This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labour of the actors currently on strike, the movie/series/feature being covered here wouldn't exist.
BY BECCA JOHNSON OCTOBER 27, 2023
Hell House LLC (2015) is one of the most well-loved found footage movies amongst horror fans, yet is still somehow underwatched by the masses. It utilises it's medium well, has creepy scares centering on terrifying clowns and a very spooky, chilling atmosphere. Unfortunately, the two further instalments The Abaddon Hotel and Lake of Fire do not quite live up to the original. There was minimal fear factor, the acting was largely abysmal and the expansion on the story became more convoluted than cool. However, Cognetti's new outing manages to rectify the franchise and bring back exactly what fans loved. Competently acted, surprisingly well shot and effective in it's scares, Hell House LLC Origins is exactly the boost the franchise needed as it goes back to its roots.
A group of cold case investigators stay at the Carmichael Manor, site of the grisly and unsolved murders of the Carmichael family back in the eighties. After four nights, the group was never heard from again. What is discovered on their footage is even more disturbing than anything found on the Hell House tapes.
Found footage is definitely nothing new, especially to seasoned horror fans, but director Stephen Cognetti and cinematographer Josh Layton manage to make that style of filming feel worthwhile and original. It's incredibly well shot, making the manor setting feel claustrophobic and isolated, and the corridors, nooks and crannies feel eerie. At times it is familiar, but the team have a few tricks up their sleeves to add something a little extra. Once the scares kick in fully during the latter half, there's a really clever scene set during a Zoom call that feels very different and incredibly scary, unlike anything we've seen before, especially in this franchise. The scares are fairly similar to that of the original, but it's hard to complain when they work so well.
The weakest element of the previous two Hell House movies is the performances, but here the acting is the best the franchise has seen. Bridget Rose Perrotta is fantastic as lead Margot, a sleuth whose passion for solving cases is displayed well. She has a curiosity that doesn't falter, even when things become scary and dangerous. Playing her girlfriend Rebecca is Destiny Leilani Brown, who is pulled along for the ride with Margot. Have you ever watched a horror film and wondered why the characters aren't freaking out more? Brown's performance of Rebecca is incredibly natural, realistic and her terror feels very genuine. Her screams are almost as fear inducing as the actual horror imagery, and she definitely ups the anti. Also giving a great performance is James Liddell, who play's Margot's brother Chase, an individual fighting inner demons as well as outer ones.
Hell House LLC Origins is one of the longer movies of the franchise, but the plot is incredibly engaging. Told during present day, with flashbacks to the Carmichael's story through old tapes that Margot and Rebecca discover, it manages to balance exciting and terrifying horror with intriguing backstory. The backstory given in the prior two movies convolutes the plot rather than progresses it, but what Origins tells us feels worthwhile. We find out more about the clowns and why they're such a huge part of the story, we discover where the haunting piano tune used in all films come from and much, much more. It might answer questions that we weren't actually asking, but knowing the answers is fun. The flashbacks are just as interesting as the main plot, creating an engaging and consistent watch.
Hell House LLC Origins: The Carmichael Manor is far from perfect. The audio mixing during the flashback scenes is absolutely terrible and really hard to listen to – the footage is of course meant to be old and therefore of a lower quality, but shouldn't hurt our ears. It also treads familiar ground, often dishing out techniques that we've seen before, inside and outside the franchise. However, it is genuinely scary, has great performances, excellent cinematography and reinvigorates the franchise. It's worth watching this Halloween, and will likely put Cognetti's series of films back on the map.