It’s probably unfair to judge an entire trilogy solely on the second entry’s third act, but to me, The Abaddon Hotel took the Hell House LLC series in such an ill-advised direction, it was hard not to. Usually I’m all for overarching lore, but the
this is what it all was really about from the beginning construct the second film went out on, cheapened the previous five acts more than they deserved. Likewise, it served as a foreboding sign of where the Hell House LLC franchise would go next.
Now we have the final entry, the Shudder exclusive Hell House LLC: Lake of Fire1. For those who approach the movie with hesitation, I will say this: I’m surprised writer/director Stephen Cognetti managed to course correct the plot back to what made the original work, while still holding on to the lore from the second film. Lake of Fire doesn’t live up to the weird mystery of the trilogy’s eponymous first entry, but it does make the mythos a whole lot more tolerable.
Set nine years after the original events, Lake of Fire follows a television crew covering tech tycoon Russell Wynn’s modern take on Faust at the Abaddon Hotel. The location, as viewers of the previous duology may recall, serves as the gates to hell, which, other than thematically suiting Faust, generally seems like an unfortunate location for literally anything else.
Like its predecessors, Lake of Fire has all its found-footage tropes out in force, albeit to a serviceable effect: Out of focus apparitions, mannequins changing positions within the blink of an eye, a creepy melody appearing from a piano. You’ve seen it all in many movies before, but Lake of Fire utilizes the techniques well. There’s a timing required to make these clichés seem creepy, and Cognetti must have spent a good amount of time in the editing room puzzling the pieces together just so.
The storyline paces fairly well, even though it has gotten formulaic by now. A first-person perspective of a play in a haunted house — or above the gates of hell as it is — faithfully follows the previous movies a bit too closely. While the scares are well-implemented, the gee-whiz surprise factor is less striking this time around, though understandably so. Mess too much with the formula, and it no longer is a Hell House LLC movie, leaving you with a damned if you do, damned if you don’t dilemma.
Then there’s the lore, which seemed shoehorned into The Abaddon Hotel without much grounding. In Lake of Fire, the mythos is tied to Russell’s backstory, and exactly how the two intersect is the core mystery of the movie. Why did Russell decide to place the play in Abaddon? What are his connections with a local priest? What is the significance of his car accident ten years back?
In general, I don’t think the lore ever was solid enough to base a whole franchise on, particularly since portal to hell movies are a dime a dozen. (Check out Fulci’s Gates of Hell trilogy for some more imaginative takes.) The aforementioned course correction still leaves us with a climax that has more ambition than the movie had a budget. I respect the ending, but the failed attempt of grandiosity sends the final moments out with a thump.
Much better are the end credit sequences, which, instead of being bonus filler, is the unexpected glue that binds the trilogy together. I found the sum of them a whole lot more satisfying than the
Lake of Fire is a recommended watch for fans of the franchise — all of whom will already have watched it by now, I’m sure — and the Hell House LLC trilogy is overall worth checking out for those who can stomach the overused found-footage sub-genre.
1 I’m fairly sure there is no lake whatsoever in the movie, other than a quick allusion that seems to have been tossed in after the title was decided on.