The lost art of the movie spoof

Badge of honour: spoof cinema needs Naked Gun star Leslie Nielsen now more than ever
Badge of honour: spoof cinema needs Naked Gun star Leslie Nielsen now more than ever

The long-unawaited return to cinemas of Marlon Wayans in A Haunted House marks his latest attempt to batter the twitching corpse of the spoof movie. A genre which once brought pleasure to many now lies dead at the feet of Wayans and his contemporaries, and it would take the resurrection of Leslie Nielsen to return the spoof to life. Surely it can’t be that serious? Well, it is that serious. And don't call me Shirley.

Remember the golden age of the parody film? Riotous comedies which lampooned the ridiculous elements of other, po-faced movies; which mercilessly but lovingly deconstructed entire genres, rebuilding them with their flaws on the outside for all to laugh at? Well, forget all that, because now we have Marlon Wayans being anally violated by a ghost for giggles.

Wayans has been guiding the parody film to its grave since 1988's blaxploitation spoof I'm Gonna Git You Sucka, a laugh-vacuum which attempted to do for the likes of Shaft, Superfly and Foxy Brown what Airplane! did for disaster movies eight years earlier. Tragically, I'm Gonna Git You Sucka had the misfortune to open two weeks after The Naked Gun, which was superior in every way, and Marlon Wayans has been taking vengeance on the spoof genre ever since.

review-caption-spof1.jpgAirplane! and The Naked Gun were birthed by Jerry and David Zucker and Jim Abrahams, widely considered the masters of modern parody. But they weren’t the first to pull a genre's pants down for laughs: in the 1940s and '50s, Abbott and Costello made it difficult to take Universal's horror stars seriously by teaming up with the likes of Dracula, Frankenstein and The Mummy and falling over a lot. It might seem unsophisticated today, but it was box office gold seventy years ago.

In 1974, after the parody had survived several assaults from all quarters (including Blighty’s own Carry On team), Mel Brooks revolutionised the movie satire with Blazing Saddles. Spoof westerns were nothing new, but Brooks didn't just make his stars do silly things on horses; he unpicked the endemic racism of a genre which celebrated the subordination of native Americans to white settlers. The parody as social commentary might be the genre's peak, for few filmmakers would try to smuggle a political manifesto into a film which features a scene containing about thirty farts in as many seconds.

Zucker, Abrahams and Zucker took spoofing about as far as it could go with the Airplane!, Naked Gun and Hot Shots! films - movies with so many rapid-fire gags that if one didn't hit, another would be along in a few seconds, but which were also affectionate towards the genres they lampooned. By the 21st century, though, a new breed of filmmakers had taken over, and everything went horribly wrong.

hauntedhouse-500x333.jpgPictured: everything going horribly wrong.

The Wayans, along with Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer, ushered in an era of spoofs uninterested in plot, wit or intelligently-conceived jokes, preferring to make meaningless pop culture references and point at celebrities. One of Scary Movie 3's most incisive gags refers to Michael Jackson's plastic surgery, which – in a 2003 film supposedly parodying the horror genre - is about as irrelevant as it's possible to be.

review-caption-spoof3.jpgThese guys also forgot a simple, golden rule of parodies: spoof something that needs spoofing. Why lampoon the Scream films with Scary Movie, when Scream itself is one of the landmark deconstructions of horror? You can't parody something which already doesn't take itself seriously. Similarly, why bother poking fun at comedies? The 41-Year-Old Virgin Who Knocked Up Sarah Marshall And Felt Superbad About It completely misses the point of parody, simply reminding the audience that the films being "satirised" are actually funnier than the one they're watching. Still, at least the title is hilarious. Right?

Proof that the spoof is virtually beyond saving lies in the glut of so-called comedies based on Paranormal Activity, of which A Haunted House is just the latest. When even the bad ideas are being recycled, it's time to call it a day. And when the best title anyone could come up with for a parody of The Hunger Games is The Starving Games, well, bring on the Reaping. Even death seems a funnier prospect.

Do you find the likes of A Haunted House and Scary Movie funny, or do you miss spoofs in the vein of Airplane! and The Naked Gun? Let us know below!

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