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Hell Baby: Unrated Blu-ray Review

Hell Baby (2013) movie poster Hell Baby

Theatrical Release: September 6, 2013 / Running Time: 98 Minutes / Rating: Unrated (Theatrical Cut: R)

Writers/Directors: Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon

Cast: Rob Corddry (Jack Watson), Leslie Bibb (Vanessa Watson), Keegan-Michael Key (F'resnel Edmunds), Riki Lindhome (Marjorie), Rob Huebel (Officer Mickey Sheer), Paul Scheer (Officer Ron Huebel), Robert Ben Garant (Father Sebastian), Thomas Lennon (Father Padrigo), Michael Ian Black (Dr. Michael Marshall), Kumail Nanjiani (Cable Guy), Alex Berg (Mrs. Nussbaum, Cheerful Guy), Dave Holmes (Rental Car Guy), David Pasquesi (Cardinal Vicente)

Buy Hell Baby from Amazon.com: Unrated Blu-ray Unrated DVD Theatrical Instant Video

Since Comedy Central abruptly retired "Reno 911!" in 2009 after six seasons, the men and women of that heavily improvised mockumentary series have turned up in countless supporting and ensemble roles in comedy films. But the series' three creators/principal writers have done little behind the camera in that time. Even Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant,
who enjoyed success as a screenwriting team during "Reno"'s run on family films like Night at the Museum and The Pacifier, have been strangely unproductive, penning two TV pilots that were not picked up.

Lennon and Garant recently returned to the world of feature films, this time as the joint writers and directors of Hell Baby, a horror comedy that spent a week in just ten theaters last September. The partnership extends onscreen, where the two join a cast of similarly seasoned comedy vets from their generation, who have fewer "Reno" guest appearances between them than you would expect.

Rob Corddry and Leslie Bibb play Jack and Vanessa Watson, a married, expectant couple that draws looks as they move into a rundown house in an ethnically diverse, gang-filled stretch of New Orleans. They're told the neighborhood is nicknamed "Maison de Sang", which sounds nicer without the knowledge that it's French for "House of Blood." Their genial neighbor F'resnel ("Reno" fixture and "Key & Peele" star Keegan-Michael Key) calms the couple's nerves by revealing that no one has died in the house for several months. Then again, he easily enters their house through its window and doesn't hide the fact that he'll be squatting in their crawlspace.

Expectant married couple Jack (Rob Corddry) and Vanessa Watson (Leslie Bibb) take in the view of their new New Orleans home. Neighbor F'resnel (Keegan-Michael Key) uses the Watsons' window to come and go as he pleases.

Eight months pregnant with twins, Vanessa begins acting erratically, serving Jack paint thinner and somehow being able to communicate in Rottweiler language to the local ghost dog who shows up outside their window. Jack has his own brush with the unusual when a saggy naked 90-year-old woman surprises him in his bed and he responds rashly, drawing attention from a pair of suspicious cops (Rob Huebel and Paul Scheer).

Puzzled by the bloody crucifixion of a therapist (Michael Ian Black), those cops bring in Team Four (Lennon and Garant), a pair of goateed, sunglass-wearing, cigarette-smoking priests from the Vatican to lend their expertise in supernatural matters. The friendly Italians are easily the film's funniest characters and they function in a way that Lt. Dangle and Deputy Junior might. It's all expectedly leading up to the exorcism/childbirth finale the title implies.

It's easy to recognize Hell Baby as Lennon and Garant's work. This improvisation-friendly production bears their imprint as much as their 2007 films Reno 911!: Miami and Balls of Fury did. Two of the eleven founding members of MTV's fondly-remembered 1990s sketch show "The State", they're a funny pair, more creative and subversive than writing credits like Herbie: Fully Loaded and Taxi indicate. Their abundant wit prevents this spoof from being the trainwreck it might look like and that some of their cast might appear in (e.g. What to Expect When You're Expecting).

Writers/directors Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon play the cigarette-smoking, sunglass-wearing priests from the Vatican. Officers Huebel (Paul Scheer) and Sheer (Rob Huebel) investigate the Watsons with heavy suspicion.

Hell Baby is presented unrated on Blu-ray and DVD after its theatrical cut received a well-earned, never-challenged R rating from the MPAA. That's usually a major warning sign, but the film doesn't often go over the top or resort to shocking when it can't amuse. The comedy is expectedly hit and miss, with neither side taking a definitive lead.
Entertaining bits include the police officers' struggle to address Corddry's character with cultured condescension, mini-detours on "pizza salad" and a tiny printer, inexplicable action montages of po' boy devouring, and an unusually inspired sight gag (involving a van driven under the influence). Other bits do not play as well; an extended nude scene from Riki Lindhome as Vanessa's open-minded Wiccan sister is just as uncomfortable and strained as ones involving the film's roaming extremely made-up old hag. The big climax, meanwhile, consists of little more than sound effects trying to enliven actors wrestling with what is clearly a doll.

Horror comedy is not an easy act to pull off and Hell Baby fares better than many of the forgotten and cringe-inducing titles that populate the genre's Wikipedia page. In the helm, Garant and Lennon ensure that the film looks good and cinematic. The top-notch lighting, cinematography, and editing ensure you won't mistake this for television, even if that's where you likely have discovered and enjoyed these cast members.

Though far from great, Hell Baby is better than the uphill battle it faces, its cover resembling something that might appeal to those who enjoy the awful low brow spoofs of Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer (Disaster Movie, Meet the Spartans, etc.). Such an audience may not appreciate this film or deserve the bursts of creativity it gives them. And yet, who else but the most devoted of "The State" and "Reno 911!" fans will think to give this a chance?

Unfortunately, the theatrical cut of Hell Baby is not released to disc, becoming an On Demand/digital download exclusive, making it impossible to know what and how much has been added. Theatrical reviews cited the same 98-minute runtime found here.

Hell Baby: Unrated Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

1.78:1 Widescreen
Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled
Release Date: December 31, 2013
Single-sided, single-layered disc (BD-25)
Suggested Retail Price: $24.98
Blue Keepcase
Also available as Unrated DVD ($19.98 SRP)
and on Theatrical Cut Amazon Instant Video


Millennium Entertainment appears to have a nasty habit of reframing 2.40:1 films to 1.78:1 on Blu-ray, but although Hell Baby does fill 16:9 screens in the latter ratio, it seems to have been composed in the standard 1.85:1. As mentioned above, this film looks quite cinematic for an improvised comedy populated by predominantly TV actors. The BD's picture quality is terrific throughout.

Presented in both Dolby TrueHD 5.1 and plain old Dolby 2.0 stereo, the soundtrack does its job quite well, from delivering high volume jolts to tastefully implementing some directional effects to distributing a suitable classical horror movie score. English SDH and Spanish subtitles are provided, while the rare bits of non-English dialogue are fittingly translated by burned-in subtitle.

Deleted scenes show off unused cast improvisation. Mrs. Nussbaum (a heavily made-up Alec Berg) makes faces at the camera in the Goof Reel gag reel.


Not surprisingly for a comedy from this group, Hell Baby is joined by a number of deleted scenes. Eight scenes and an assortment of snippets run 27 minutes and 50 seconds altogether, and as they do,

Millennium presents them in standard definition. Most of the cuts are extensions or variations of surviving bits, showing us at greater length some of the cast's improvisational talents. There's no sign of David Wain, who is credited but not seen in the film.

Next, we get two gag reels, also in standard definition. The "Goof Reel" (5:19) includes everything from takes blown by laughter to extended Shakespearean ad libbing to random odds and ends, enhanced by music. "Rawdog Radio Comedy" (8:33) gives us extensive "bitches be trippin'" rants by an unseen misogynistic radio comic, possibly voiced by Keegan-Michael Key, while the priests smoke in their car, listening unfazed.

The disc opens with HD trailers for Parkland, As I Lay Dying, Charlie Countryman, and Ninja II: Shadow of a Tear. Hell Baby's own theatrical trailer (2:31), emphasizing Garant and Lennon's presence, kindly joins them in a perfect Previews section.

The menu plays silent clips while ominous The Exorcist-esque score plays. Sadly, the disc neither supports bookmarks nor resumes playback.

Sorry, digital copy and slipcover fans. Hell Baby's plain blue keepcase is entirely void of inserts and packaging flourishes.

Priests, police officers, and kin are on hand to watch the climactic birth of "Hell Baby."


Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon bring cinematic panache and sharp wit to Hell Baby. Unfortunately, as is the nature of spoof comedy, it's only funny about half the time and many viewers won't even pin its success rate that high. Still, it is more worthy of a viewing than it looks and than many new films are. If you ever found "Reno 911!" amusing, you might as well give this a try.

Millennium's Blu-ray should have included the theatrical cut via branching and presented all the extras in high definition. But the feature presentation is good, the bonus material is all right, and the price is reasonable. A film so under-the-radar is unlikely to ever get a release better than this.

Buy Hell Baby from Amazon.com: Unrated Blu-ray / Unrated DVD / Theatrical Instant Video

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Related Reviews:
Written by Robert Ben Garant & Thomas Lennon: Balls of Fury Reno 911! The Complete Fifth Season Reno 911! The Complete Sixth Season
New: Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy Insidious: Chapter 2 The Lone Ranger The Ghost and Mrs. Muir
Rob Corddry: Warm Bodies Hot Tub Time Machine Pain & Gain Operation: Endgame | Leslie Bibb: Popular: The Complete Second Season Zookeeper
Keegan-Michael Key: Key and Peele: Season 1 | Thomas Lennon: 17 Again I Love You, Man | Paul Scheer: The League: Season One
This Is the End Rosemary's Baby The Last Exorcism The Rite The Devil Inside Paranormal Activity 4

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Reviewed December 31, 2013.

Text copyright 2013 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2013 Millennium Entertaniment, Darko Entertainment, Principato-Young Entertainment Productions.
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