We went to see the real-live Hollywood Hell House and it really stacks up to the original. For those of you who haven’t seen the documentary ten times like I have, a young Baptist pastor named Keenan Roberts dreamt up an alternative to haunted houses for the month of October: he called it “Hell House,” and it featured different rooms that re-enacted the ways you could go to hell. Abortion, heavy metal, homosexuality, even the RU-486 pill is not spared.
The documentary is brilliant, cataloguing throngs of kids lining up to see a room sprayed with fetal blood, and Roberts, who seems to be having WAY too good a time portraying Lucifer. It’s a chilling journey into the reptilian hindbrain of American religion.
Roberts sells “kits” allowing you produce your own Hell House, and over 3,000 of them have flourished in the last few years. Through a bit of trickery, some Hollywood types got their hands on a kit, and followed every direction, word for word, right down to the music cues and script.
Among the high(low)lights: in one room a kid listens to some rock’n’roll and then blows away his entire classroom with a .357 magnum. In another, a woman has a botched abortion and tries to grab the unborn fetus from the doctor. In the best scene, a man with AIDS – pockmarked and covered in sores – is eaten in his hospital bed by a giant monster. And lastly, after descending into Hell itself, you meet a Hasidic Jew who is being ground into meat – and then you are granted audience with Lucifer himself.
Satan has been alternately played by Bill Maher and other luminaries, but our performance featured my hero Dave Thomas from SCTV. Naturally, he gets zapped by Jesus (sometimes played by Andy Richter) and then you escape Hell via The Son of God and his angels. From there, it’s off to the Friendship Hall for Christian music and donut holes!
above: two “Christers” dance to the religious boogie-woogie
below: the donut holes were excellent
Needless to say, the whole thing is very funny, but also deeply disturbing. Tessa didn’t quite understand the purpose of the performance, but I think I get it. Sure, we’re in Hollywood, and the proceedings are positively dripping with irony and ain’t-rednecks-stupid humor, but the show is also hinting at the excruciatingly dark underbelly of modern America.
When you watch the documentary, you see small kids go through Hell House, having the ever-loving SHIT scared out of them. By the time they get to “Jesus,” they’re ready to crawl back into the womb. There are endless interviews with vacant-eyed teenagers describing Hell with the brainwashed monotone of the recently-hypnotized. And there are THOUSANDS of kids that have gone through this thing without the slightest bit of irony.
What Hollywood Hell House has done, consciously or not, is to show the unbelievable chasm between the Red States and the Blue States in America. The purveyors and patrons of normal Hell Houses are comforted by Bush’s moral certitude and thinly-veiled Christian supremacy. The Blue States look at something like “Hell House” on the Sundance Channel and giggle uncontrollably at all the mullets.
But what we all miss is this: it is NOT OKAY for kids to grow up thinking fags go to hell. It is TOTALLY UNCOOL for people to believe that Jews get churned into hamburger meat in the afterlife. In one Hell House scene, a girl is raped at a “rave,” taunted by Lucifer because her dad had molested her, and then goes to Hell BECAUSE SHE COMMITS SUICIDE.
It’s fucking sick, the whole thing, and everyone should go see it. Hollywood Hell House is mostly wink-wink nudge-nudge, but they are also providing a public service. By giving “Hell House” a wider audience, they are also forcing you to take it seriously on its own terms, importing a piece of a Red State for you to experience, like Fedexing barbeque from a distant pit.
Even living in an outrage-resistant world, “Hell House” is deeply deserving your attention and scorn. This is what we’re up against, and it makes you wonder if this country is big enough for all of us.