Some people, no doubt, will think that the idea of a "show" like this is too offensive, wondering why they can't just go with the traditional ghosts-witches-and-goblins theme of most houses of horror. I think they miss the point somewhat; when "traditional" spook houses started several decades ago, the ghost/witch scenarios we now think so tame and fun came across as just about as frightening as what is presented here. Now that we've got more modern notions of horror, and are more regularly exposed to innumerable forms of violence and inhumanity, some updating of Halloween conventions was not only probable but perhaps necessary. After all, the basic purpose of events like this (and Halloween itself, for that matter) has always been to truly shock and horrify the audience, NOT to make them laugh and have a goofy time.
The film is generally even-handed, as many have said, though I think the somewhat garish use of white backgrounds for a few of the interviews betrays the filmmakers' actual opinions. It's true that the practice of speaking in tongues (which I'd never actually seen before) is unusual, but the way some reviews have referred to it (Freaky! Shocking! Bizarre! Loony!) is actually more disturbing to me; I doubt that viewers would feel comfortable using words like that to describe Jewish or Islamic religious practices, or would treat such faiths with such derision. There's a lot more people in the world that speak in tongues than celebrate Bar Mitzvahs, but few filmgoers - I'm glad to say - would react to a Bar Mitzvah or synagogue scene with the ridicule I saw in the theater.
I'll admit I was slightly bothered that the audience I was with found many of the cast members (not just their acting skills) so laughable; while their acting IS certainly laughably bad at times, I'm sure this is true of virtually any amateur theater production where there's a large open casting call. Yes, some kids do exult at finding out they'll get to be "abortion girl" or a suicidal teen (these ARE flashy and prominent roles in the production), but I don't believe - as many seem to - that this indicates some extraordinary acting out of fantasies. (Or do Shakespearean actors, who I'm sure exult just as much to find out they've won a prominent role, secretly wish to be living the life of their character? I think not.) Most of what is seen regarding the auditions, rehearsals, production, etc. is really an enjoyable look at a large-scale amateur production, and anyone who's been involved with such work will no doubt find a lot here with which they can identify.
Much has been made of the AIDS scenario in the Hell House production, though I couldn't help thinking that there seemed to be some difficulty with it even on the part of those producing the event. The scenario is certainly more sparsely written than most of the others (from what I could see in the film, anyway), and I suspect that the event staff kept it rather slight intentionally, as it's presented alongside another scenario which is far more visceral. Perhaps there was some difference or debate among the writers as to where the scene should go, or how they felt about the characters or issues involved; at any rate, there's little doubt that the AIDS scene could have been written far more disturbingly, and it's something of a relief that it wasn't. (I know many will disagree here, feeling the mere idea of the scene is offensive. I don't agree with the point of view presented either, but I'm not sure it's quite as bad as many will perceive.)
A couple of points regarding religious belief in this film probably need to be explained, as the audience when I saw the film seemed not to understand what was meant (and I suppose others might be perplexed too): When the girl near the end talks of Christ returning to earth for His bride, she is NOT talking about Him selecting a particular woman; rather, this refers to the belief (by ALL Christian churches, not just Pentecostals) that the universal Church of all believers - that is, the totality of all the faithful, not a specific denomination established by mankind - is figuratively the bride of Christ. The practice of "speaking in tongues" (depicted here), as well as beliefs regarding the Rapture, are generally specific to 20th-century evangelical denominations (Pentecostals, Seventh-Day Adventists, etc); while speaking in tongues does have some Scriptural basis, most liberal and moderate denominations treat the practice with a great deal of caution, and generally refrain from encouraging it. (There is also, I should point out, some difference in application of the term "evangelical"; pre-20th century application of that word, which pertains to many moderate faiths such as Lutheranism, Methodism, and Presbyterianism, simply means being open and vocal about one's faith and actively witnessing and ministering to non-believers. In the 20th century sense of the word, the term "evangelical" has tended to be heavily influenced by the revivalist movement started by Aimee Semple McPherson - which included various practices that led to the description "holy roller", and relates to Pentecostal churches such as the Assemblies of God, Church of God in Christ, Church of the Foursquare Gospel, as well as various non-Pentecostal denominations such as the Church of the Nazarene, and Seventh-Day Adventists. Many people don't really understand this difference in the way many self-described evangelicals differ in what they mean by the phrase.)
Do my beliefs coincide with those of the "Hell House" operators? No, not exactly - I do have problems with the way some of the scenarios are presented; I'd certainly take a different approach to some of the scenes. But I DO agree with their general idea in presenting the event. None of this, of course, relates to the quality of the film, but it's worth bringing up. As for the quality of the film itself, I think it does an excellent job in presenting the purposes of the organizers, in showing us some of their background, and in documenting the problems inherent in mounting a production of this nature and size. 8 of 10.
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