Bigotry and Brimstone: A New Documentary Takes Us Inside Hell House, a Halloween Creep Show Designed to Scare Kids Away from "Sins" like Homosexuality

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Hell House * Directed by George Ratliff * Seventh Art Releasing

Hell is in the eye of the beholder. For some of us, hell is a place where most everybody packs a gun, where you can be put to death for crimes committed as a juvenile, where a black man can be chained to the back of a pickup truck and dragged till his head falls off. It is a place where folks passionately believe that George W. is the answer. Hell is not somewhere George W. will go after he dies. Rather, it is where he and his kind are spawned.

This is not really hell, of course. It's just Texas--one of those old-time places that can produce a Pentecostal church like the one outside Dallas spotlighted in Hell House, in which a gay man expiring from AIDS complications is one of the main attractions in an annual Halloween freak show calculated to spook ripe young nonbelievers into the fold.

Combining the mobile-audience concept of Disneyland's Haunted Mansion with the fire-and-brimstone manipulation of the sleaziest tent-show preacher, the Hell House conversion mill created by Cedar Hill's Trinity Church of the Assemblies of God opens for business each October, running nightly Halloween week. The idea is rapidly becoming an evangelical franchise. When director and former journalist George Ratliff decided to go behind the scenes to film the process of mounting a performance, this particular Hell House was pulling in 12,000 paid visitors annually. And like grassroots theme parks, Hell Houses are now fanning out to hundreds of churches around the world.

Ratliff records the evolution of "Hell House X: The Walking Dead," in which a death-masked ghoul taunts a variety of sinners at their moment of gravest desperation. A woman hemorrhaging from an abortion pill hears, "That's right, Jan! …


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