In found footage horror films, homes and hotels are often seen as places that must be cleansed. People with video cameras storm into confined spaces – the Abaddon Hotel, the Collingwood Psychiatric Hospital – looking for explanations and solutions for demonic entities seen as parasitic monsters. The first-person perspective of found footage places the cameraperson in the position of “the good guy” unless otherwise stated; they are fighting against the evil of the location.
But what happens if the humans are regarded as the parasites, particularly those that invade building ruins as sites of spectacle and personal gain? What if they are like the termites that gnaw on wooden frames and the bed bugs that find homes in mattresses, infiltrating a space that is not their own to feed their greed?
Such a case can be made for the Abaddon Hotel in Stephen Cognetti‘s Hell House LLC, the first film in the found footage trilogy. The hotel resides in the eerily named Abaddon, New York, a small town in the middle of nowhere. Its former owner Andrew Tully was said to have been a cult leader who committed suicide after several guests mysteriously disappeared. A house or building becomes an amalgamation of personalities, all blending into one. This is not just a hotel but a site of converging memories and emotions. It is a body built from stone and iron that contains pain. These places, while often home to one significant event, become more than murderous owners. While Tully is discussed in tandem with the site, the hotel becomes a looming figure that contained and allowed for horrific murders.
Capitalizing on the hotel’s storied past, the Halloween haunt company Hell House arrives decades after the tragic events to make the deserted hotel into their next hit. But little do they know that they have wandered into the proverbial belly of the beast and are playing with its clown-shaped guts. They are invading the space, setting up their own eyes via security cameras, nestling into dusty nooks and crannies, and pushing aside old furniture into new, more terrifying formations. They are working to change the hotel’s interior into something more aesthetically scary, a new layout that will benefit their business.
One of the most emblematic scenes occurs when the documentary crew visits the hotel’s basement, the future massacre site. As they descend the stairs in the dark, windowless room, everyone is practically vibrating with excitement as they picture the scene that will unfold here. Alex (Danny Bellini), the CEO, excitedly points to where they will place props and actors to deliver the biggest scare of the evening. Old shoes and tattered Bibles discovered on the basement floor are described as “free props” rather than pieces of the hotel’s history. Everything the camera captures is a new money-making opportunity, a part of the hotel that a desperate man and his company can co-opt.
Awakened by these invaders, horrifying clowns and ghostly beings act as horrific white blood cells that attack the human infection seeping through the hotel. The clowns that walk around of their own accord at night try to lure the crew into the basement, the place where the hotel can digest their flesh into something unholy. Just as the humans capitalize on the hotel’s history, it capitalizes on their fear and curiosity. Then come the direct attacks on crew members, such as cameraman Paul (Gore Abrams), which transform humans into more white blood cells to protect and serve the hotel. The parasites are no longer parasites as the host assimilates them into the host’s body. Paul is no longer human but a husk that has been imbued with a new purpose: to serve the hotel.
This infection culminates on opening night when haunted house visitors swarm the hotel for an experience of Halloween frights. But here, as the number of people builds and builds, the hotel finally reveals its true intentions as it subsequently devours those that have wandered into its open jaws.
The “abandoned” Abaddon Hotel is not wasting away. The hotel reveals itself to be like an anglerfish, using its ruined exterior as bait for the mortal creatures it will subsequently devour. The tiny parasites themselves are unknowingly consumed by their host, who lured them in whispers of fame and fortune. The haunted house crew and the visitors entered the hotel of their own volition, thinking of themselves as opportunistic feeders rather than the next meal of souls, acutely misreading this perverse food chain.
These parasitic invasions of decrepit spaces speak to a larger trend in found footage centered around gentrification and profiting off the past for future gains. While the Abaddon Hotel is in a small town in New York State, the Hell House crew are traveling there from the city in an attempt to “strike gold.” Their business has run dry in the town. Now they are reaching out into rural areas to create their new venture, believing they are capitalizing on legends to line their pockets. Such scenarios are also seen in Gonjiam: Haunted Asylum, Grave Encounters, and Night Shot. Characters are trying to feed on the hotel’s innards, but there is still something lurking inside these behemoths, something acutely aware of the parasites it will soon consume.
Haunted houses and locations are often portrayed as empty vessels that have been filled to the brim with evil. But what if these places, like the Abaddon Hotel, have evil steeped into their very infrastructures? They are not just settings but evil entities that lure in their victims with either the hope of restoring domestic comfort or rewriting a colored past. In reading humans as parasites in Hell House LLC, the well-tread haunted house trope becomes something new and even more sinister. These locations are more than just damaged buildings – they are hungry beasts waiting for their unsuspecting prey.