The found footage sub-genre of horror films has been both a boon and a curse of the industry.
Popularized by The Blair Witch Project (although other examples predate that movie), it adds a sense of reality and legitimacy to the terrors on screen. Unfortunately, it’s also over-saturated the market, with numerous rip-offs flooding in for every decent movie.
Some films have found unique ways to stand apart from the rest by adding a different approach. Paranormal Activity used static cameras and events in a single house, while Cloverfield brought the cameras into a chaotic, city-wide event.
One way these films have changed is by blending them with pseudo-documentaries, adding a new way to make the story feel authentic. That style is what makes Hell House LLC one of my favorite found footage horror films.
Hell House LLC revolves around a haunted house attraction gone wrong in upstate New York. The story focuses on a documentary investigating what happened at the old Abaddon Hotel, retrofitted into a Halloween event that led to multiple deaths and missing people.
The film uses a mix of techniques, from 911 calls to an uploaded YouTube video, interspersed with news footage and interviews with experts. Eventually, the movie adds both found footage and journalist investigation to flesh out the story about what happened.
All of these mediums blend into a cohesive experience that’s part crime special, part paranormal reenactment, and part ghost hunting show.
One aspect that adds to the realism is the performances by the primary actors.
The footage of the crew who runs Hell House, and their experiences until that night, feels as real as The Blair Witch Project. Danny Bellini, Ryan Jennifer Jones, Adam Schneider, Jared Hacker, and Gore Abrams bring real-life (and terror) to the characters.
Mr. Abrams and Ms. Jones are probably the most memorable of the cast, from Paul’s gritty (and abrasive) personality to Sara’s slip into the grasp of the house. As the primary camera-man and the only woman (and focal point), much of the story focuses on them.
Alice Bahlke also deserves recognition, as the documentarian and journalist, Diane Graves. Her performance brings that extra layer of authenticity that brings the elements together and leads us to the end.
Another thing I enjoyed was how cheap effects remained scary, thanks to the premise of a haunted house attraction.
You didn’t need Guillermo del Toro-levels of make-up or costuming when you can simply have Halloween mannequins that suddenly move. Similarly, much of the standard found footage lighting is mixed with the strobes or dark effects of a haunted house, making even a room full of obviously fake limbs look terrifying.
The line begins to blur between the haunted house effects, like bloody handprints and spooky paintings, and pure horror. Soon you’re questioning if you’re looking at the attraction or the results of the supernatural.
I’m not going to say that Hell House LLC is a perfect movie, although I put it up there among the best of found footage films.
The story loses a little bit of cohesiveness at one point and then hurries to a rushed finale. Also, not all of the cast or scares are excellent, and there are a few people (or horrors) that are amateurish at best.
Given the scores of found footage horror films in the past 20 years, however, Hell House LLC was a refreshing experience. The movie added something new to an increasingly boring sub-genre, and I have to give my praises to the director and writer, Stephen Cognetti.
I only wish the sequels, which fill some of those plot holes, were as good. Mr. Cognetti returned in 2018 and 2019, but both films pale in comparison to the original.
In Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel, the acting is far more forced, the effects far less scary, and the overall story becomes convoluted. I appreciated the added lore, but the way it was implemented left something to be desired.
Hell House LLC III: The Lake of Fire starts much stronger and closer to the original, thanks to better cast and excellent scares. Unfortunately, it lost itself around the climax and took a turn for the worse in the finale and coda.
Neither film is bad, per se, but both fall short of the bar set by the first film.
If you enjoy found footage films and are looking for new experiences this Halloween season, then I cannot recommend Hell House LLC enough. Its mixture of found footage and pseudo-documentary, not to mention good performances, created something that felt like a real event and mystery.
I give Hell House LLC a disturbing 4 lost tapes out of 5.