By Jeff Kubik
For the parish of Trinity Church, Cedar Hill Texas, the love of God is free for all. However, this offer does not extend to abortion recipients, homosexuals, Magic players, readers of Harry Potter, substance abusers, the suicidal, the unconverted hordes or–lord help those goofy neon bastards–ravers.
For these lost souls, Trinity Church offers an edifying Hallowe’en experience called Hell House that takes its visitors on a haunted house adventure through the evils of a world gone insane–read: un-Presbyterian.
Opening Calgary’s $100 Film Festival, director George Ratliff explores this southern phenomenon in the feature-length, Hell House: A Documentary Film. From the planning of the tenth annual the Hell House to its October execution, the film is an exploration of the values and characters that create this annual diatribe against the evils of society. Nothing is sacred in this house of sin–homosexuals die of AIDS, unwed mothers bleed from botched abortions and demons prod angst-ridden students into graphic suicides.
Avoiding the kind of direct narrative interference found in the ubiquitous Bowling for Columbine, Hell House uses only editing and a few interview sessions to allow its subjects enough freedom to hang themselves with their own Bible belt. Statements on the town’s rigid value structure are delivered by Hell House cast members with enthusiasm, whether they’re concerns over the possibility of fraternization between homosexual parts or the obligatory Ebonics of an evil murderer who all but threatens to bust caps in white southern ass.
In one particularly disturbing sequence, the Hell House cast prepares for the night’s event with a fevered prayer session replete with electric bass accompaniment, manic prayers and speaking in tongues. The surreal experiences highlight just how alien the Presbyterian United States can be–it seems they speak an entirely different language there.
As a documentary, Hell House chooses its sequences well. While contrasts between a wrestling match and the church service immediately after may lack subtlety, they’re shown in a context that doesn’t notice the disparity at all. Hell House’s subjects are willing participants with a fervent desire to spread their message to all of the 75,000 visitors that have come to Hell House over the last ten years. Ultimately, however, it is entirely up to the audience to reach their own conclusions.
Hell House plays on Thu., Mar. 11 at 9:30 p.m. (Uptown Stage Screen). Keep the fear of God lest ye taste the bitter crunch of brimstone.