What’s scarier than a Halloween haunted house? A haunted house that’s haunted for real, and whose props come to life. That’s the premise of writer/director Stephen Cognetti’s Hell House LLC, a low-budget, found footage masterpiece that has spawned a full-on franchise.
Shot in documentary style, the story of the search for answers as to what happened on a tragic and unexplainable October night in the spirit-filled Abbadon Hotel excelled in terrifying audiences with its clown-based jump scares and doom-laden, labyrinth-like setting.
The 2015 original spawned two sequels—Hell House LLC II: The Abaddon Hotel (2018) and Hell House LLC III: Lake of Fire (2019)—as well as a brand-new spinoff, Hell House LLC Origins: The Carmichael Manor, which is currently streaming on Shudder. In the spirit of spooky season, read all about the original trilogy below. But note: Spoilers ahead!
1. Stephen Cognetti drew inspiration from Lake Mungo.
Joel Anderson’s Lake Mungo (2008) flew under the radar when it was initially released. But Cognetti has cited the eerie, faux-documentary from Australia—about a grieving family attempting to come to terms with their daughter’s drowning and subsequent haunting of the family home—as a major as inspiration on the Hell House LLC trilogy.
“I learned a new style of found footage through Lake Mungo, which was showing scares through the documentary style,” Cognetti told the Let the Right Films In podcast. “Found footage is supposed to make the scares feel more real and when you do it through a documentary style like Lake Mungo did it just takes that feeling to a whole new level, because it makes you feel like you’re watching an episode of 60 Minutes.”
2. The Hell House LLC trilogy was conceived as a single movie.
Cognetti’s ambitions for Hell House LLC were high—some might say a little too high, in part due to some questionable VFX employed throughout the films, which don’t do justice to the storyteller’s grand vision. Fortunately, the backstory Cognetti created regarding the Abbadon’s owner, Andrew Tully—a “latter-day Dante” who sought to create a gateway to hell on the hotel’s premises—provided plenty of material for the sequels.
“I lost a lot of the bigger story I wanted to tell in the first film,” Cognetti told Geeks of Doom in 2019. “Parts II and III wrote very easily for me because I knew where I was going with them the whole time.”
3. There is an “official“ scariest scene.
Wheresthejump.com ranks crew member Paul’s (Gore Abrams) final encounter with an unwelcome bedroom visitor as the original movie’s most frightening scene.
We’ve already seen weird specters pop up in Paul’s room during his end-of-day round-ups. But when the cameraman wakes up in the middle of the night to discover a pale-eyed ghost slumped in his room, he does what anyone in that situation would do: hides under the covers.
This old trick somehow doesn’t work this time, and when he eventually peeks the camera out, he finds the girl moving closer and closer ... until one final jump scares sees his sanity truly unravel. Original and effective, the scene manages to be simultaneously funny and terrifying.
4. Viewers find the first and second movies equally scary.
Somewhat surprisingly, Where’s the Jump? has both the first movie and its original sequel,The Abaddon Hotel, equal in terms of its scariness (2.5 out of five)—though the latter has more jump scares flagged (10 to the original’s six). In this case though, quality clearly trumps quantity: Stick to the first movie if you truly want to experience the goosebump factor.
5. The scariest ghosts are the ones hiding in plain sight.
The opening scene of Hell House LLC includes a clip of “leaked“ YouTube footage, taken from a haunted house goer’s phone, from inside the Abbadon Hotel on October 9, 2009. Audiences have not yet been introduced to the movie’s main cast members, which may be why the sweary, slurring bartender and that guy with the massive axe go completely unremarked upon.
It's only when viewers rewatch the footage after the movie’s end that they realize the full significance of these hidden scares. Doesn’t that bartender have pale-white eyes, just like many of the Abaddon Hotel’s many permanent guests? These are crew members who aren’t on the payroll—or even alive. This hidden-in-plain-sight theme continues throughout the saga, so searching for ghosts in the background makes for a fun game with repeated viewings.
6. You can visit the Abbadon Hotel in real life.
Though the fictional Abbadon Hotel is located in upstate New York, the movies were shot inside a real haunted house attraction: The Waldorf Estate of Fear in Lehighton, Pennsylvania, which has its own (very real) tragic backstory. The former hotel, which is located about two hours west of New York City, is open to the public for several nights around Halloween. Several of its themed events in 2023 have links to the Hell House LLC trilogy, including Hell House PARACON, which drew together speakers from the horror and paranormal industries—including writer/director Cognetti.
7. The trilogy’s producer has made more than one ill-fated cameo.
Hell House LLC producer Joe Bandelli gets acting credits across the series due to his portrayal of the possessed clown mannequin. However, he also gets his two of his own behind-the-camera death scenes.
He’s uncredited as Jonathan, the doomed documentary cameraman who makes the unfortunate mistake of following his colleague into the hotel in the first movie’s conclusion. He’s then demon food in the sequel as Brock’s cameraman Malcolm, who also meets his unfortunate end within the walls of the Abaddon.
8. The eye-popping content is for real.
Approximately 40 minutes into the first film, Joey—one of the newly hired haunted house actors—shows off a trick where he pops his eyeball out of its socket. There’s no trickery involved. Joey is played by Phil Hess, a real-life actor at the Waldorf Estate who really can pull off the gruesome talent.
9. The trilogy is now a quadrilogy.
Hell House LLC III: The Lake of Fire wrapped up the tale of the first three films nicely, which explains why Hell House LLC Origins: The Carmichael Manor features a change of scenery. The official summary reads as follows: “Internet sleuths travel to Carmichael Manor in Rockland County, New York—site of the 1989 Carmichael family murders. They find a terror that’s lurked in the shadows long before Hell House LLC.“ The movie, which is again written and directed by Cognetti, is currently streaming on Shudder.