticated, others rest on the easier path of the toilet or sex humor. Hell Baby may be the latter in both cases, but luckily that is not to its detriment.
Hell Baby, from the minds of Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant (Reno 911, The State), follows Jack and Vanessa (Rob Corddry and Leslie Bibb, respectively) as they move into a new house while preparing for the birth of their twins. Soon after moving in and learning about the houses murderous past from their “neighbor” F’resnel (Keegan-Michael Key) Vanessa seems to be giving into the pressures of motherhood. Smoking, drinking, scraping skin off of her fingers, disemboweling and crucifying her therapist, mood swings — all the usual things that come with pregnancy. Meanwhile, Jack begins to suspect the house may be haunted when objects begin to move on their own and a grotesque ghostly woman sexually assaults him. With Vanessa getting worse, and her sister Marjorie (Riki Lindhome) failing to exorcise the house, it’s up to a pair of no-nonsense cops (Human Giant‘s Rob Heubel and Paul Scheer) and two tough-as-nails Vatican priests (Lennon and Garant) to eat, drink, and go to strip clubs before they face down the forces of hell as Vanessa gets closer and closer to her due date.
In the vein of their previous work, Lennon and Garant pay homage to the haunting/possession film with their signature absurdist comedy style and win with every frame. From drawn-out-until-it-is-funny lunches to running gags they seem to get funnier as they go on; it is obvious that everyone involved in this film had fun along the way. Without a forced joke or single wink to the camera, the tongue-in-cheek story flows along smoothly thanks to everyone in the cast being 100% invested. Though it is difficult to be sure when someone is following the script or improvising, the chemistry among the cast is so evenly balanced that everything comes off as entirely natural to the scenes. Lennon and Garant steal every scene they are in as the rough-and-tumble priests Padrigo and Sebastian. Their origin tales are pure absurdist gold, which is exactly where the duo thrives. Flanked by excellent performances from just about every friend they could pull in to the project, it is a veritable who’s-who of indie comedy faces.
The Reno boys also flex what muscles they have built behind the camera with their few previous outings in the director’s chair. It’s obvious from the opening shot of the house and through out the film that this is a genre they have spent plenty of time with. With visual homages, classic tropes, and a loyalty to practical special effects. there is a very obvious love for the horror films of the 70s and 80s on display with Hell Baby. This does not mean that the direction does not lean too heavily into horror homage, however. It keeps the comedy fresh, as well, with both excellent edit timing and camera movements to help with jump scare gags and visual cues in the background. The film’s score ties right into the homage the film pays to a day of horror gone by. Creeping and shrieking strings accompanied with percussive stings to punctuate moments of supernatural horror, or even at times over used or misused to instead create a comedic aspect to the ridiculousness of a scene.
Hell Baby may overall rely mostly on lowbrow comedy, but this is easily over-shadowed by the zany genius that populates the story. The film shows love and respect for the material its parodying while also keeping with the comedic style expected of its creators. Anyone who has enjoyed Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant’s previous work will be easily satisfied by this film, but it is not a requirement in order to do so. Hell Baby easily deserves a place among the likes of Shaun Of The Dead and Evil Dead 2 in the greats of horror comedy.
Hell Baby is now available on Blu-Ray and DVD.