Let’s go back to Hell House!
In my original review of Hell House LLC, I said that the film does a lot right, a lot good, and a lot wrong. I think I would amend this statement to say that the writers of this film tried to subvert or predict a lot of common issues within horror and sometimes succeeded.
For those who haven’t seen this surprisingly sound found-footage/docu-horror hybrid, you should. We follow (mostly) the members of Hell House, who set up elaborate haunted houses for Halloween, and this time they have chosen the Abaddon Hotel, which has a checkered past.
Shortly after the crew arrives, it is clear that there is something wrong at the hotel and they are perhaps risking their lives for a work project. The owner of the company, Alex (Dany Bellini) dismisses these concerns and pushes ahead. The film does well to show these characters as bonded, but these bonds seem tested before they even step inside the hotel. More information on why these folks seem so loyal to Alex would be nice.
However, the characters are all surprisingly good. Not all of them are likable (a creeper cameraman is a little tiring), but they are all utilized in the story. I love that when the lazy jerk of the group captures something weird on camera, they all assume he is pulling a prank on them “again.” Further, when someone goes missing and has done something similar in the past it explains why the characters aren’t concerned. This is smart writing.
This is one of the earlier docu-horror/found footage hybrids, and there is a reason it has a strong following. While a lot of the moves are right, we do end up with the negatives of both types of horror films. The documentary elements often disrupt the well-paced tension of the main story (but they also allow the characters to not serve as exposition dumps). We do have lingering found-footage issues of jerky camera and difficult to see scares.
Some of the set piece scares work quite well. The more low-key moments ramp the tension and allow for some classic found-footage camera trickery. Oddly, the best scares are before the huge calamitous event that we see at the beginning of the film.
Perhaps the best part of this movie (and it is almost a little sad this is something that seems rare) is that the cast and crew obviously love horror. The efforts to subvert normal genre issues sometimes pay off, but often they introduce a new problem. Anyone who has taken a writing workshop will know that fixing one issue creates two new ones. The mythos of the hotel is expanded on in the next two installments, but this is something that the first film needs more of.
Keeping a lot of the story shrouded in mystery and allows for the tension to develop well. However, we also end up with more questions than answers at the end. You may say this is a point of the film, but it doesn’t pay off for the audience as much.
While some parts of the story might frustrate you, the film is never dull, and it deserves its following. I’m not sure how much reach this one will have outside of horror fans (and found-footage fans specifically). For fans of the genre, this one is a love letter to the genre while trying to remold some of the old issues.
The additional footage is nice in this version. Nothing added is necessarily game-changing as far as the story goes. For folks who don’t own or have not seen the original, I think this is the better version. I’m not sure it would be worth buying a second copy for the additional footage. The bonus features add a bit more if you enjoy those. I for one hope they release a trilogy set (perhaps with additional footage in each film).
I like Hell House as a series, but I do not love it. I imagine they are whetting our appetites for something new with this release, and I will watch anything this crew puts together. I don’t think they’ve hit their maximum potential yet, and it is exciting to see them build out so much lore of a single location. I’d like to see them move outward a bit more in the future.
Despite the flaws, this one is in the top 10% of found-footage films. Give it a go!