Lovecraft binge-watch: Hell House LLC, et. al.

This post is #8 of a series.

The list of found-footage films I’ve enjoyed enough to watch more than once is pretty short: There’s the largely forgotten granddaddy of the subgenre, 84 Charlie MoPic, as well as The Den, The Last Exorcism, Apollo 18, and some of the entries in the V/H/S franchise. And then there’s Hell House LLC and its sequels.

Written and directed by Stephen Cognetti, Hell House LLC concerns a 2009 haunted house attraction staged in the abandoned Abaddon Hotel in Rockland County, New York. On opening night, a mysterious disaster claims the lives of fifteen people. Five years later, a crew making a documentary about Hell House fall victim to the same dark forces that caused the original tragedy. The movie you end up watching is a meta-documentary that combines video from both 2009 and 2014.

This documentary framing helps Hell House avoid the pacing problems that bog down too many found-footage films. And while there are some jump scares, most of the tension comes from the very Lovecraftian sense of mounting dread as you watch these doomed people ignore danger sign after danger sign until it’s too late.

Cognetti followed up Hell House with two direct sequels that expand on the Abaddon Hotel’s mythology and change the scenario just enough that you don’t feel like you’re watching the same movie three times in a row.

Last year brought a spinoff sequel, Hell House LLC Origins: The Carmichael Manor, which shifts the setting to an isolated mansion in the same county as the Abaddon Hotel. The backstory here is that in 1989, Eleanor Carmichael and her daughter Catherine were brutally murdered in the manor, while her husband, Arthur, and her son, Patrick, went missing; police discovered a single set of footprints in the snow leading away from the house. The mystery of what happened remains unsolved.

Fast forward to 2021. An internet sleuth named Margo Bentley arranges to rent the Carmichael Manor for five days. She brings along her girlfriend, Rebecca, her brother, Chase, and some cameras to record the ghosts who are rumored to haunt the manor.

Like the original Hell House, Carmichael Manor is structured as a documentary, so we know from the outset that none of these three are getting out alive, but even without the upfront spoiler, it wouldn’t be hard to guess the ending. During her initial walkthrough of the property, Margo asks the rental agent what’s behind the locked pair of French doors in the upstairs hallway. “Old storage,” he replies, vaguely. “I don’t even have a key for it anymore.” After he leaves, Margo gets the doors open and finds that the stored items include a pair of life-sized clown mannequins:

This is the point where I’d be speed-dialing the rental office to find out whether it’s too late to get my deposit back, but Margo doesn’t want to leave, even after the clowns start moving around the house. And while Rebecca and Chase have a bit more sense, they wait too long to force the issue. Bad luck for them, but if you like scary movies about terrible decision-making, it’s a lot of fun to watch.

The entire Hell House LLC franchise is streaming on Shudder and AMC+, and the first three films are also available free, with ads, on Tubi.