What began life as one of the most surprising found footage films of this decade − while also delivering some truly terrifying clown-laden scares − is now ending. The Hell House LLC franchise burst onto the scene in 2015 and followed a group of friends building their yearly Halloween haunt in The Abaddon Hotel in upstate NY, aptly titled ‘Hell House’. When a tragedy befalls them on opening night leading to multiple deaths, the hotel is fast abandoned. Flash forward to 2017 and director Stephen Cognetti returned with a sequel poised as an investigative television show called Morning Mysteries where a journalist takes the only known Hell House survivor back to the hotel to figure out what happened.
Answers were evidently not uncovered during the investigation so Cognetti returns now for a third and final time to wrap up his story. In ‘Lake of Fire’ – referring to a monologue spouted by a demonic presence in the second film – Cognetti takes a weird dive into building a strange sort of Hell House LLC Extended Universe, attempting to tie together loose ends and bring back old faces that isn’t always as slick as it seems. This tying together of names, faces and places begins with Lake of Fire’s subject: billionaire Russell Wynn (Gabriel Chytry). When the Abaddon is facing demolition, he buys the property to host his latest project; an immersive theatre night called ‘Insomnia’. But this isn’t Wynn’s first mention in the series, the sharpest of minds will recall Wynn Media Group as the provider of ‘the hell house tapes’ used for Morning Mysteries, that he had supposedly received anonymously.
Morning Mysteries are also back on the scene, this time with a new host, Vanessa Shepard (Elizabeth Vermilyea), who has come to the Abaddon hotel to follow the pre-production of Insomnia, giving all cast and crew personal cameras to record footage (and hopefully, some sinister activity). Lake of Fire follows the same found-footage, handheld principles that its previous instalments utilised, but unfortunately a near-replica plot too. As Insomnia’s opening night draws closer is becomes clear that, for the third time, the inhabitants won’t survive the night and that somehow, that damn basement still hasn’t been cleaned out of those horrifying clowns.
Latex masked clowns with limp bodies line the basement floor and thankfully their presence is still the franchises greatest success; both iterations of Pennywise and the Killer Klowns from Outer Space found dead from fright. What Cognetti does with this circus freaks is a masterclass in timing and subtlety, there’s no jumps, barely even any movement but somehow a turn of a clown’s head is enough to make your shoulder blades touch from just how much you’ll want to crawl out of your own skin. Because of the thrill of the clowns, its quite easy to forgive just how messy the rest of the scares can be. With a much bigger budget than both previous films it might have been favourable to find a makeup artist that can use scar wax with subtlety (Russell’s facial scar is practically bursting out of his face) and make fake blood not look like neon red acrylic paint. There are also numerous ‘look for the scary thing in the background!!’ moments that are so evidently in plain sight that it feels almost insulting to the audience’s desire to hunt out things for themselves.
Thankfully, Cognetti manages to keep the film suspenseful and tight, quite literally, as the camera squeezes through the Abaddon’s tight weaving corridors that seemingly have no way out. There’s a real sense of claustrophobia, one that comes to an entertaining head (in all the franchise) when opening night eventually rolls around and bodies clamber over each other in a desperate plea for survival. Russell’s backstory also adds an element of mystery and his intentions are truly unclear until the films (ridiculous) finale.
It’s hard to know just how much of the Hell House LLC series was intended to be set-up for follow-on films, the Russell Wynn link seems like a well-intended link between 2 and 3, but given each films now-formulaic nature, Lake of Fire feels almost haphazardly put together, bringing back visions of previous cast members to tie a neat little bow on a story that still boasted potential for fresh direction (I would be very interested in a prequel). As far as trilogy’s go though, Hell House LLC is far from a terrible offering. When its good, its skin-crawlingly terrifying, but when its bad its like a student film with a Marvel mindset of ‘world expansion’. That being said, there’s absolutely no way I’ll ever be going into an abandoned basement any time soon.
Hell House LLC 3: Lake of Fire is available to stream on Shudder
by Chloe Leeson
Chloe Leeson is the founder of SQ. She hails from the north of England (the proper north that people think is actually Scotland but isn’t). Her life source is Harmony Korine’s 90s Letterman interviews and Ezra Miller’s jawline. She is a costume designer for hire who spends far too much time watching bad horror movies. Her favourite films are Into The Wild, Lords of Dogtown, Stand by Me and Pan’s Labyrinth. She rants about cinema screenings @kawaiigoff and logs them on letterboxd here