Hell House (DVD)
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George Ratliff's stirring documentary sheds light on one of late-20th Century America's most confounding creations, the Hell House. Providing a bizarre twist on the traditional haunted house formula, Hell Houses are church-funded, elaborately staged productions that trade fictitious monsters for the so-called demons that haunt our everyday lives--demons such as abortion, suicide, and homosexuality. Brought to you by the parishioners at your local Pentecostal or Southern Baptist churches, Hell Houses aim to frighten nonbelievers into a life of purity (as they see it) by accepting Jesus Christ as their personal savior. Ratliff's impressively unobtrusive camera takes the audience behind the scenes of one of America's most notorious Hell Houses, sponsored by the Trinity Assembly of God Church in Cedar Hill, Texas, following the outlandish production from its pre-planning stages all the way through its wildly successful two-week run. Rather than merely presenting these people--and this spectacle--as an outrageous example of reverence gone bonkers, Ratliff takes the time to establish the humanity of each participant, which adds another layer to the film. Frustrating, hysterical, and stimulating, HELL HOUSE is a testament to the saying "truth is stranger than fiction." This film screened in April 2002 in New York City as part of the Gen Art Film Festival.