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SELLING THE FEAR OF GOD
"HELL HOUSE" PROVIDES A LOOK INTO A HAUNTED HOUSE FULL OF GAYS, RAVE PARTIES, AND INTERNET ROMANCE

Keith Lowell Jensen, a good friend who has written many things for retroCRUSH lent me a screener copy of this video some time ago, and wrote a review for the site that was subsequently eaten by my SPAM filter and filed away into limbo.  After reading his review, I was intrigued to see the film to see what the fuss was all about.  His review (reprinted at the end of this article), comes from a decidedly atheistic perspective, so I thought it might be interesting for good ol' God fearing me to give it a try, too.

The focus of the documentary video (calling it a "film" seems a crime as the whole thing is shot in Blair-Witch quality camcorder) centers on a church in Texas that puts an annual haunted house that showcases real life sinful horrors, as opposed to the ghosts, goblins, and ghouls of traditional spook joints.  Their choice of featuring scenes like recreations of the Columbine shootings, AIDS patients, and abortion clinics.

While the appeal to watch this might be to see how luridly shocking and controversial their self-proclaimed Hell House turns out to be, the documentary dwells far too long on boring set up, casting, and personality profiles of the key players to be very interesting.  Despite the potential, the video ends up being a rather dull affair.

When it comes time to see the actual Hell House with guests coming through, it ends up being rather disappointing.  The ham-fisted efforts by the folks at Trinity Church to scare people to salvation come across as more pathetic than laughable.  At least with Jack Chick's comics, you can shake your head in disbelief and make fun of them.  Hell House generates little more than yawns.

One of the few memorable scenes involves the "Rave Party" area.  A gentleman constructs his idea of what a rave party is like, and takes this time to spray paint his internet nickname and website on the walls to make it more authentic.  When he takes on the guise of a demon DJ for the actual performance, he seems more excited about being the cartoonishly evil mix-master in the club, than with providing salvation for anyone.

The way the volunteers seem to get off on putting these shocking environments together, reminds me of when the Reagan administration spent countless hours looking at and documenting pornography to save our nation from filth.  Something tells me that if these people were offered a more effective but less offensive way to provide salvation, they'd refuse it because it wasn't as fun.

George Ratliff's direction goes all over the place here.  He focuses way too long on a single dad's struggles to raise a family of 5 that includes 2 disabled children, and a segment on speaking in tongues that appears to have no relevance save to make the participants look kooky.

You get the feeling that anyone actually going to visit the Hell House is either already a member of the church, or are kids just eager to go and make fun of the thing.  The goal to harvest saved souls looks to fall short.

If you happen to see this on The Sundance Channel or elsewhere, it might be worth a look if there's nothing better on, but I'd hardly recommend going out of your way to see it.

-Robert Berry
rberry@retrocrush.com


SCARING THE HELL OUT OF YOU
KEITH LOWELL JENSEN ARGUES THAT "HELL HOUSE" IS LITTLE MORE THAN "CHICK COMICS: THE MOVIE"

Chick comics, those obnoxious tracts that warn you of the evils of homosexuality, devil worship and Harry Potter books, represent a frightening portion of our populace. As inane and laughable as these little gems are there is an international army of believers who make sure they find their way into the hands of impressionable youths and disabled adults the world over. And once in those hands they too often have the desired affect. The reader becomes a new convert, orders a pile of tracts so he himself may participate in the saving of souls.  
 
A group of like minded, Jesus fearing folks in Texas have created the ultimate experience for fans of Chick tracts and of Born Again culture in general. Imagine being able to enter a Chick track; where devils entice pregnant teens to take the abortion pill, resulting in a bloody mess of regret and redemption; where the date rape drug makes some voyeuristic demons giddy as a candy girl falls victim to chicken hawk; where homosexuals burn for all eternity; and where Jesus rules full of love and amazing grace. Sound like your kind of surreal experience? Or is it a bit too much?
 
Well lucky you. You can enjoy the spectacle of Hell House from the comfort of your own home. The film, Hell House, is a documentary on an annual “Christian Haunted House” put on every Halloween in a small town just outside of Dallas Texas. Not only do we get a thorough tour of Hell House itself, but we get a disturbing, hilarious, frightening and some time incredibly sad look at the men and woman, boys and girls who put the event on. These well meaning morons are so shockingly sincere as they work to “Scare the Hell out of you”.  
 
There are too many double over laughing moments to list them all. A favorite is the devil worship scene featuring a giant red STAR OF DAVID?!?! Apparently researching what an actual pentagram looks like was too much, as was counting to FIVE! Another comedy highlight is the “Rave Expert”. This dumb kid was a wall flower full of bible tracts at a rave or two but by being “the rave kid” at church he has found an identity that gives him some real authority within the Hell House ranks.  
 
As for the sad moments, a big ball of sweetness with the intelligence of a slightly slow monkey has to raise his house full of kids by himself after his wife leaves him for the lover she’d been having an affair with. One of his children suffers epilepsy, his daughter is just entering the dating age, and he signs up to depict a husband who kills his cheating wife in a Hell House scene. You can see that this man cares about his children and is trying so darn hard to be a good person, but he’s just so pathetic and passive so as to break your heart.  
 
The filmmakers are not abusive of these people. They do not go out of their way to make fun of them. They simply let them show themselves as the crazy loons they are.  
 
After the funny and the sad comes THE FEAR! This is, in the end, a true horror film. These people are real and they get 10,000 visitors, the majority of whom are harassed and peer pressured into accepting Jesus as their own personal lord and savior, but they only get a few seconds to decide, QUICK, QUICK, JESUS OR ETERNAL HELL FIRE QUICK! These people then go on to help elect our politicians, and to affect the direction our country takes. They make an increasingly powerful lobby in Washington, and that is scarier than a thousand Leather Faces.  
 
I am inspired. I will set up a haunted housed depicting the horrors that may beset you should you subscribe the Hell House doctrine. I’ll have a room depicting people not having sex. I'll have a room full of folks NOT doing drugs. I’ll have a room where Amy Grant and Creed are played at insane volumes. I’ll have a room full of boring sermons and lastly I’ll have a room labeled heaven where bad harp music plays and you can hear a party going on somewhere full of strippers, and rock stars but you can’t reach it. You just can’t reach it. OH THE HUMANITY!
 
Keith Lowell (born right the first time) Jensen
klj@retrocrush.com

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