This October, we’re challenging ourselves to watch at least one horror movie every day. But sometimes when the movie you watch is as good as Hell House, LLC you just have to move right on to the sequel.
I thought I was done with the found footage genre. I’d long since hit my quota on shaky camera work, shots that pan around only to land just a second too late to capture whatever terrified the characters on screen, and individuals trying to get whoever is filming to just put the camera down. Then, writer-director Stephen Cognetti’s Hell House, LLC comes along and reminds me a genre can be as effective as those involved in its creation are capable of making it.
Hell House, LLC’s premise is simple: several people died on the opening night of a haunted house just outside of New York City in 2009. The ensuing investigation by the authorities leaves more questions than answers. Now, five years later, a documentary crew has set out to uncover the truth of what exactly led to that night’s tragic events.
The film opens with old TV news footage and talking head interviews from local experts. The primary narrative focus, however, begins when the crew lucks into an interview with Sarah (Ryan Jennifer), the only known survivor of the small group that actually created Hell House inside an abandoned hotel. She gives them previously unseen, even by her, footage taken during the weeks leading up to the notorious opening night. The crew hopes this footage will finally reveal, once and for all, exactly what went wrong in Hell House.
The film’s performances are all natural and the relationships believable, but it’s Cognetti’s directorial skill that truly distinguishes Hell House, LLC from the found footage crowd. He introduces the film’s central mystery through a YouTube video posted by one of the locale who survived the opening, but it looks like typical found footage fare so it raises more questions that it answers.
This means there’s an inherent tension that carries through the film’s archival footage. Even before we see anything supernatural, we’re already on edge, because we know all of this leads to tragedy. The abandoned hotel setting and the accompanying haunted house decor only add to the film’s creepy vibe. Once the moments of actual terror kick in, they’re incredibly unsettling and beautifully executed in a way that ratchets up the tension with only minimal amounts of gore. The film’s suspense feels like a coil that just keeps getting pulled tighter and tighter until the viewer is waiting for the inevitable further glimpse into the opening night’s
Hell House isn’t perfect. Without getting into any spoilers, the ultimate reveal of what really happened in 2009 is hardly some big shocker, but in a time when there have been so many terrible horror films that have hit streaming services, a simple film with well-executed scares, creepy atmosphere, and an intriguing premise feels like a massive find. Thus, Hell House emerges as this wonderful, little gem hidden amongst mediocre offerings.
Since I’d loved Hell House, I eagerly anticipated checking out its sequel, subtitled The Abaddon Hotel.
Unfortunately, if Hell House had me eagerly anticipating its sequel, The Abaddon Hotel does not leave me eagerly anticipating the proposed concluding chapter. It’s not that the film is unwatchable or devoid of scares. It simply does not follow through on the Hell House‘s initial promise.
The sequel, without getting too spoilery, takes place after the release of the initial film’s proposed documentary. Its success has attracted people to visit the hotel out of morbid curiosity, but those who enter inside on a series of dares tend not to re-emerge. Mitchell (Vasile Flutur), one of individuals involved in making the documentary, agrees to accompany an investigative journalist (Jillian Guerts), her film crew, and a psychic (Kyle Ingleman) into the hotel to determine if they can finally undercover the sinister Abaddon Hotel’s mysteries.
Unfortunately, the sequel’s narrative structure that undermines its scares. While much of the original Hell House’s archival footage was intercut with talking heads providing background information on the hotel’s sketchy history and survivors’ grim fates, the sequel intercuts with a news segment featuring an extended interview that doesn’t really add much to the film’s narrative. The Abaddon Hotel is actually a couple of minutes shorter than Hell House, LLC but feels much longer because these segments dissipate the building tension rather than increase it. Couple that with a handful of community-theatre level terrible performances – I don’t want to name specific names, but I’ll think they’ll be pretty apparent if you watch the film – and a twist ending that raises more questions than it really answers, and you’re left with a film that keeps itself on far shakier ground than it should.
With those caveats aside, however, I think The Abaddon Hotel has just enough going for it to recommend it. It opens well, with one of those dare-inspired trespassers meeting a less than ideal end, and the film kicks into high gear once our characters return to the hotel.
I’ll even point out a séance sequence that gave me more chills than I’ve had from a film in a long time. It’s just more of a mixed bag than its predecessor. With that said, Cognetti has real skill in building suspense and creating moments of real terror with a minimal budget. If he is given the chance to make his proposed trilogy’s concluding chapter, I’ll check it out. I’ll just be doing so because of my love for his first installment rather than its deeply flawed sequel. However, October is here, and there are far worse horror films on which you can spend your time than Hell House and The Abaddon Hotel.
Hell House, LLC and Hell House, LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel are currently available to stream on Shudder.
What Else We’ve Watched So Far
Day 1: Hold the Dark