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  •  REVIEW: HELL HOUSE

    Hell House

    Hell's belles

    What happens to bad girls who dance, take drugs, give themselves up to strangers and have abortions? Some Texas fundamentalists would like to take you on an infernal tour that answers that question in the fun and voyeuristic documentary "Hell House."

    By JOSHUA TANZER
    Offoffoff.com

    "WOOHOO! HELL HOUSE ROCKS!" screams someone in a crowd of Dallas-area teenagers waiting to get into the local Halloween attraction called Hell House. He probably has no idea what awaits him inside.

      
    HELL HOUSE
    Directed by: George Ratliff.
    Produced by: Zachary Mortensen, Selina Lewis Davidson, George Ratliff.

    Related links: Official site
    Because the subject of the new documentary "Hell House" is not your typical secular humanist haunted house filled with witches and goblins. No, these people have a very specific concept of hell, as in the place where you're going if you don't accept Jesus now. What they've put together is actually a live infomercial for Christ.

    The horrors of Hell House include the classics: alcoholism, adultery, abortion, homosexuality — with a noticeable emphasis on fear of female sexuality. Told to "think outside the box" for this year's show, one member of the church group planning the whole thing suggests a brand-new attraction: a school shooting. But another planner fears trouble:


      
    The strength that this family gets from its faith is not to be laughed at, and further revelations about their trials show how genuinely they take the battle between sin and salvation to heart.  

      
    "The press is going to get hold of it and say it's those Hell House people just trying to create a Columbine thing," he warns.

    "I'm okay with that," says the pastor, and it's decided. School shooting is in.

    And that's a good thing for the teenagers who play Hell House's cast of sinners — the more evil to do, the better. One of the film's amusing ironies is the glee with which these kids embrace the parts of killers, rapists, druggies, libertines, adulterers and homosexuals. You suspect that they take a secret delight in their virtual debauch in a setting that allows them to vicariously enjoy exactly the sinful delights they condemn. One twenty-something veteran of the dance-club scene organizes the rave room with obvious pride in his former life on the wild side and his ability to put on a good party. Participants say that's the best room to work in "because you get to dance."

    Take this glimpse into the mind of the Christian cultural conservative any way you like. The filmmakers don't make a lot of judgements, and an urbane, non-religious audience will have a few chuckles at the delusions that these God-fearers have about the world of sinners. Meanwhile, a fundamentalist audience will see Hell House as a sensible soul-saving idea, and indeed the movie notes that the concept has been imitated around the country.

    On thing that the filmmakers have done to take their subject seriously is to focus on a family of five whose father helps run the haunted house while his daughter lands the coveted role of "abortion girl." (That's her above with fake blood slathered lovingly over her inner thighs.) Early in the film, we see this single father getting his kids ready for school when the youngest son goes into a seizure. The burly but gentle dad scoops up the boy and handles the crisis with practiced precision while praying for the child's safety. The strength that this family gets from its faith is not to be laughed at, and further revelations about their trials show how genuinely they take the battle between sin and salvation to heart.

      
      Some more tolerant kids from Dallas, after experiencing the full propaganda onslaught, challenge one of the organizers to justify the obvious homophobia and sweeping generalizations about drugs, dancing and sex. Inside, I'm cheering for these kids.
      
    But there are other important moments that challenge the motivations behind Hell House. Some more tolerant kids from Dallas, after experiencing the full propaganda onslaught, challenge one of the organizers to justify the project's obvious homophobia and sweeping generalizations about drugs, dancing and sex. By their standards there is no justification, and the organizer — a police public-safety officer by day — has essentially no answer that makes sense outside the fundamentalist fold. Inside, I'm cheering for these enlightened and courageous kids.

    There is also a kind of surprise ending — one last room in Hell House that is not like the rest. Without giving away what happens in this room, it is enough to leave a bad taste in your mouth about the whole enterprise. But again, it's up to you to decide whether to admire these people's dedication to their cause or be repelled by their dogmatism, manipulativeness and narrow, fearful view of American life. Either way, "Hell House" is a thought-provoking look at the culture that in many ways rules our country.

    NOVEMBER 15, 2002
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK


    Reader comments on Hell House:

  • [no subject]   from , Feb 25, 2003
  • Re: [no subject]   from Jerry Osborne, Sep 15, 2003
  • Re: [no subject]   from , Oct 10, 2003
  • Re: [no subject]   from savedbygrace, Oct 28, 2003
  • [no subject]   from Anonymous, Jan 17, 2006
  • Re: [no subject]   from Jamie, Jul 10, 2006
  • Re: [no subject]   from , Nov 5, 2010
  • Re: [no subject]   from Michael, Oct 30, 2003
  • Re: [no subject]   from Marie, Oct 31, 2003
  • Re: [no subject]   from Thomas, Mar 5, 2004
  • Re: [no subject]   from Caroline, Mar 25, 2004
  • Re: [no subject]   from Aaron, Oct 17, 2006
  • Re: [no subject]   from Aaron, Oct 17, 2006
  • Re: [no subject]   from Secret, Sep 27, 2007
  • be accepting   from Emily, Oct 1, 2005
  • Hell Houses   from Anonymous, Jan 17, 2006
  • [no subject]   from HELL RAISER, Aug 1, 2003
  • [no subject]   from , Sep 16, 2003
  • Re: [no subject]   from caroline, Mar 25, 2004
  • Re: Hell House is a falsely advertised Brainwashin   from Crimson Ghost, Oct 27, 2003
  • No Justice for Christians   from Marie, Oct 31, 2003
  • Re: No Justice for Christians   from ron oliver, Nov 27, 2003
  • Hell House   from V. Brown, Nov 4, 2003
  • The more things change...   from Diogenes, Nov 28, 2003
  • this is great...how do i get this close to my home   from robin ruggles, Dec 2, 2003
  • Re: this is great...how do i get this close to my   from Harry Ballsonya, Dec 29, 2003
  • Scary Christian Cult!!!!   from Dara, Dec 27, 2003
  • Truth   from jack, Feb 17, 2004
  • Moments of side-splitting laughter   from Yuma BIll, Jul 11, 2004
  • good god   from scott, Aug 19, 2004
  • Re: good god   from Amanda, Jul 4, 2005
  • Re: good god   from maggie, Oct 18, 2005
  • Disgusting!!!!!!!!!!   from Amanda, Jul 4, 2005
  • Re: Disgusting!!!!!!!!!!   from girly, Oct 18, 2005
  • Re: Disgusting!!!!!!!!!!   from Benjamin Clark, Nov 2, 2006
  • [no subject]   from , Sep 11, 2005
  • [no subject]   from butters, Oct 31, 2005
  • [no subject]   from Marissa, Jan 11, 2006
  • What a lovely idea...   from Reb, Jan 24, 2006
  • Sickened   from , Jan 29, 2006
  • just droppin by some love   from stephanie silva, Apr 11, 2006
  • Re: just droppin by some love   from Benjamin Clark, Nov 2, 2006
  • Appalled   from Azzy, Oct 11, 2006
  • iT BROUGHT ME TO THE GROUND....   from MiSTi RaYE, Oct 17, 2006
  • Re: iT BROUGHT ME TO THE GROUND....   from Benjamin Clark, Nov 2, 2006
  • [no subject]   from Lori Vargas, Oct 30, 2006
  • Hell House   from Angela, Sep 27, 2007
  • Re: Hell House   from Heidi, Oct 27, 2007
  • [no subject]   from Liz, Mar 18, 2009
  • [no subject]   from unknown, Oct 30, 2009

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