Hollywood goes to Hell (House) on Thursday

Hollywood Hell House begins this week and runs every Thursday, Friday and Saturday throughout October. Tours begin at 8:30, running at fifteen minute intervals; the last begins at 10:45pm.

This is not your typical haunt. It is based on a presentation designed to teach "young people that they can go to hell for abortion, adultery, homosexuality, drinking, and other things unless they repent and end the behavior." Keenan Roberts, who has been presenting the real Hell House since 1992, sells Hell House Outreach kits to other churches, including a 263-page manual.

That manual is the basis for the West Hollywood version, but judging from the tongue-in-cheek tone of their website (which features a friendly-looking cartoon demon saying "This October Hollywood goes to Hell"), we think it's safe to say that the presentation will not be a serious one.

Call 323 960 7822 for more information.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that the "Hell House" concept was featured in an excellent eponymous 2001 documentary, directed by George Ratliff.

HELL HOUSE the movie was remarkable for the even-handed way in which is approached the material: except for a tiny sight gag at the end (when a minister claims he expects to be swept up by the Rapture, a jump cut seems to make him magically disappear), Ratliffe does not mock the people putting on Hell House; rather, he allows them to emerge as sincere people, who genuinely believe they are doing God's work. Instead of laughing, you will find yourself identifying with them, especially the unfortunate middle-aged father who is single-handedly supporting and caring for all his children (including one with epilepsy) since his wife ran away with someone she met on the Internet.

The haunted attraction itself truly is a horror to behold, and you will find yourself appalled by what you see. Basically, it is a series of staged scenes in which sinners are tempted by demons to succumb to temptations of the flesh: A girl goes to a rave party where she is drugged and date-raped, precipitating a suicide and a one-way ticket to Hell. In a hospital, two people lay dying, a woman from a botched abortion and a gay man from AIDS; the one who repents finds redemption, while the one who refuses to repetent is finds his sould grabbed by demons at the moment of death. In the most truly disturbing moment, the middle-aged single father, who works the haunt as a guide, watches a scene clearly based on his own life, with a family torn apart when the mother meets someone on the Internet.

At the end of the tour, visitors are invited to sit down with the parishioners and pray for salvation; clearly, the preceding horrors are the religious equivalent of the old "Scared Straight" documentaries meant to frighten people into good behavior by showing the horrible consequences of mis-behavior. To be fair, the people associated with the haunt are shown engaging detractors in a relatively reasonable dialogue about the message being delivered. When ticked-off patrons object to the implication that gay people are damned, or point out that the date-rape character is more victim than sinner, what could have devolved into a shouting match stays level-headed, with the haunt spokesman arguing that damnation is ultimately a matter of a personal decision whether or not to accept God, regardless of the misfortunes of one's circumstances.

The most sly element of the film is the way in which Ratliff allows those haunters to reveal how much they relate to the characters they portray. The subtle implication is that Hell House is a vicarious way for them to enjoy portraying actions that they do not approve of in real life. The most obvious example is the DJ in the rave scene, who admits that he used to be a real DJ. After complaining about the inaccuracy of the script - he feels he should have been consulted for his expertise on the subject - he is seen in ghoulish makeup on Halloween night, once again spinning discs just like he used to in the good old days, and you can't help feeling that he really looks comfortable back in his old gig.

In short, even if you do not agree with the message that the Hell House haunt is purveying, you will find the HELL HOUSE documentary fascinating. And when it's over, you may even find yourself craving a trip to visit Hell House in person.