Hell House LLC (2009)
Review by Annie Riordan
Starring: Three guys who look so much alike that I keep forgetting which one is which, one guy who looks vaguely like a scummy seventies cokeheaded porn star, a bony girl who looks like she hasn’t eaten anything but lettuce for the last ten years, a standard issue ambitious girl reporter who will do anything to get the Real Story, and an assload of rotting clown dolls.
Synopsis: Never name your rural town after a demon. And if you do, don’t fucking open a Halloween haunted house attraction there. And if you go ahead and do both anyway, don’t have the nerve to look surprised when spooky shit starts killing people.
Five twentysomething friends – ranging from “I could have a better conversation with a rabbit fart” to “I wish someone would shove your face into a deep fryer” on the unlikeable scale – decide to open a Halloween Haunted House attraction in the remote town of Abaddon. Now, depending on your source material, Abaddon is either a demon of locusts, a bottomless pit in Hell, a pretty good album by Pinback or a phenomenal drummer for early black metal band Venom. Sadly, this film has nothing to do with any of those things. Neither the name of the town or the abandoned hotel they’ve rented for their attraction is ever explored, addressed or questioned at any point by anyone in this film. So, unless you’re familiar with demonology, you won’t get the “joke.”
These five – whose names I forget, but whom I like to think of as Bland, Blander, Blandest, Drab Girl, and the asshole – have been doing this for years and have their routine down pat: lights, props, etc. Making use of the abandoned hotel’s furniture and general decrepitude, they move in and go to work, squabbling, and filming all the while.
Told in flashback via the found footage technique, we already know that something terrible happened on Opening Night, resulting in the deaths of fifteen people. Only the drab, paper-thin girlfriend has made it out alive and agrees to sit down with the investigative reporter chick and tell them what happened, which she does so in the most listless, monotone way possible. Obviously she’s still in shock and all that, but she’s so listless and monotone throughout the entire movie, I was considering donating a case of 5 Hour Energy shots and some Vivarin to her cause. She has enough presence of mind to bring along her pillowcase full of videotapes though, made during the weeks prior to the grand opening. Most of the filming was done by Paul (I remembered his name!), the scummy porno-mustached asshole I mentioned earlier, and features a lot of shots of him screwing around, being dickish and filming himself lying in bed naked at night, mumbling about his loser life. Gross.
Eventually, we get to see other stuff too. Like, tall, dark hooded apparitions lurking in corners. Life-sized clown dummies that get up and move about on their own. Dirty, creepy girls with possessy-white eyes. Our cast begins to notice these things too and become convinced that something is wrong in the Hotel Abaddon. Their leader – one of the Blands, and Drab Girl’s life partner – refuses to accept that anything is going on and continues as scheduled, determined to line his pockets with dollah dollah bills, ya’ll.
We never really see what exactly happens on Opening Night. The handheld shaky cam, the strobing lights, and shitty quality of the “tapes” make it easier for the filmmakers to disguise their low budget. And as much as I’m making fun of this film, it really isn’t all that bad. I’m rather a big fan of haunted house attractions. I’ve been in a few really good ones and a lot of really shitty ones. One of the better ones boasted a rubbery floor and a slaughterhouse collection of dangling limbs in one room, and a theater filled with Ghostface Killers (the slasher film villain, not the rapper) and a strobe light in another. One of the shittier ones was in a recently liquidated drugstore and was terribly lame, but there was a hot werewolf working one room and I paid twice to go through and got his phone number on the second pass.
But regardless of the quality, I think all of us, at one point or another, has asked themselves: “What if the attraction turned real? How would you know?” Everyone there is either getting paid to be scary or paying to be scared. There’s no one yelling “Cut!” You can’t just stop halfway through and go back the way you came. As far as plots go, this is one of the easiest ones to grab off of the DIY pile. But like a real haunted house ride, it’s what you put into it that makes it work or not.
Plenty works here, as the filmmakers seem to understand the whole “less is more” approach. We have a couple of ghastly looking zombie clowns who stand in doorways where they’re not supposed to be, and only move when you look away. Figures appear and disappear within the stutter of a strobe light. I could have done with a bit more clarity though. Just a tad, really. Was the basement a bottomless pit of sorts? Is it like the whole Seven Doorways thing in Fulci’s The Beyond? Are those ghosts, or demons or zombies or a little of each? Dialogue’s a little clunky here and there, nobody was truly likable, sometimes too much talky time goes by with not enough creepy shit happening. And yeah, I saw the twist ending coming and wasn’t at all surprised. But hey, I’ve wasted more time in actual haunted house rides that were far worse than this.
Still, would it have killed them to hire a hot werewolf?