Hell House LLC III: Lake of Fire Written & Directed by Stephen Cognetti
Cast: Gabriel Chytry, Elizabeth Vermilyea, Sam Kazzi, Brian David Tracy, Bridgid Abrams
Release date: September 19, 2019
In recent years, few word pairings have excited genre fans more than “Shudder Exclusive.” AMC’s streaming service Shudder has become a force in bringing new horror films and series to the small screen and this Thursday, they’ll be premiering the ending of Stephen Cognetti’s Hell House LLC trilogy with Hell House LLC III: Lake of Fire. Quite simply, if you enjoyed the found footage/haunted attraction scares of the first two movies, you’ll be all in for the finale.
Cognetti first introduced Hell House LLC back in 2015. The film was the account of a haunted attraction “Hell House” gone wrong at The Abaddon, an upstate New York hotel. According to the found footage and news reports, 15 people died under mysterious circumstances, which we find out had to do with some serious occult stuff going down in the basement, along with some of the most effective clown mannequins in recent memory. Last year’s Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel dealt with a survivor, a psychic, and others visiting the hotel to look for answers, only to encounter more haunted trappings, including those awful clown mannequins as well as the ghosts of the missing Hell House organizers. Both installments were tight, effective, and outright scary horror films, using the trappings of the found-footage style to their advantage.
Hell House LLC III: Lake of Fire follows that same formula, and really if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The film’s style allows for a meticulous blending of footage and scares from the first two movies into this one. It doesn’t feel forced because we know this hotel and its labyrinthine structure in all its spooky glory by now. The question for each new film in this series is two fold. How do we plausibly convince characters to return to this building where plenty of scary stuff has been been widely reported, and how do we get the audience to accept these characters will ignore all these reports? Why would anyone with prior knowledge risk walking down the same creepy basement steps?
The answer is simple… money. Millionaire entrepreneur Russell Wynn (Gabriel Chytry) has an interactive and immersive show called Insomnia, where his actors put on a performance of Faust all throughout the Abaddon Hotel while the guests fluctuate around. There are scenes where we hear that Russell gets his spooked crew to stay by just doubling their pay. We get to watch the weeks of preparation for opening night through the eyes of Morning Mysteries host Vanessa Shepherd (Elizabeth Vermilyea) and her cameraman. She’s given the grand tour by Russell’s business partner Jeff (Sam Kazzi), who notes her fear to enter the building at first. Soon everyone is introduced and the cast and crew of Insomnia are given cameras and encouraged to film behind the scenes. We are the flies on the wall watching Vanessa’s cameras as well as the cast’s as all sorts of creepy stuff begins happening again.
It’s a testament to Cognetti and his crew that they’re able to milk so much tension from gags we’ve already seen twice. Long walks down weirdly decorated hallways, lights that flicker and turn off at the wrong time, that piano tune playing from the other room, ghostly apparitions appear and disappear, and of course… those goddamn clown mannequins! IT: Chapter 2 might be in theaters on its way to a billion dollars, but I’d wager these clowns against Pennywise any day. There’s one particular scene where I almost threw my laptop on the ground.
There are lots of secrets and mysterious plot points that I won’t spoil here, but suffice to say some people aren’t who they say they are and we get another visit from evil occultist Andrew Tully (Brian David Tracy). When it comes to found footage, I judge the authenticity of the performances, and the cast does a good job here. There are plenty of tense moments and real scares to be had. There’s one scene of really shoddy looking CGI, but they’re not playing with an Avengers budget, so it’s understandable. And with a runtime of only 85 minutes, the movie flies by and doesn’t overstay its welcome.
What is very obvious is just how much writer/director Cognetti had thought and planned this trilogy out. The continuity is impressive for what is essentially a low budget indie horror franchise. Cognetti’s trust and belief in the material shows in these films. The Abaddon Hotel is not the Overlook, but it’s definitely in the conversation. If you enjoy found footage, haunted attraction horror, creepy clowns, the occult, and more, this trilogy has it all.
Go to www.shudder.com and check out Hell House LLC and Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel right now. Hell House LLC III: Lake of Fire debuts on Shudder next Thursday, September 19th. Shudder gives you a 7-day free trial and is less than $5 a month.