Think of Young Frankenstein. Now, imagine that, instead of the old Universal Monster Movies, the target was every demonic possession or haunted house horror flick since the late 1960s. And, instead of the comic genius of Mel Brooks, imagine it was written and directed by, say, the guys from College Humor. Or, in fact, the guys behind Reno 911!
This 2013 bent offering plays pretty much like what you are imagining.
Cast & Crew
Written and directed by Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon
Rob Corddry as Jack
Leslie Bibb as Vanessa
Keegan-Michael as Keyas F’resne
Robert Ben Garant as Father Sebastian
Thomas Lennon as Father Padrigo
Riki Lindhome as Marjorie
David Pasquesi as Cardinal Vicente
Alex Berg as Mrs. Nussbaum / Cheerful Guy
David Wain as Dr. Marsden
Michael Ian Black as Dr. Marshall
Rob Huebel as Mickey
Paul Scheer as Ron
Dave Holmes as Rental Car Guy
Brittney Alger, Tara Cullen, Jessica Loyacono as Nurses
Cathy Shim as Catholic School Girl
Kumail Nanjiani as Cable Guy
Jenny Robertson as Mail Carrier
Sierra as Ghost Dog
A young white couple, Jack and Vanessa, moves into a fixer-upper home in a predominantly non-white neighbourhood, a house everyone else avoids. Over course, it’s possessed, with implications for their impending first child. The focus remains on random haunted house/demonic possession bits, with Vanessa ultimately giving birth to the titular hellspawn,
Keegan-Michael’s performance as Keyas F’resnel– a neighbour who turns up in the most improbable ways at the most unlikely times– is the most consistently entertaining. His arc, alas, arrives at an ending so predictable it doesn’t play as a joke or, really, anything.
The numerous recurring bits play like the lesser Saturday Night Live sketches. They’re funny for maybe five minutes. In particular, the writer/director team as the Vatican’s crack exorcism squad gets far more screen time than it can sustain.
Effects: 4/6 The effects are passable. It’s always difficult to know if F/X issues in a horror-comedy result from budget and technical limitations or deliberate stylistic choices.
Acting: 4/6 Most of the performances are mediocre and over-the-top at once. I’ve already praised Keegan-Michael’s contributions. Leslie Bibb also does a decent job as the possessed expectant mother. Riki Lindholme also rises a little above the material as Marjorie, Vanessa’s Neo-Pagan sister1
Story: 3/6 The film cannot commit to anything but throwing crude and only sporadically funny jokes at the screen. The initial racial angle, for example, gets handled rather like the Sgt. Pepper theme. It gets established at the start and alluded to towards the end. In between the script forgets about it entirely.
Emotional Response: 3/6 Hell Baby features scenes involving alcohol and marijuana use. Those scenes suggest the viewers who might be in a state to truly appreciate this movie.
Overall: 3/6 Despite a fair bit of gore and so many jump scares that characters comment on their frequency, Hell Baby remains a horror-comedy, rather than a comedy-horror. Unfortunately, it’s neither funny enough nor frightening enough to succeed as either genre.
In Total, Hell Baby receives 25/42
1. I have been a fan of Lindholme and her bestie Kate Miccucci for years. In an alternate reality, they are remembered as a defining force in the pop-cultures of the 20-teens. As it is, their work as Garfunkel and Oates remains entertaining and watchable, even if their humour does not appeal to all tastes and their TV series only lasted one season. They’ve nevertheless racked up regular work in supporting roles, as cartoon voices, and doing some scoring gigs. Lindholme co-created and stars in Another Period, which lasted three seasons. Miccucci provided the voice of Velma Dinkley for most of this century.
Lindholme has often mocked the fact that she gets cast in parts that are sexualized. Her role in Hell Baby has her embracing that reality, and she plays her lengthiest scene entirely nude.
October Countdown 2023:
Oct. 1: Tales of Halloween (2015)
Weekend of Oct. 7/8: Tomb of Ligeia (1964)
Weekend of Oct. 14/15: Hell Baby (2013)
Satan Wants You (2023)
Weekend of Oct. 21/22: Last Night in Soho (2021)
Weekend of Oct. 28/29: Anime Explorations: Vampire Hunter D (1985)
October 31: Renfield (2023)
Haunted House (2023)