M.L. Miller aka the @$$hole formerly known as Ambush Bug here! I posted my very first horror reviews on October 1, 2010 and have been posting every Friday ever since on AICN until just recently. I’ve uprooted the show and taken it to my own site just in time for this year’s Best of the Best in Horror Countdown. It’s going to be running all through October, counting down to the best horror film of the year. Some of these films can be found in theaters, but others have unfortunately only seen the light of day on Video On Demand or simply go straight to DVD, BluRay, or digital download. I’ve tried to indicate in the reviews where you can check these films out.

As far as how I compiled this list? Well, I simply looked through my reviews over the last year since October 1st, 2016 and worked and reworked the list until I had 31. No real method to my special brand of madness. We’ll be counting down every day until Halloween to my favorite horror film of the year. I’ll also provide a second film suggestion at the end of each post that is worth nothing or missed being on the list by a little bit for those who can’t get enough horror.

So let’s get to it! Chime in after the article and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, and most importantly, come up with your own list…let’s go!

#27 HELL HOUSE LLC #27

Why is HELL HOUSE LLC #27? It’s one of the best found footage films of the year, that’s why. Filled with scares and unexpected twists, this one does a whole lot right. I’m getting as sick of found footage films as you are, but if they’re done right, they can still be effective. HELL HOUSE LLC truly is. You can find it here on Netflix, iTunes, Amazon, Vimeo, GooglePlay, & Vudu!

HELL HOUSE, LLC (2015)

Directed by Stephen Cognetti
Written by Stephen Cognetti
Starring Gore Abrams, Alice Bahlke, Danny Bellini, Theodore Bouloukos, Jared Hacker, Ryan Jennifer, Jeb Kreager, Miranda Robbins, Adam Schneider, Phil Hess, Lauren A. Kennedy, Kristin Michelle Taylor, Natalie Gee
Find out more about this film @HellHouseLLC and on Facebook here

I had the privilege of checking out one of the best found footage films of the year, HELL HOUSE, LLC. Not only is it a terrifying little film, but it also does its best to try to be as authentic an addition to the subgenre as possible. I’ll explain as I put this film to the test of my criteria I apply to all of found footagers crossing my path.

What’s the premise?

A group of twenty-somethings with much experience in putting together haunted house attractions journey to the town of Abbadon and refurbish an abandoned hotel with a horrific history. We find out in the opening moments that something horrific happened on the opening night of the horror attraction, Hell House, and a documentary crew—through interviews, Youtube footage, and recently reacquired video of the night, intends to find out what happened and what was the secret of that fateful night.

Are the actors believably acting like they aren’t acting?
Yes, all of the actors featured here are really naturalistic and feel as if they aren’t trying to act, rather they are just being themselves in front of the camera. I know that’s kind of odd to say, but there is scripted and there is non-scripted—and while this film definitely has a narrative pushing the story forward, the actors really feel as if they are just being normal in front of the camera; meaning no discourses or lines that feel like you can almost see the screenwriter tapping on his keyboard.

Is there an up-nose BLAIR WITCH confessional or a REC-drag away from the camera?
There’s one drag away and as I’ve said before, as long as that is not the last shot of the film as it is with REC (and its American adaptation QUARANTINE) I am willing to forgive it. Too many films have aped the REC ending as if they are inventing it themselves. That’s not this film which really does its best to defy the usual conventions seen in found footage films and bring us something new to chew on.

Does is seem like this footage was actually found and not untouched by additional production (which means there is no omniscient editor making multiple edits or an invisible orchestra providing music)?
The film is framed as a documentary utilizing footage found at the site of the horrible events depicted on that night. So the edits between cameras aren’t distracting. We go back and forth between footage of that night and interviews with investigators, survivors, and historians, all of which adds to the feeling of legitimacy that is often lacking in found footage films. These interviews work well in tandem with the story unfolding in the footage leading up to the opening night of the Hell House. There is no music present, which again adds to the immediacy and effectiveness to the film as well.

Is there a valid reason the camera isn’t dropped and they just get the hell out of there?
I guess. The camera rolling constantly is justified by saying that they want to have footage for their website showing behind the scenes footage in the making of Hell House. The camera is also used by some to prove something off is happening as the days leading up to opening night, to be shown to the others in the crew. And while they don’t believe what is happening as the group is known to play tricks on one another, people are trying to document the weird stuff happening, thus leaving the camera rolling. There are a few scenes where picking up the camera might be the last thing I would do, as with a scene where one cameraman wakes to find what looks to be a ghost in his room and hides under the sheet with the camera on, afraid to lift the sheet to see if she is getting closer. While this scene is absolutely terrifying, the camera morphs in function to actually be the eyes of the person in peril rather than the tool with which he is looking through. It works in putting the audience one step closer to the horror that is going on, but doesn’t make a lot of sense if you think too much about it. Still, it makes for one of the most horrifying scenes in the film, so I am compelled to give it a pass.

Is the lead in too long and the payoff too short?
No. The film opens with YouTube footage that suggests something horrific happened that night, but the horror is vague and while we know people died, we are given very little information as to what happened. It opens with a mystery, which is a nice carrot to be propped in front of us propelling us to want to know more about this story. Then tapes are revealed documenting what went on leading up to the night which again progress in a tantalizing fashion—never giving us too much, but just enough to make us want more. This leads to a film that increases in tension from start to finish in ways that many found footagers (and cinematically filmed narratives) only dream of accomplishing.

Does anything actually happen?
A whole hell of a lot happens. As I said before, there’s a clever doling out of information here that really works. This is a tense film because we are made aware that something horrible happened on opening night. We are given an ambiguous glimpse of what happened. Then we are made aware of tapes that contain footage previously unrevealed and watch that play out. Then, as if that isn’t enough, once what went on that night is revealed, the film follows another documentary crew returning to the Hell House and follow what they find. That’s a lot of ground covered in one film and the whole thing is thrilling as hell to see play out.

Does the film add anything to the subgenre and is this one worth watching?
HELL HOUSE, LLC adds to the genre by adhering to what some see as drawbacks to found footage films (no music, limited edits, naturalistic acting) while not stooping to some of the more frustrating trends in these types of films (the overly dramatic confessional, the drag away ending, the just-so camera drop catching particular action). It is unique in that it captures a compelling story, filled with all sorts of effectively scary scenes, in a manner that feels as if it really is footage that could have been found. Usually, there are one or two aspects of a found footage film that makes you disbelieve it actually is something that could have been recovered and watched without anyone touching it. This film does so by encapsulating the whole thing in a documentary format, relying on some great acting, and some fantastically organized moments of horrific chaos. HELL HOUSE, LLC really does deliver the goods and I recommend it to anyone who wants to see found footage done right.




Worth noting: WOLF HOUSE!

The budget is low, but there’s a lot of down in the dirt genius at play in WOLF HOUSE. Just when you think you might be able to predict this one, it turns around and upends you. Plus it’s got some pretty impressive werewolf effects that are completely practical. I love this low fi gem. You can find it here on Amazon here!


Available on DVD from MVD Visual!

WOLF HOUSE (2016)

Directed by Matt D. Lord
Written by Ken Cosentino, Elizabeth Houlihan
Starring Jessica Bell, Ken Cosentino, Marcus Ganci-Rotella, Elizabeth Houlihan, Bill Kennedy, Marc Sturdivant, Rick Williams, Gabor Mechtler, Austin Gold
Find out more about this film here, @WolfHouseMovie, and on Facebook here
Reviewed by Mark L. Miller aka Ambush Bug

I was quite surprised at WOLF HOUSE, a found footage film that takes some chances and goes places I didn’t think it would go. While many found footagers seem to take you to the edge of the horror, cutting power or having the horror just outside of the camera view, this one actually captures some pretty grueling and horrifying stuff. As always with found footage, I judge it mainly on how it upholds the conceit that the footage was actually found and how real it actually feels. Below is my little found footage questionnaire set to this week’s subject; WOLF HOUSE.

What’s the premise?
A group of longtime friends decide to go on a trip to a cabin in the woods. But while on a hunting trip, one of them shoots what looks to be some kind of hairy humanoid creature. Thinking they may be due for a big payoff, they strap the beastie to their roof and take it back to their home, but almost as soon as they arrive home, their house is under siege by what looks to be werewolves and other mystic creatures.

Are the actors believably acting like they aren’t acting?
Ehhh, for the most part, but unlike most unscripted found footage films, this one seems to have more of a definite script they are following and some of the actors are better equipped than others in pulling that off. The action is so fast and intense that most of the time they are simply running through the house away from these monsters, but any time the pace slows down, the façade that these are real people and not just actors gets thin.

Is there an up-nose BLAIR WITCH confessional or a REC-drag away from the camera?
Yes on both parts and this is where the acting gets a bit sketchy. The reason why the BLAIR WITCH confessional is so bad is mostly because this is the point of the film where one of the more dramatic characters seems to be going for the Oscar. It was pretty bad in the first BLAIR WITCH and gets worse after repeat usage in other found footage films. This is because the actor doing the confessional is usually trying his/her best to go over the top with an emotional reaching out via the camera to loved ones and that actor just doesn’t have the chops to do so convincingly. It happens every time and every time I cringe at how accurate it highlights the actors inability to be emotionally convincing. This type of confessional happens twice in WOLF HOUSE and both times I guarantee they will skid the momentum to a screeching halt for you and take you out of the movie because the acting was so bad.

The REC-drags away from and into the camera were less annoying because they weren’t used as the final shot of the film, just part of the action as it is going on around them. So it’s less obnoxious. That said, there is a part where a character is incapacitated and being dragged away by the monster with the camera on that felt like a new incarnation of the REC-drag that actually felt somewhat fresh (though it was used in WILLOW CREEK).

Does is seem like this footage was actually found and not untouched by additional production (which means there is no omniscient editor making multiple edits or an invisible orchestra providing music)?
Besides the use of two cameras (which really wasn’t necessary, but does offer up a view of multiple locations at the same time), everything happening in the story is actually going on in the story. So there are no weird cuts and no music to take one out of the movie.

Is there a valid reason the camera isn’t dropped and they just get the hell out of there?
In some instances the camera is simply laid down and accidentally left running. In others, the night vision helps them see with the lights out, which seems to happen on and off throughout the whole latter half of the movie. Other times, it seems the characters are simply running around so much that they forgot to shut off the camera. There are enough of these instances that make it all suspiciously convenient, but not so much so that it takes you out of the film. The action is pretty captivating in the latter portion of the film, so you most likely will forget about why they are filming. The line is also said to record everything because no one will believe this if it is not, so there’s that.

Is the lead in too long and the payoff too short?
No and that’s what really surprised me about this film. Pacing-wise, the film really does move at a nice clip. Just when you think the film is going to be a simple siege film in the cabin, they load up the dead creature onto the roof and change locales to a more populated area. Just when you think this is going to be a monster on the loose film, more werewolves and ghost people show up to kick it up to the next level. So while there is the usual fifteen minutes of gettin’ to know you time, you are quickly into the shit when dead animal bodies start showing up on the porch, giant animal tracks are in the lawn, and a werewolf has been shot.

Does anything actually happen?
The latter portion of this film actually feels reminiscent of the GRAVE ENCOUNTERS movies where the people are running through a large house and encountering one creepy thing after another in a funhouse style setup with creatures leaping from doorways and shadows. There is an extremely tense scene in the kitchen where one guy hides under a sink with the werewolf slowly approaching that is fantastically tense. Another scene where the group is upstairs arguing what to do with the body while another camera is capturing the supposedly dead werewolf coming back to life in the basement is also well done. The first appearance of the ghostly eyeless creatures is a pants-shittingly great jump scare. There are quite a few well orchestrated scenes such as this that really do amp up the tension.

Does the film add anything to the subgenre and is this one worth watching?
There’s nothing particularly revolutionary about WOLF HOUSE, but it does keep the illusion that this is a found footage film alive all the way through. The ending has an In memoriam section and a slide montage of the victims which was a nice touch. And I also liked the fact that the footage being found is also captured on film for an extra meta layer. The film while pretty much done on a low budget has some impressively realized monsters. The werewolves themselves are pretty fantastic practical effects with the monsters walking around on stilt legs and the face of the beastie shows a lot of detail and articulation. The fact that the film goes past where other films would have cut off was what impressed me the most. Most movies would have kept the film at one locale and one night with werewolves gathering around the home and never really being seen. This one is more ambitious than that and I fully appreciate the guts of the filmmakers to push it to the next level. WOLF HOUSE falters during the confession scenes and some of the acting is not the best, but the general storyline, cool practical effects, and sheer amount of effective scenes of shock and tension make it one found footager worth seeking out.




THE COUNTDOWN SO FAR…


#31 – THE DEMOLISHER
#30 – PLANK FACE
#29 – LAST GIRL STANDING
#28 – DEVIL IN THE DARK
#27 – HELL HOUSE LLC


Best of lists from previous years;
2015-16 #1 – THE VVITCH
2014-15 #1 – THE CANAL
2013-14 #1 – PROXY
2012-13 #1 – MANIAC
2012 #1 – THE WOMAN
2011 #1 – THE LAST CIRCUS

Happy Halloween!


Ambush Bug is Mark L. Miller, original @$$Hole/wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow Mark on the Twitters @Mark_L_Miller.

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