As you may know, I recently watched Hell House LLC. After finishing it, despite my mixed feelings due in large part to the subgenre, I wanted to watch the new entries. I did incorrectly refer to the Hell House movies as a franchise when really it is a trilogy (as of now). So I sat down and gave the rest of the trilogy a go. I have decided to combine my thoughts on the second and third movies, as well as the trilogy as a whole into one piece.
Hell House II picks up a few years after the first. The remaining documentarian from the first movie has put together the footage they took as well as the footage they got from Sara and released it. The representatives from the town dislike this as they are still denying there is anything supernatural about the hotel, and don’t care for the buzz this has gotten. Since the release of the documentary, several people have broken into the hotel never to be heard from again. Mitchell (from the first movie) goes into the hotel with a group when they are all promised answers to the questions they seek. What you expect happens, with a few twists.
Hell House III is yet again a few years later; only this time, it follows Russell Wynn, who is using the hotel as a stage for a play about heaven vs. hell. We follow Vanessa as she is filming the lead-up and opening night of the play, and we get a lot more footage from the past movies. Once again, what we expect happens, and then out of left field, everything changes.
I’d like to talk about my reaction to the movies themselves before getting into my reaction to the story developed overall, only because there will be spoilers so you can skip the end and get an idea. I will mention the story and then warn before real spoilers begin.
Unsurprising, given my mixed feelings about the first movie, I am not super in love with the follow-ups. Neither of them are nearly as scary as the first. The first movie I had been gripped because fairly early on, things moved quickly and had hard punches. It set a high level of tension that was effective. The problem is the follow-ups attempt to replicate this, and it just doesn’t have as big of an impact. Part of the problem lies in the fact that I watched all three reasonably close together, which was a mistake that I do not recommend. By the time I was done with the 3rd movie, I had gotten used to the scares commonly used across all three, so things just weren’t landing for me. Even if I had taken a break, I don’t know to what extent it would have helped, however. II and III simply are not as scary, and the fear factor is the primary thing that the first movie had going for it.
There is also the issue of the implied horror of the first being more effective than what we get in the later movies. The first was aware of its budget limitations and worked within that well. A lot of the gore and detail is off-screen, and this works well. We fill in with our imaginations what is happening and avoid good scares being undercut by bad effects. Two largely sticks with this formula, but with a few exceptions that look iffy. Three goes full force, and it doesn’t work out for the movie, in my opinion. Because everything is bigger and we are shown more detail, there is a lot more to be disappointed by, and I kind of was. I hate to say that because I don’t want to disparage anybody’s hard work, but I think the movie could have used a little less in the climax, and then it would have had a stronger impact.
The characters are slightly more sympathetic in the follow-up movies, although they still aren’t as developed as I would have liked across all three movies. All three movies are short, and I think in the process of editing and streamlining, one of the things cut too much was character development. That is not to say it is completely absent, only that there could be more.
Also, II and III completely abandon the limited detail we get from the first and go full tilt into solving the mystery of the hotel. This, I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, I do like an unfolding mystery, and I did like a few blanks being filled in. On the other, much like with the horror you see vs. what you don’t, I think the first having such an air of mystery about it worked in its favor.
Hell House did mention that the owner of the hotel, Tully, was suspected of being involved in disappearances that happened at the hotel. Details are purposely limited, but there are rumors that Tully was involved in the occult and that the hotel was a base of operations, having picked the location because of its potential connection to Hell.
Hell House II confirms this. That Tully modeled the strange hotel somewhat after HH Holmes and that he was correct that the hotel had a way into hell. He used the hotel to kill people, and is now haunting it and using the mythology of the hotel to keep bringing people in to sacrifice them. He allows one person “to leave” to keep people curious and coming back.
Hell House III is actually about heaven vs. hell. Russell has picked this place with the express purpose of the horror unleashing again only to undo it, which he does to an extent.
This is not the worst plotline from a horror trilogy ever. The ending is a bit odd and might strike people as out of nowhere, but overall it works pretty well. You are given enough detail in each movie to keep the mystery flowing from I to III. Some people did not like the relatively happy ending of the third movie (and thus the series), but I disagree. I like it when horror movies can have a happy ending without ruining the entire film. It is hard to do because a bleak ending serves the genre better almost every time. The few times a “happy” ending can happen, I will enjoy it if for the novelty alone.
The problem is not the ending; the problem is the development of the story overall. Again it’s not a bad trilogy. I am a little “eh” on the story, but it’s not a bad one, and it was interesting to watch it unfold. The question remains if it was really needed, however.
The first movie is scarier, and the mystery of the story makes it more compelling. So while the follow-ups are not terrible, they are noticeably worse than the first and kind of felt unnecessary. Combined, we have an entertaining but slightly flat trilogy. Alone we have one stand out movie that maybe leaves us with a lot of questions, but it works with the feel of the movie overall.
I personally think it should have stopped at number one, but I do see the value in the direction they went and the possible need of the people behind it to complete a story.
So bottom line? Well, the first movie is still the one I would recommend the most. It was not perfect, but it did the job of being scary, and I enjoyed it. II and III are not bad follow-ups but weaker. I will say that if you watch II, then you should push through and watch III. II is scarier than III, but III has a better plotline overall, especially with the closure that it gives. It is an interesting trilogy that I think most genre fans can get some enjoyment out of, but it will not be making a top list for me anytime soon. I will stand by the opinion that it should have been one strong indie horror film, but it seems a lot of fans really did like the full picture that came with the follow-ups, and I cannot fault that opinion. Give them a go sometime and see what you think.