About:

Title: Hell House
Released: 2001

Fix: Documentary That Makes You Glad You Aren’t These People
Platform: Netflix

Netflix Summary:

The Hell House is a yearly show designed to give its audiences a glimpse of what awaits those who stray from the path of a strict Christian life.

FYA Summary:

Hell House is about a group of Christians that don’t really exist. I mean, they EXIST, in that this is a real documentary about real people and it isn’t made up. But you know how people are all like, “I hate Christians because they’re so judgemental and they keep saying everyone is going to hell” and you’re all, “I’ve never met any people like that, and, like, I know a lot of Christians” but still, you’ve heard they exist somewhere, maybe like in a tiny prehistoric community somewhere in the Bible Belt?

Well, Virginia, there IS a group of crazy judgemental fundamentalist Christians, and they exist in a small town called Cedar Hill, Texas, where every Halloween they put on a “Hell House” for the town’s citizens. The Hell House is kind of like a haunted house, except without any cackling witches, just lesbian ones who like raves. In the Hell House – which is wildly popular for such a small, rural town – scenes are acted out that show people making Bad Choices and going to Hell. 

Hell House follows the Trinity Church of the Assembly of God, which I think is one of those non-denominational places on account of how everyone closes their eyes and sings hymns I’ve never heard before while holding out their hands like they have dog poop on them. These hymns always feature guitars in minor chords, which everyone knows is not pleasing for church crowds to sing. Whatever happened to Go Tell It On the Mountain? I mean, that’s a song. About a decade ago, my church got taken over by some of those new age hippie people who wanted to sing songs about Jesus the Redeemer and shizz and that’s when I stopped going to Church. If they aren’t going to sing the Doxology and say the Apostle’s Creed like a good Methodist then I’m just having no truck with them.

The theme of this year’s Hell House is The Walking Dead, which they hilariously advertise using the same font as the Buffy the Vampire Slayer credits. The Trinity Church Youth Group, which seems to feature no actual youth, discuss which scenes to include in this year’s Hell House. Lesbians? Too gauche. Teen suicide in school? Awesome! The group/church is led by Tim, who has a Hitler mustache and a Kirk Douglas dimple. It’s a disquieting combination. You know how Thomas Lennon looked in Reno 911? Picture exactly that, but brown hair and longer shorts. In subtle contrast to Tim is John Michael, who seems to be slightly less into freaking the fuck out of strangers. Tim hates John Michael and his subtle grab for power. 

Hell House is, like, a HUGE fucking deal, y’all. There are tryouts for the different scenes and competition is fierce. In Trinity’s local school, all the teens compete for the choice role of Satan or Pregnant Victim of Incest. They are about as good as drama kids in any rural school, which is to say, NOT GOOD AT ALL. The teens are both unintentionally and intentionally hilarious – one teen tries out but really doesn’t want to be stuck in the drug dealing scene for the third year in a row, and asks the director and casting agent for something with a bit more range – “wherever the Spirit leads you. But I hope the Spirit leads you away from the drug deal scene.”

Interspersed in the documentary are stand-up interviews with townspeople, both churchgoers and non. Some are silly – kids in late 90s clothing talking about their idea of Hell – but some are downright chilling. One freckled lady recounts how she was an actor in Hell House and came face to face with her rapist – and as her character contemplates suicide, she decides to forgive her rapist. I mean, I guess that’s a thing that could happen instead of choosing a handy weapon and bludgeoning him to death. I don’t want to tell victims how to feel their feelings, but Christ, that makes me sad.

Another sad feature of the documentary is a family with a single dad raising several kids of various ages, one of whom has cerebral palsy. The documentary crew films the little child in a full blown seizure . . . and the dad’s conviction that praying helped the seizure go away. The EMT crew comes anyway but everyone’s cool now that the three year old is no longer in danger of choking on his own tongue, I guess. The dad’s wife left following an internet affair, which has left the dad all alone raising these four kids. Everytime I watch this movie, I want to wrap this guy up in a warm hug, never moreso than when his teen daughter discourages him from trying to audition for Hell House. He looks so disheartened.

But even though Single Dad doesn’t make the part, his daughter makes the show as a victim of rape who chose to have an abortion and thus goes to Hell. Y’all, Hell House is NOT fucking around with its convictions. None of this pussy-footing around the issues for them. 

Single Dad! I forgot about his awesome mustache. I love you, Single Dad! 

But as you might guess, Trinity Church of the Assembly of God is not exactly hip to the kids of today. They can’t quite figure out Magic: The Gathering (who could?) and are sure “that Harry Potter book” is leading people straight to Hell. They try to depict a bunch of Satanists and accidentally (?) paint a Star of David instead of a pentagram. And everyone wears their shirts tucked into their stonewashed jeans. Luckily, they have an ex-Raver who explains how the kids today party. Actually, the ex-Raver is hilarious because it’s clear he super misses his past, so he tries to create a real rave within Hell House. “Maybe I could build a water tank and have, like, an underwater dancer. That’d be cool.” 

Hell House is built entirely from scratch every year – an entire building of rooms in which to depict people going to Hell. They even make a floor out of Plexiglass so that people can see people trapped in Hell below. Besides being a super-literal interpretation of Hell, I can’t imagine what all these efforts would translate to if they were actually involved in doing something for charity, like Jesus asked of His followers.

“Abortion Girl! I got it! I did it!” God, I love this movie.

Oh! Another great thing I remembered about Single Dad. He does the cheers along with his cheerleader daughter during the football games. And tries to scam candy off her between touchdowns. I really love him. 

The story behind Single Dad gets sadder and sadder – it’s heavily implied that Deadbeat Mom’s Internet Boyfriend raped Alex, Single Dad’s cheerleader daughter who gets the role of Abortion Girl. Deadbeat Mom turned an accusatory finger at Single Dad and his kids were put in foster care for a month, which devastated them all. Oh, Single Dad. Can’t I make you some soup or maybe a lasagna you can keep in the freezer and then heat up when you need it?

“The date rape drug . . . it’s not going to make you spaz out, it’s just really going to relax you.” Advice from the ex-Raver. He’s a catch, ladies.

Here are some of the scene’s in Hell House X: The Walking Dead (picture that in Buffy font):

  • A girl gets roofied and date raped at a rave. She goes to Hell for committing suicide.

  • A girl gets raped by her father, gets pregnant and has an abortion. She was going to go to Hell for having an abortion (there’s quite a lot of graphic bleeding) but then she repents at the last minute, so she gets to go to Heaven, yay!

  • A man stabs his cheating wife to death in front of his kids. She goes to Hell for having an affair. No word on the man.

  • A drunken driver crashes and kills himself and his girlfriend. He goes to Hell for drinking; she goes to Hell for getting in his car.

  • A bullied kid commits suicide. You guessed it. Hell.

  • A drug dealer (Mexican) confronts a guy (Black) who is selling drugs in his territory. I don’t even know what happens to all of them, but I don’t think it involves a guest spot on The Wire.

  • A gay man with AIDS goes to Hell. Duh, cause he’s gay and got a gay disease.

Oh, shit, I forgot to mention that they use a REAL GUN in Hell House. They’re all about accuracy, yo.

The thing about Trinity Church of the Assembly of God is that the praying involves a lot of speaking in tongues and laying of hands and the G chord played endlessly on the guitar during it all and man, I’m just too WASPy for this stuff, I guess. I mean, where I come from, we love Jesus quietly, and while wearing nice hats. We do not touch each other except to shake hands during the greeting time and ask each other how their Sunday is faring, and the only instrument around is the organ and the most animated anyone gets is during Lent when we get to sing “He Lives!” during the Benediction. You can tell it’s an exciting song because it has exclamation marks in it. So I just really don’t understand all of this emotion and dog-poop hands, I guess.

Anyway, anyway, I’ve essentially covered the entire movie which was totally dumb of me, I realize, but TRUST ME, you want to watch this, cause it’s amaaaaazing. So get yourself some sinful Blood of Christ and cue this movie up, y’all!

Familiar Faces: None

Unless you happen to live in Cedar Hill, TX. Which, if you do, I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU. TELL ME ABOUT YOUR LIFE EXPERIENCES AND WHETHER YOU HAVE EVER SUNG A SONG WITH MAJOR CHORDS!

Couch-Sharing Capability: Infinite

This is really a movie to watch with friends, because when you watch it alone with only your pets for company you start thinking maybe its time to go back to Church, but then remember it involves getting up early on Sunday morning and taking a shower. I mean, whatever, your god totally loves you when you aren’t freshly showered, I guess.

Recommended Level of Inebriation: High

I was way too sober when I watched the movie this go-round and now I’m totally thinking of calling up my uncle who’s a preacher for reasons other than to remind him that I get his Beatles bootlegs collection in his will. Shit, shit, I’m not drunk enough to throw off the religious education of my youth; WHY DID I WATCH THIS.

Use of your Netflix Subscription: Excellent

Where a Netflix Streaming account really serves you is when you want to watch random tv shows from the seventies or documentaries you know nothing about (where Netflix fails you: when you watch Dear Zachary because you think it will be a documentary about a tree but then you just end up crying for the rest of your life forever. And then you KEEP WATCHING IT OVER AND OVER AGAIN because you enjoy punishing yourself, I guess)! And Hell House definitely serves its purpose of entertaining/freaking you out. Man, if only they’d ever release Hands on a Hard Body on dvd/streaming, my Hilarious Documentaries About Crazy Texas People set would be complete.

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Erin is loud, foul-mouthed, an unrepentant lover of trashy movies and believes that champagne should be an every day drink.