h.e. double hockey-sticks

9/28/04

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!

HwoodHellHseDance2(bl).jpg

above: two “Christers” dance to the religious boogie-woogie

below: the donut holes were excellent

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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.

One thought on “h.e. double hockey-sticks

  1. Piglet

    Holy Fucking Shit.
    I’d never even heard of this until now. I don’t know whether to laugh, cry or puke.
    The only frame of reference I have that connects to something so religiously monstrous is an aggressive, whistle-blowing preacher who shows up at the local college campus once a year to call everyone sinners and gleefully accept the fury and taunting of the students as if he’s undergoing his personal crucifiction (and I do mean -FICTION) experience so that he may have eternal life.
    That and the Bible comic tracts that generous Christians left instead of tips during my waitstaff days.
    Question: Does “Hell House” take a position on Catholicism and Mormonism, as it does on Judaism? I seem to recall both the preacher and the comics declaring that Catholics and Mormons weren’t really Christian, and even that the Holocaust was perpetrated by Catholics. Your Mormon relations (isn’t the full name “Church of JESUS CHRIST & Latter Day Saints” for cryin’ out loud?) might well be surprised at that news, but the President’s friends at Bob Jones U would not.

    Reply
  2. cullen

    oink,oink.
    I concur w/piglet; the UNC ‘pit preachers’ I not so fondly recall would likely have found merit in this display.
    Guess i’m going to hell…

    Reply
  3. Horvus Callithumper

    I suppose this could be construed as proselytizing, but bear with me and hear my story.
    One night many years ago, I was walking home from campus and too late noticed that I was crossing paths with a pit preacher, or actually one of the preacher’s henchmen, who apparently is also qualified to issue you a ticket to the Kingdom of Heaven.
    He asked to have a few words with me.
    I was feeling kind of crazy, so I agreed.
    He asked me if I believed in JC. Having been born Catholic and subsequently indoctrinated with the faith, I answered affirmatively.
    Then he asked me if I believed that JC died for my sins. Somehow, after years of studying scientific principles and chasing worldly pleasures, that belief had survived in my brain. I, too, answered that affirmatively.
    Then he asked me if I believed that the Bible held the Word of God. Unfortunately, Catholicism had left me unprepared to give an answer, so I had to wing it. I think he wanted to know if I believed in a literal interpretation of the Bible. However, since he didn’t specifically say that, I guessed that beyond all of the contradictory and downright weird parts of the Bible perhaps maybe a word or two that could plausibly be attributed to God Almighty had made it in, so technically, yes, it containst the Word of God. So, I said yes.
    That did the trick. His normally lined brow and tight jaw relaxed. His eyes lit up and he smiled. Judging from the strength of his reaction, saveable people don’t come around very often. He said a prayer over me, and I had to repeat some words whose meaning declared my affirmation of faith in Christ. Then he told me that there was a party up in Heaven for me. That was it.
    So, here’s the proselytizing part. With a simple 5 minute procedure, you can:
    1) be saved.
    Benefit: When someone asks if you are saved, you can honestly say yes. They leave you alone after that.
    2) have the moral highground
    Benefit: As a Saved Christian, you can lord it over people, particularly the other Saved Christians
    3) you will go to heaven no matter what
    Benefit: Seriously, you could machine-gun down a schoolyard full of kindergartners and as long as you are saved, your in.
    4) inject some fresh blood into right wing Christianity
    Benefit: someone sitting in church next to Aschcroft could vote for Kerry, how cool would that be?

    Reply
  4. just john

    So, D. Christensen, you say there’s an afterlife, and one of the options is to spend eternity with people like you?
    I’ll take Hell, please. In Heaven, there is no possibility of hope.

    Reply
  5. light

    Oh.my.word. Can I just say, as a Christian, that this “Hell House”…Thing, whatever it is called, is sick. Sick. Sick. Sick. The folks who indulge in this kind of activity (not the parody, but with the ones who participate with fervor) aren’t acting Christian, or certainly not as Christ would have acted. I think of them as extremists…they ARE extremists. As dangerous as any brand of religious extremist. I see more Christian extremists here in the US than in any other country I have visited.
    Please know that Christians exist on a spectrum (just like Muslims, or Jews, or any other relgion) and folks interpret the Bible into their daily lives on Earth in a myriad of ways. I’m mortified at the actions of these folks. If you want to take a look at the other end of the Christian spectrum, peek in a sojo.net . But please don’t lump all Christians in with the folks who invented this kind of thing.
    p.s. I’m a Christian, I’m a Democrat, I tip at least 15-18%, and I work at a church. Being this kind of a Christian is tough because we generally aren’t exciting fodder for the news media. But just know that we are out there.

    Reply
  6. Hamburger Lad

    Just curious, light, do you believe in hell? If so, who do you believe is condemned to go there? Personally, I’m ambivalent about this “Hell House” as described. I believe in some of the doctrines espoused there, but the presentation seems a bit over the top and culturally skewed. (Any well dressed, Republican, self-proclaimed Christians burning there?)(Guess I really should see it for myself.)

    Reply

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