Marlon Wayans branches away from brothers with horror-comedy 'A Haunted House'

TORONTO - Comedy star Marlon Wayans likes to refer to his new horror parody film "A Haunted House" as his Janet Jackson "Control" album.

"If it bombed, it would've been my 'Dream Street.' But this is more like 'Control,'" he quipped this week during a stop in Toronto, where the film opens Friday.

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Like Jackson did in the '80s with solo albums including the smash breakthrough "Control" and its less-successful predecessor "Dream Street," Wayans is branching out of his show-business family.

Instead of collaborating with fellow comical brothers Shawn, Keenen and Damon like he's done so often, he decided to co-write and co-produce "A Haunted House" with Rick Alvarez, with whom he's worked on comedies including "Scary Movie 2," "White Chicks" and "LiTTLEMAN."

The move has paid off.

The supernatural spoof that also stars Wayans opened in second place at the U.S. box office two weeks ago, with $18.8 million — much more than the $2 million it cost to make the project.

"It was important for me that this work because this is kind of like my solo venture, you know — baby boy's grown up and I took a leap of faith," said Wayans, 40, noting he plans a "A Haunted House" sequel.

"My brothers wanted me to have this experience. They thought it was important for me and important for our business, because if you make each one of your fingers strong, it makes the fist that much stronger," he added, stretching out his fingers and then balling them up into a fist in an interview at a posh downtown hotel.

"Damn, that was deep! I don't know what the hell I just said, but I said it."

"A Haunted House" is billed as "an outrageous send up of the 'Paranormal Activity,' 'The Devil Inside' and other 'found footage' movies."

Wayans plays Malcolm, the boyfriend of Kisha (Essence Atkins), who notices strange things happening when she moves into his house. Fearing a ghost, they use handheld and security cameras to document paranormal activity.

Co-stars include Cedric the Entertainer as a "priest"/ex-convict, David Koechner as a racist security camera expert, and Nick Swardson as a promiscuous psychic.

Michael Tiddes, who started his film career with the Wayans family as an assistant to producing partner Alvarez, directs.

"The idea behind this is 'Paranormal Activity' if it happened to a black couple," said Wayans, who shot the film in a house in the affluent community of Stevenson Ranch, Calif.

"Like, OK, you hear a ghost, it's time to leave, you know. I don't need to go, 'Where are you?' ... No, you hear a ghost, the doors blow open, it's time to get the hell in the car and get the (hell) out."

In Ontario, "A Haunted House" has an 18A rating, meaning patrons under 18 must be accompanied by an adult. That's partly due to some sexually provocative scenes, including one involving Wayans and stuffed animals that he says was "complete improv."

Wayans started spoofing the horror genre with his brothers in 2000's "Scary Movie," which was followed up the next year with "Scary Movie 2." There have been a total of five films under the "Scary Movie" banner, but the Wayans stopped having any involvement in them after the first two.

"I think why we attach ourselves to a horror-comedy kind of thing is because horror and comedy share the same audiences and they share the same rhythm," said Wayans, who got his start working with his brothers on the comedy series "In Living Color" and then the WB sitcom "The Wayans Bros."

"Tension builds in horror movies to bring you to a scare and then you have a release. Comedy, you build tension and then you have a laugh and that's the release."

The 10 Wayans siblings got their comedy chops from their parents, who raised them in New York City.

"My dad is so annoying. He would get on (my mother's) nerves and she would curse him out and that's where we saw our first buddy comedy, my parents," said Wayans, who now has two children of his own.

"Without trying, they just are a buddy comedy."

Wayans, who was critically praised for his turn as a drug addict in Darren Aronofsky's drama "Requiem for a Dream," is also busy on the standup circuit these days.

He said he started doing standup about 2 1/2 years ago, when he was approached about playing Richard Pryor in a big-screen biopic.

"The script right now is on hold," said Wayans of the Pryor project. "I don't know what's going to happen with it. I hope it happens, and when it does ... I'll be ready to take it on."

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