A look at the "Hell House" performed annually in October by the youth members of Trinity Church (Assemblies of God) in Cedar Hill, Texas (a Dallas suburb) - seen by over 10,000 visitors ...
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Charles Johnson III
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Set in the world of mega-churches in which a former Deadhead-turned-born again-Christian finds himself on the run from fundamentalist members of his mega-church who will do anything to protect their larger-than-life pastor.
A look at the "Hell House" performed annually in October by the youth members of Trinity Church (Assemblies of God) in Cedar Hill, Texas (a Dallas suburb) - seen by over 10,000 visitors each year. We see the organization and planning of the event - including auditions, construction, scripting and rehearsals - largely through the involvement of one family: a single father with 4 children (one of whom suffers from cerebral palsy) including his daughter, a cast member.Written by
The world is the worst that it has ever been. It's an ugly, evil world and that's a scary thing, but at the same time, it's a good thing because that means that Jesus is close to coming, and he's about to come back for his bride.
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Hell House director George Ratliff doesn't have to try hard to show the bizarre side of the Trinity Church in Cedar Hill, Texas and their annual Halloween sideshow. Rather than any reasoned attempt to invite converts to Christianity, this is old style 'fire and brimstone' scare tactics straight out of the Old Testament and reminded me of a modern day Chick tract. The topics are somewhat predictable, ranging from abortion, homosexuality and suicide right through to the alleged evils of Harry Potter and role playing games. The horror show is complete with high pressure sales tactics at the end to convert and accept Jesus. Disturbingly, the emotional intensity of the show is quite effective, especially on the younger teenagers in the audience who appear somewhat shell shocked as they are given a last chance to repent.
Pastor Jim Hennesy opens the documentary and is probably the most disturbing character shown, with his authoritarian nature and expressionless stare. His church group is clearly a cult, complete with hysterical followers weeping, swaying in trances and speaking in tongues. Every single character that comes onto the screen has a downbeat story, from the single father struggling with four children to assorted rape victims and even an amateur wrestler.
In parts, the documentary becomes unintentionally hilarious, with a six sided 'pentagram' (actually the Jewish Star of David), a DJ who can't remember the name of the date rape drug he is supposed to be warning people about and a Christian teenager showing an inexplicable fascination in playing an imagined 'victim' of the morning after pill.
Overall Hell House is more an illuminating insight into the bizarre beliefs of this Pentecostal church than any cutting edge social commentary, but somehow it works. Ratliff's direction is neutral, and he merely observes the goings on rather than actively staking out a position. With a cast of characters this odd, nothing else is needed. The only signs of independent thought in the film was a small group of irate teens who gave one of the pastors their direct opinion on the Hell House.
A interesting footnote only mentioned briefly in the documentary. With 12,000 visitors at $7 a head, plus a concession stand, and all with volunteer labor. I guess what the Trinity Church doesn't make in converted souls, they reap in cash.
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