Saturday, August 13, 2011

Hell House (documentary, 2001 )

This is a fascinating documentary.

It examines the uniquely American Halloween tradition of the "Hell House."

While guided tour haunted houses spring up all across America every Halloween season, the Hell Houses are largely a Bible Belt phenomenon.

As the trailer explains, the goal is to scare young visitors to God.

They actually have the kids (or the ones who agree to) sign contracts when they come out at the end of the tour, promising their lives to Christ.

It's been a few years since I've seen this documentary, but I remember how thoughtfully it was crafted, because it doesn't completely demonize (no pun intended) or ridicule the creators of the particular "Hell House" which is the subject of this documentary.

It gives you some backstory on some of the families at the heart of this documentary, and there is some real tragedy and some real vulnerability in that backstory.

The film takes the "higher road" and doesn't savage the obviously exploitive propagandistic techniques being employed by the producers of the Hell House, even if it does expose them.

Instead, it takes a closer, discerning look into the fear and worries (for example, "Am I living a just life?") that lie at the root of all mortal souls, believer and non-believer alike.

And by remaining largely non-judgmental, the filmmaker (George Ratliff) creates a more moving, thoughtful documentary.

There are a number of funny scenes, however, many of them black humor.

For example, you can't help but be amused at the way the teenagers compete for the juiciest roles, like "Abortion Girl" (who of course pays for her "sins" with her life).

Or Lucifer.

I'm sure you're hot shit (pun intended) if you get to be Satan.

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