Paranormal & Supernatural in Review: Hell House LLC (2015)
[PRAAAAWBABLY SOME SPOILERS IN THIS ONE]
I actually just had to go through my now-double-digits past write-ups for Machine Mean to see if I was right on this…but HHLLC will be the first found footage film I’ve actually reviewed. And by found footage, I mean the shot-on-video incarnation, and not earlier films with an in-progress-documentary-film conceit like Cannibal Holocaust, Man Bites Dog, etc..
Coincidentally, I think I was supposed to review The Houses October Built but maybe didn’t for scheduling reasons or something. I say ‘coincidentally’ because that was another found footage film about the “Haunt” industry—commercial haunted house attractions run by professionals during the fall season, especially around Halloween. HHLLC goes a very different way with its scares, mostly due to revealing itself as a different subgenre of horror to THOB, which was something more like The Blair Witch Project meets The Strangers.
Speeeeeaaaking of The Blair Witch Project, which is obviously one of the first and most successful examples of consumer video camera found footage horror filmmaking (CVCFFHF; you’re welcome), thankfully I’ve never had issues with motion sickness or the like, so I was able to enjoy it in its original theatrical release, and several times since. I’ve always been a fan of it and another film that came out about the same time, The Last Broadcast, which had a similar found footage presentation and was about The Jersey Devil. I was in art/film school when both of those came out, and I remember there being some talk of those filmmaking teams being rivals with former personal connections and also maybe the Blair Witch team had stolen the idea—but a quick wiki trip simply explains that those connections are now considered erroneously stated, as TBWP had been conceived a few years before being made and their production actually started five months before TLB’s premiere.
Going forward from those bygone halcyon days of the late 1990s, I kept my eye out for strong uses of the found footage form, and even dabbled in it myself. It has a strong allure for indie horror filmmakers, as it’s supposed to look cheap-ish and handheld by its very nature, and depending on how elaborate your scares and elements are, it can be a very cheap production. I say ‘strong uses’ because of it spawning many copycats, emulators, and innovators over the years.
One of those I really enjoyed that has a similar framing structure to HHLLC is Lake Mungo, a really well done Australian faux documentary film about a girl drowning that becomes a layered and chilling paranormal tale. So, similarly, you’ve got the talking head interview footage that gets cross cut with news footage, graphics, B-roll, and—especially so in Hell House—found footage captured by those involved. I would have to say my Lake Mungo comparison might be thin, as LM is the more sophisticated and elegant of the two when taken as a whole, but structurally it holds up, in my opinion.
Plus: Hell House ain’t tryin’ real hard to be elegant or sophisticated.
Hell House LLC is about a haunted house attraction gone very, very bad—or is it…? (insert spooky maniacal laughter). Several years after the fateful opening night of the haunt, a documentary crew sets out to tell the tale of how fifteen people’s lives ended as a result of attending and working the attraction.
The Hell House attraction team have been successful in the past hosting it in New York City. The CEO and leader of the crew, Alex (Danny Bellini), finds an abandoned hotel in Abaddon, NY, just outside the city, and moves it there. Abaddon, huh? (insert(2) obligatory played-out-but-needed I See What You Did There…)
[sidenote: just now while researching to be triple sure I was right that name doesn’t exist on a map of New York and was just a cute reference, I found a page from when this came out of someone getting all “A-ha! Gotcha!” in proving that HHLLC wasn’t real…. Watching the fucking movie should’ve made that obvious, but I guess I’m far less superstitious than many people]
And that is to say that this movie is not about an unspecified mechanical accident at the site of a haunted house attraction. It is a [fictional] tale about a haunted house attraction…wait for it…becoming a literal (and I do mean l i t e r a l) haunted house. It’s pretty obvious that’s what you’re in for watching this from early on, so that doesn’t even earn the spoiler tag treatment. It’s pretty much the obvious premise. Probably on the dvd case or poster or something. The only reason I’m leaning so hard into that is so it’s obvious. If that premise doesn’t fry your (personal taste in meat-, plant-, or Interdimensional Ambrosia-based) burger(s)…Your Mileage May Vary.
I really enjoyed this film. Like most found footage films, the actors have to balance being human and likable, while also being distinct enough personalities that have their decently telegraphed specific plot-advancing roles as the story progresses. These actors are up to the task, other than some late additions just before opening night who don’t get much character-building to work with—but that makes sense in context and isn’t really needed.
It’s also spooky, tense, and uses suspense really well.
Where this film really excels is the actual scares. They aren’t exactly all that fresh or new…but they’re well timed and executed. With a setup as well-worn and basic as this one is where you are expecting spooky scary moments, it’s impressive when you can see them coming—but they still really work.
Especially the recurring use of a set of monster clown mannequins—specifically one of them, that’s spooky looking to begin with. Then they start having it go on fun walkabouts.
Also, one of the crew members blogs into his phone or camera from bed a few times, and whenever you see one of these shots framed up, you’re in for a spooky treat.
Of course, you also have your sleepwalking crew members found gibbering in a corner. Even though that’s overdone, it would be genuinely unsettling in real life, so I give it a pass, usually.
So that all builds and after the tipping point into the third act, it ramps up double-quick into going from a fake haunted house into a real doomed place possessed with malevolent energy. There is a frenzied massacre (implied) when some visitors arrive out of nowhere—who may or may not be wearing Big Black Robes (they are)—and start Fucking Shit Up. Once that happened, I was surprised the kill count only totaled 15.
Now, I wouldn’t call this one a homerun. The follow-through is pretty strong, but there are some let’s-throw-spooky-dark-shit-at-the-wall-and-see-if-it-sticks moments that take away from the more successful scares and haunting elements. There’s so much going on in the last big chunk that it all adds up to a blowout of grim nastiness, but some of the kills feel like shorthand-for-scary, which is a bit of a letdown.
And then there’s the very last part. I put a spoiler warning up but I really am trying to rely less on spelling everything out as a way of analyzing it. I will say that the last scene works well enough, when taken as an extension of the most over-the-top elements of the climactic Hell House (poorly glimpsed) bloodbath. It’s a bit thin, logic-wise, but in a film this trope-y (and (mostly) successfully so), it doesn’t feel out of place.
Taken as a whole piece, it mostly hangs together well and I enjoyed it. I’m not impossible to please in the found footage realm, but it’s not an easy task either. There are things that keep being done to death in the genre and that makes it less than exciting as a creative framing of a story by default that it may have once been. This film avoids a lot of them and either has fun with them or does the more trope-y things well enough that it doesn’t cloy or annoy.
WHAT I LIKED:
- Strong, naturalistic performances overall
- Successfully Suspenseful
- Spooky Scary Mannequins
- Strong scares overall
- Well shot; doesn’t rely (too much) on forced whipping, spinning, jerking a lot of found footage films do
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE:
- Some of the scares/kills in the last act or a little too quick or simple, considering what actually takes place in that part
- Very end “Gotcha!” scene is a little stupid, but it works because of how the supernatural massacre just before it plays out
This is a solid found footage spookfest with some genuinely striking and eerie moments.
I’ll give Hell House LLC………..7/10.
PATRICK LOVELAND writes screenplays, novels, and short stories. By day, he works at a state college in Southern California, where he lives with his wife, young daughter, and a cat so black he seems to absorb light. Patrick’s stories have appeared in anthologies and periodicals published by April Moon Books, Shadow Work Publishing, EyeCue Productions, Bold Venture Press, Sirens Call Publications, Indie Authors Press, PHANTAXIS, and the award-winning Crime Factory zine. Patrick’s first novel, A Tear in the Veil, was published in June of 2017 by April Moon Books. His first short story collection (including its titular novella) TOO MANY EYES and Other Thrilling Strange Tales is forthcoming.
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