the hazel project

…on the path, expanded commentary on ‘Hell House’

May 30th, 2006

Now that the ‘da vinci code’ is all around us, I’d like to comment on the movie I watched this weekend called “Hell House”.

‘Hell House’ is a well done documentary with satirical overtones about Trinity Assembly of God in a suburb of Dallas Texas.

Every year at Halloween they do a very elaborate haunted house. Each room depicting a scene of a hot button issue acted out by the youth group.
Each scene ends with the main character given the choice to accept Jesus (go to heaven) or reject Jesus’ forgiveness (go to eternal hell).

The church takes this so seriously they begin auditioning for parts in August.
As the director said on ‘This American Life’, he was struck at how everyone wanted to play the more violent persons, instead of Angels or Jesus.

Apparently the ‘abortion girl’ scene was one of the more coveted roles. In the scene, the girl has taken the pill RU846 and comes into an ER screaming, ‘it wasn’t supposed to happen like this’!
She is wearing white pants with a blood stain all around the groin area.

As she lies on the gurney, she’s mocked by the tour guide who wears a ‘Seventh Seal’ costume.

Death.

I wonder if any of them have seen the “Seventh Seal”?

‘Death’ has few lines if any in Ingmar Bergman’s movie, no mocking needed.

Only pointing.

This movie also documents the real life home situation of the actor’s family.

Her backstory goes like this.

Her mother had an online affair leaving her and 3 siblings with their father.
The family finds solace and support in the community of the Assembly of God denomination.

One of the more dramatic events happens while the father is getting his kids ready for school. His son goes into an epileptic seizure and the family goes into emergency mode. EMS is called and comes to the house. The Father carries his son to his bed, lays his hands on his chest and prays over him.
The seizure stops. The father is exuberant.

Exuberant, not only that the seizure stopped; but also that his faith and fundamentalist religion was real in a moment of crisis while the cameras were rolling.

It was apparent that he was authentic in his beliefs; and as the viewer, I could appreciate that, whether I shared them or not.

The director did a great job inserting this family’s obvious suffering as a shadow to the narcissistic desire to win souls; exemplifed by others in the documentary.

Next, the construction of Hellhouse. I’m surprised at how much construction from scratch actually happens.

Enough for a ‘HUD House’ for sure.

The designers of the ‘occult scene’ for Hellhouse aroused a bit of concern over what color paint to use for the pentagram.

Red? or White?

A heated discussion about a Warlock who attended Hellhouse the year before ensues. The Warlock was upset regarding the scene continuity.

“No symbols are done in white paint at our meetings”, he was quoted saying.

A camera pans to a piece of plywood spray painted black.
Instead of a red pentagram they had painted a red Star of David.
Totally disconnected.

Are they anti semitic?

No, they’re probably Zionist in their theology.

They just don’t know the difference.
Because they believe they’re right, there’s no need to explore comparative religion.

Just go out and save everyone else who is different.
Through ‘Hellhouse.’

After the scenes are presented, the tour guide shows the group ‘hell’ which is made up of a dark room, a pit with red lights and plexiglass over it, and a fog machine. Kids are in the pit banging on the plexiglass. There might even be a strobe light.

Heaven however, is made up of tinfoil, maybe some streamers and a mixture of incandescent, and flourescent light. The participants did get white robes, I believe.

This struck me as odd; because, if they wanted to really get the message across, Heaven would need to look otherworldly. Perfectly pleasing to the earthly senses all at once, since that’s what we have to rely on.
Instead, heaven looked very disappointing, bland even.

Maybe next year.

At the end of the tour, a member of the church talks to each group and asks how they’re relationship with God is going.

Then, they’re asked to either go pray for forgiveness or exit, knowing that if died on the way the way back to the parking lot they’ll go to hell.

A week or so later, the youth group puts on an awards show for the best acting done for ‘Hellhouse’ with formal wear and thank you speeches.

Kinda like their ‘Hellhouse’ prom.

If I were to give ‘Hellhouse’ a review, it would be:

The documentary ‘Hellhouse’ presents its case by letting the people be themselves, completely naturally. It follows their everyday interactions of planning and executing the haunted house for the general public. Some will find this refreshing as a documentary about Evangelical Christians. Miraculous that it was made at all. Others however, will see beyond the surface and realize the documentary gives the players just enough rope…

Stephen A. Thomas

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