M.L. Miller here! As I go into my tenth year of reviewing horror films, I wanted to go back to the beginning and repost some of the films I loved. Moving on to Year Seven of my year-long Retro-Best in Horror I’m recapping the Countdown beginning officially on October 1, 2016 and going through September 30, 2017. I have posted Best of lists in the past, but a lot of those old reviews haven’t seen the light of day since they were first posted many moons ago. Being the OCD person that I am, I have also worked and reworked the list, looking back at my own choices and shifting them around, and even adding a few that I might have missed or looked over from the year in question. So, if you think you know how these lists are going to turn out, you don’t! Don’t forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web on your own personal social media. Chime in after the review and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or most importantly, come up with your own darn list…let’s go!
Released on November 1, 2016! Available On Demand, digital download, & DVD here from Terror Films! Also streaming on Tubi, Shudder, and the Kings of Horror Youtube Network!
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?
Sure. 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.
THE 2016-2017 COUNTDOWN!
M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.
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