While it is long overdue for the “found footage” style of horror to bury itself beneath the earth, there are a few filmmakers who seem to be able to get some good frights out of the genre. Oren Peli certainly opened up a profitable can or scares with “Paranormal Activity” and in 2015 writer/director Stephen Cognetti began his own low budget cult franchise with “Hell House LLC”, an inventive found footage creeper about demons from hell wreaking havoc in a public haunted house. Two pretty good sequels (“Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel” and “Hell House LLC III: Lake of Fire”) followed. Now comes the inevitable prequel, titled “Hell House LLC Origins: The Carmichael Manor“.
A group of “haunted house investigators” stay at Carmichael Manor, where, in the 1980s, two members of the Carmichaels were viciously murdered. The case remains unsolved. The team of three will stay five days, hoping to get to the truth about the Carmichael family and their untimely deaths. Determined investigator Margot (Bridget Rose Perrotta) brings along her girlfriend Rebecca (Destiny Brown) and her brother Chase (James Liddell) to help get to the secrets behind the cursed Carmichael Manor.
As the hotel comes “alive”, the three investigators encounter red balls rolling down the hall, ghostly faces peeking around corners, ghostly singing, eerie visions, and clowns; unnerving and terrifying clowns. Far creepier than the recent incarnation of Pennywise, the clowns in Cognetti’s films are used to nightmare-inducing effect, as they are the most unnerving moments in the entire “Hell House LLC” film series. As this is an origin story (of sorts), fans will learn of how those clowns came to be.
Sometimes veering dangerously close to aping the structure of “The Blair Witch Project” (video interviews and confessions, frustrated infighting, disorienting horrors in the woods), Cognetti manages to achieve real chills out of many moments. The director gets creative, doing the impossible for a fourth entry in a series, making this one as effective as the first film. While the picture balances the prequel/sequel label, Cognetti proves the “Hell House” ground is still fertile.
The director and his cameraman Josh Layton have fun with the found footage style and use it to full effect. The team knows how to use the corners of their frame, making sure there is always something to see lurking in the background of many scenes. The visuals assure an unrelenting and inescapable feeling of pure dread and impending death. From the opening moment, the filmmakers refuse to give their audience a moment’s relief.
Though working in this particularly played out subgenre of horror, Cognetti shows an old school respect for the craft. He understands the proper design of each scene, keeping up the film’s momentum from one fright to the next. This is a filmmaker who wants to earn his scares and does so with skill and precision.
The fact that “Hell House LLC Origins: The Carmichael Manor” works so well is a testament to the talents of director Stephen Cognetti. Four films in, this series shows no signs of losing its terrifying spark. Smart, inventive, and unrelentingly creepy, this is one hair-raising chiller.
The film will premiere on Shudder October 30, 2023.
Hell House LLC Origins: The Carmichael Manor
Written & Directed by Stephen Cognetti
Starring Bridget Rose Perrotta, Destiny Brown, James Liddell
NR, 98 Minutes, Shudder/Cognetti Films