For whom is the funhouse fun? – John Barth
Hell House is back! The clown is back! The portal to hell is open again! Everyone is back! Because they can never leave. HELL HOUSE LLC III: LAKE OF FIRE is taking reservations and the Snake God is waiting! EST APERTA PORTA.
Hell House is a story told in three parts about a hotel with a portal to hell. The door to hell is opened in the first film, when producer, Alex, rents the Abaddon Hotel to stage the Hell House haunted attraction. But something goes wrong and 15 people end up dying in the hotel. The sequel explores what happened when Morning Mysteries, an underground blog, investigates. But everyone in the sequel ends up dead again in the bowels of the hotel. And the villain gloats about it in a glorious monologue about snake-gods and how much fun they’re all having in the Lake of Fire.
The third part of the trilogy, HELL HOUSE LLC III: LAKE OF FIRE returns to the story and investigates what happened in the first two films: What is going on with the Abaddon Hotel and why does everyone associated end up dying? Why is everyone hanging themselves or cutting their throat or being murdered in the dining room by ghosts in black robes? WHAT ARE THOSE THINGS ANYWAY? Brain-dead cult members tired of partying in the Lake of Fire? Again, please tell me what is happening in that Lake of Fire, I NEED TO KNOW. But I might never know because that’s the nature of the supernatural.
The third part of the Hell House LLC trilogy is entertaining and thoughtful, it explores closure. It introduces a new group of characters, the cast and crew of Insomnia and Russell Wynn (Gabriel Chytry), a millionaire with a striking scar across his face, who rents the cursed hotel to stage the horror show Insomnia, similar to the goal of the Hell House crew in the first film.
But something is off with Russell, who looks like he owns Whole Foods. He has a history; Russell died for two minutes in a car accident that left him ‘different’ than he was before. But that might not be a bad thing. He returned with a purpose, it seems. As an atheist, I find it hard to believe that he’s been to Heaven, but I buy into the idea that being clinically dead —for two minutes — affected his brain to such a degree, that he might feel compelled to ‘do good’ with his second life.
The first thing he does with his second life is buy the condemned Abaddon Hotel and bring Insomnia, a New York haunted show to the hotel. He designs a room in all white with ghostly mannequins…to what purpose? We aren’t sure. The cast of Insomnia are a typical group of actors; they don’t follow the rules that Russell has set up — specifically: no one is allowed in the building at night.
Jane (Bridgid Abrams) sneaks into the house on a dare and climbs down into the basement. There’s a trio of leftover props in the hotel though the interior was rebuilt for the staging of the play — they didn’t get rid of the three clowns in the murder basement. THOSE WOULD BE THE FIRST THINGS I’D THROW AWAY. Seriously, those hulking things are terrifying. It’s Satan’s basement and there’s a door to hell open and you’re going to just leave three clowns dolls to hang out in that noise? WHY?
The actress, who doesn’t believe in the paranormal, makes a mistake in the basement when she kisses one of the clowns. Because it’s found footage, she films every second on her cell…and it’s spooky. No, dear God, no. That’s a lesson learned: NEVER KISS A CLOWN. A comedian, yes. A magician, maybe. But never a clown.
What’s up with that beefy clown in the basement anyway? Why is he so passive aggressively menacing? What is it about clowns? Why are they so scary? Is it the fact that they are always smiling? Because it’s a fake smile, painted on. Is it that it is a contrary thing…a character that is supposed to be good…is actually bad? Like a guy with a white hat in a Western suddenly committing an atrocity? Is that what makes it worse? The unexpectedness of evil? The BANALITY OF EVIL!!!! But that’s the thing with clowns, they’re not banal. They’re showy, they’re flamboyant, they’re the showgirls of villains. They dress up…to scare the shit out of you.
Watching HELL HOUSE LLC III: LAKE OF FIRE for the third time, I wondered why the husky clown was still terrifying. I mean, it’s the same clown that scared us in Hell House LLC and the sequel. So, I know what’s coming. I know the scare, I know the joke: I KNOW THAT THE CLOWN IS GOING TO MOVE ITS HEAD. And yet, it scared me. Why? I don’t know… the clown seems to be grinning…as if it knows something. It knows something that we don’t. It can read our minds, maybe. Like Pennywise and the clown doll in Poltergeist, and sentient objects in supernatural films: It knows what scares us and it doesn’t give a fuck.
One thing I’ve noticed about the Hell House LLC trilogy is that it avoids a standard horror cliche, in that: no one has sex in the three films. In the first one, we did see a quick shot of Alex and Sara in bed, but they weren’t having sex, they were just hanging out. I’ve made the joke before that your horror film is boring if it doesn’t have any fucking in it. But I was wrong. Hell House is chaste and I loved it. And there’s no fucking. No nudity. Just a creepy story about a weird hotel. It doesn’t need any fucking. Fucking is for slashers, not for a spooky story about a haunted hotel.
Which leads me to ask: What happens to a portal without passengers? Is a door a door if no one enters? The point of a door is that something must pass: Does a door sit and wait? Or does a door shut itself…out of boredom? Or does it look…to feed? In Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel, the snake demon was capable of sending dead people into the living world to hunt for new souls. In III, it looks as if the gateway has…opposition.
We don’t get to see the inside of the portal truly or the Lake of Fire, but the villain of the trilogy reappears and it’s as wonderful as it was in the second film. I know that some people felt that it was a mistake in the sequel for the villain to talk too much, but I enjoyed it. It’s only a mistake for the villain to reveal intention, if the villain sucks and the dialogue is bad — that’s why we think it’s a mistake. But if the villain spouts out a bunch of weird lyrical poetry about the snake-gods and the bowels of a lake-fire…then it’s okay, it’s more than okay, IT’S INCREDIBLE.
HELL HOUSE LLC III: LAKE OF FIRE is the final third film in the Hell House universe and it closes with a satisfying and lingering slam. Written and directed by Stephen Cognetti, it’s a real treat, if you like haunted hotel stories like The Beyond or The Innkeepers; though it’s not as gruesome as The Beyond or as light as the The Innkeepers. LAKE OF FIRE feels like a ghost story that a friend’s Mom might tell at a holiday party late at night. In many ways, a ghost story told by your friend’s mom (who works at Winn Dixie with you) is more haunting than a big-budget horror film, because of the simplicity and earnestness of the story.
The first two films of the Hell House trilogy is streaming on Shudder, AMC’s horror app that is worth its weight in fake blood. HELL HOUSE LLC III: LAKE OF FIRE will debut on Shudder on Sept 19 — don’t miss it. Horror fans new to Shudder can create an account on www.shudder.com for a 7-day free trial, but you’ll probably end up keeping it for the Halloween season and beyond.