I watched Hell House LLC when it was first released on streaming and I remember enjoying it quite a bit. Maybe not in the same level as films like [REC] or Grave Encounters, but still a fairly enjoyable entry in the ‘haunted building’ niche of the genre. I somehow never got around to watching the sequel, Hell House LLC II: Abaddon Hotel, despite people telling me it was a fairly decent follow up. I’d been planning to watch the second film at some point this month, but then part III (Lake of Fire) was released in September and what became a one-shot morphed into a triple feature (it’s been long enough since I saw the first that I felt like I needed a refresher).
I was heading to the Portland (Maine) Comic Expo this weekend so I knew I had to jam these in around preparations and the show itself. My brother Jeff joined me at the show, so he ended up watching the second and third film with me. (I assumed he wouldn’t need to see the first film, but I was very wrong about that.) Watching those films with another person meant we were riffing on the films in a way I usually don’t when I’m flying solo. That inevitably informs the reviews – short as they are.
In addition, there will probably be some spoilers as the reviews progress, though I’ll try to keep them to a minimum.
All three films are available via Shudder. While you can get the first film on Amazon and other places both Abaddon Hotel and Lake of Fire are Shudder Exclusives. I believe there’s a DVD of the first film available, not sure about the second.
Hell House LLC
Hell House LLC is set up as a documentary that’s exploring the aftermath of a deadly event. A haunted house attraction – the Hell House of the title – set up on the old Abaddon, somehow went disastrously wrong and left several people dead. Five years later a film crew led by Diane Graves (Alice Bahlke) is doing an investigation that, in true modern documentary format, includes interviews and file footage. Although they get some interesting information – including footage from a writer who broke into the hotel – their real break arrives when the only survivor of the Hell House LLC crew shows up and offers them a bag of tapes shot by the crew and never before seen.
Hell House LLC is found footage and you generally know what you’re in for with these things. Shaky camerawork, people talking endlessly in corridors only lit by the camera light, the occasional nausea-inducing run through flickering lights as people scream, and cheap jump scares. Within its confines the film does an exceptionally good job and manages to give us enough scenes involving the main Hell House staff to actually differentiate them on screen – no small feat in shaky-cam land.
The footage from the Hell House cameras introduces a group that knows each other well and has existing inter-group tensions we can either see or are told about. Not many of them are happy to be moving their annual event out of the city and the certain income that represents. The abandoned Abaddon Hotel does have a lot of what’s known as ‘production value,’ however. Including a creepy basement full of weird, satanic-looking symbols scrawled on the wall and burnt bibles.
Eerie events start to pile up as they prepare for opening night. Reasonable people might haul stakes in the face of piano music with no cause, moving dummies and what seems like a psychotic break from the main camera guy – but there’s some detail we’re not privy to that leads the crew to stay. With horrifying results.
Not completely aware of what the tapes show, Diane and her cameraman break into the hotel, hoping to find the real reason for the deaths in the Abaddon.
The Bottom Line
Hell House LLC is in the top tier of found-footage movies for me. I liked it even better the second time around and found its mix of interviews, ‘file footage’ and ‘live footage’ to be handled extremely well. I was never lost and was interested in the people and what really happened to them. More creepy than horrifying, there are nevertheless some jump moments – especially if you don’t like clowns.
Hell House LLC II: Abaddon Hotel
Abaddon Hotel takes place roughly three years after the events of the first film and eight years after the original Hell House events. The first few scenes – involving an interview with the mother of the cameraman on the documentary from the first film – are not bad. Though too long, there are some genuinely creepy moments as she explains that she still receives weird messages from him – despite the fact no one has seen him or Diane Graves since the entered the hotel three years ago.
Things rapidly go downhill from there however. Much of the film progresses through an talk show and an investigative journalist. The talk show – whose name I’ve already forgotten – is excruciatingly bad and even actors that perform better in later scenes are awkward and cringe-worthy in the green-screen confines of the set. (My brother noted “never has so little been conveyed by so much eyebrow movement.”) Most of the interesting stuff during these segments involve ‘YouTube’ videos uploaded by Urban Explorer types whose streaming recording are generally the only thing left of them by the time the Abaddon is through with them. The rest are extended arguments between a town official, the guy from the previous documentary crew who survived because he stayed behind cataloging tapes, and a wanna -be psychic investigator (whose hammy demeanor grew on me as the film progressed).
The investigative team fares slightly better, generally being better actors and providing some actual forward momentum as they investigate the hotel. Once things move to the actual penetration of the hotel and the events therein everything moves pretty quickly, which was something of a mercy after the slow segments early on.
There is one more slow segment to come, however, and it’s pretty much required viewing to put things in context, despite the way it brings everything to a screeching halt.
The Bottom Line
A significant step down from the first film, Hell House II: Abaddon Hotel MAY be poking fun at local talk shows and online investigative journalism, but that doesn’t excuse a boring and poorly acted first half. Things do pick up later on, but a final act reveal is too much of a poorly thought out info-dump and kills any momentum the overt (and occasionally creepy) action before it has accrued.
Hell House LLC III: Lake of Fire
I really didn’t want to watch this after Abaddon Hotel, but it was too late. Like the poor fools in the first movie I had a sunken cost invested in watching the first two. The hotel had trapped me just as surely as any of the people in the previous films.
Luckily thirty seconds in I was at least assured the film was much better made than the second.
First, it reminds me that the talk show in Abaddon Hotel is actually Morning Mysteries and it has replaced the lackluster former host with Vanessa Shepherd (Elizabeth Vermilyae) – who seems like an actual person, rather than a cardboard cutout with expressive eyebrows. Then it informs us that the town of Abaddon has decided to raze the hotel to the ground, which is probably the only really intelligent decision anyone makes in any of these films.
Instead, however, they end up selling the property to billionaire adventurer Russell Wynn (Gabriel Chytry). Wynn and his ridiculous facial scar intend to put on a retelling of the classic Faust legend, called Insomnia, at the hotel on Halloween night. Vanessa is given unrestricted access to film the entire production. I’m sure it’ll be fine.
So – there are a few found footage franchises that have a shared universe. Paranormal Activity is probably the most famous, although we also have [REC] and… The Houses October Built, I guess. It’s not a deep field, however, and you’ve got to give Hell House LLC props for even trying. The usual strange events and half-glimpsed background movements are all there, but in this case it’s intermixed with scenes and whole segments from the previous films. Some of these are effective – particularly when the camera moves through a room and the image seamlessly flickers to a scene in the same room from the same perspective in an earlier film. Some of them are just oddly place and don’t really serve to advance the story and often just reminded me of how much better the first film was.
Still, there IS an overarching plot here, and though your tolerance for how things intertwine may vary, the fact that someone sat and TRIED to make these three movies into a coherent whole is admirable. Some of it is quite good and some of it is just laughable, but if the filmmakers had managed to stick the landing I probably would have forgiven them all of it.
Unfortunately, I don’t think they quite manage that.
The Bottom Line
My brother’s assessment of Hell House LLC III: Lake of Fire? “It’s not GOOD, but it’s much better than the second one.” I’m not quite so harsh, as I think Lake of Fire tried to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear and managed much better than I would have thought it capable of. It’s just too bad that the extended mythology the film tries to recreate isn’t very scary, and doesn’t quite gel into something satisfying.
The Bottom Bottom Line
There ARE enjoyable moments in all three films, and the last in particular works as hard as it can to make things come together, but in the end it’s the first film that works the best. And it’s really the only one you need to see.