Four years ago, found-footage horror movie Hell House LLC quietly impressed genre fans. After a few repeat viewings, my opinion of Stephen Cognetti’s haunted attraction chiller has only improved. All the scares hold up. Last year, Cognetti partnered with horror streaming service, Shudder, for sequel, Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel. Though the surprise follow-up was serviceable, the law of diminishing returns was evident. Now Cognetti and Shudder have re-opened the Abaddon for another sequel, Hell House LLC III: Lake of Fire.
A decade after the Hell House tragedy, billionaire showman Russell Wynn buys the Abaddon Hotel. Despite its torrid history, Wynn plans to re-open the Abaddon for his interactive theatre show, Insomnia. To document the behind-the-scenes of the show, Wynn invites journalist Vanessa Shepherd and her cameraman. But as Shepherd digs deeper into the Abaddon’s history and Wynn himself, she discovers disturbing connections. As opening night approaches, Shepherd fears ‘Hell House’s’ nightmare will repeat itself.
Lake of Fire Recycles Hell House Scares With Less Payoff
While Cognetti attempts closure with his third Hell House LLC movie, the scares are mostly recycled bits. In fact, Lake of Fire feels surprisingly lazy compared to the first sequel. Yes, the clowns are back. And they’re still creepy. But we’ve seen the set-ups and pay-off’s in the other movies. This doesn’t mean that some of the scares don’t still sufficiently chill. But there’s definitely diminishing returns as a result of the familiarity. In fact, Lake of Fire includes a lot of footage from the earlier movies. This ‘old’ footage ultimately just serves as a reminder as to how much better the first movie was compared to this sequel.
But there’s definitely diminishing returns as a result of the familiarity.
In addition to feeling recycled, Lake of Fire looks and feels ‘cheaper’ than its predecessors. Obviously, the found-footage format appeals to filmmakers because of its cheap production values. Yet Lake of Fire can’t help but look cheaper and a little rushed. No where is this more apparent than the movie’s finale. Whereas Cognetti left much to the imagination in Hell House LLC, he seems to give in to the sequel rule of ‘bigger is better’. Everything is bigger with Lake of Fire’s climax, but not really better. It’s bloodier and there’s more mayhem, but the budget is clearly lacking to pull it off convincingly.
Cognetti Brings His Story Full Circle, But It Feels Unnecessary
Cognetti – once again pulling double-duty as writer and director – does try to invest his sequel with a raison d’être. If The Abaddon Hotel suffered from too much expository dialogue, Lake of Fire drowns in it. Arguably, The Abaddon and its prior owner, Andrew Tully, make for a suitably unnerving backstory. But it’s a backstory that worked in Hell House LLC precisely because Cognetti didn’t tell us too much. That is, the first movie left much to the imagination. In contrast, Lake of Fire falls victim to the urge of sequels to expand on the story. The result is some silly ret-conning of billionaire Russell Wynn’s connection to the Abaddon. And the less said about the clunky final moments over the closing credits, the better.
Lake of Fire Burned by Clunky Dialogue and Wooden Performances
In addition to being genuinely scary, Hell House LLC boasted some good performances for a low budget horror movie. None of the performances in Lake of Fire are bad. Still there’s wooden delivery from some of the cast. In particular, Gabriel Chytry seems ill-suited to play such a pivotal character as Wynn. Though other cast fare a little better, Cognetti’s screenplay is riddled with some admittedly clunky dialogue. Unlike the first movie, very little comes across as natural in Lake of Fire. Much like the sequel’s existence, dialogue and character motivations feel very much forced this time around.
Hell House Should Stay Closed
While Hell House LLC: Lake of Fire isn’t a bad movie, it definitely underwhelms. Even when compared to sequel, The Abaddon Hotel, Lake of Fire feels like a steep decline. The Paranormal Activity series sustained its quality for at least the first three movies, Hell House LLC seemed to be out of ideas for this entry. Diehard fans who really enjoyed the first sequel may still find something to enjoy. But Lake of Fire is a bland sequel that strongly suggests The Abaddon Hotel should stay closed.