Looking for something to really scare the pants off of your kids and other loved ones as the Halloween season draws to a close? Drop by your local fundamentalist Christian "Hell House" and find out what torments await you once you've died and gone to hell.
Typically orchestrated by church or parachurch organizations, Hell Houses luxuriate in the graphic depiction of all manner of sin -- for a good cause, of course.
Saving the miserable souls of undeserving sinners who delight in wickedness -- like celebrating Halloween.
Although similar to more familiar secular live-action haunted house attractions, Christian Hell Houses pack their rented space with brief but gruesome mini-stories, accompanied by some degree of explanatory narration. But these vignettes aren't being recreated in order to share a fun bit of fright - they exist in the hopes of literally scaring the devil out of visitors.
Their message is spread throughout the year, but during the month of October their physical manifestation cashes in on the holiday spirit and the hope that attendees won't know what they're getting into until it's too late.
Featuring graphic, exaggerated, and clearly opinionated reenactments of abortions gone horribly bad, teen suicides, excessive intoxication, illegal drug use, adultery, homosexuality, Satanism, occult practices, and pre-marital sex, Hell Houses communicate a clear message to their guests: repent and accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior -- or die and burn for all eternity.
After enduring a cascade of sounds and images ranging from demons cackling over the misfortune of unwed mothers and unrepentant homosexuals to the casting of sexually active men and women into hellish flames, visitors are reassured by visions of salvation at the hands of Jesus - who then leads everyone to a land of punch and cookies.
According to Wikipedia, Jerry Falwell provided the world with the first Hell House experience during the late 1970s. Scaremare still exists today and has spawned a multitude of fundamentalists with something sexy and violent to do during October without officially being involved with a holiday that many insist is based in Satanic teachings.
Pastor Keenan Roberts, now of Colorado but originally from Roswell, NM, enthusiastically embraced the Hell House tradition, not only creating his own in Arvada, CO but providing instructions and kits for churches that wish to indulge in their own horror ministries.
Secular critics complain that Hell Houses not only unfairly prey upon the fears of young children and adolescents but often dupe prospective patrons into laying down cash for what they think will be a light-hearted scare by failing to mention that they have a decidedly evangelical spin.
That view is shared by Christians who take a dim view of high-pressure conversions, with many contending that the likelihood of long-term spiritual success is limited and their methodology manipulative. Further complicating acceptance of Hell Houses by even bible believers is the fact that many view their heavy-handed fear tactics to be a form of child abuse - and not all consider the "sins" depicted to necessarily be sinful.
Nonetheless, they are an increasingly common national occurrence.
According to ReligiousTolerance.org, a typical Hell House experience includes graphic and factually inaccurate re-enactments of such things as the murder of Columbine High School student Cassie Bernall's by a fellow student who allegedly killed her for her faith. Joining this scene are those depicting innocents being sacrificed by Wiccans during Satanic rituals, demon possession brought on by exploring the occult, witches forcing teens to commit murder, and drunk drivers slaughtering their passengers. The terrorist attacks of 9/11 have provided modern Hell House organizers with new scenarios to present, as well.
Late-term abortions, complete with raw meat, considerable screaming, copious blood and callous medicos are perennial favorites, of course - although more sensitive churches have begun depicting the baby killing women as filled with guilt and remorse in order to promote the invention of something called "Post Abortion Syndrome." Also in the sex vein are examples of tragedy resulting from sex before marriage, spousal arguments that drive men to adultery and the supposed evils of same-sex relationships.
Audio effects are often provided by a Hell House specific CD featuring "the voice of suicide, the voice of God, and the bone-chilling demon declaration of 'HELL HOUSE' in the opening scene." According to Roberts, Hell House kits run a tidy $200+ and "show young people that they can go to hell for abortion, adultery, homosexuality, drinking and other things unless they repent and end the behavior."
Never one to let others appear more self-righteous than themselves, the fictional followers of Landover Baptist church have developed their own satirical, if non-existent, Hell House, which they claim is the only spot of church land where non-believers are welcome during the year.
Sounding all-too-authentic by insisting that Halloween is Hebrew for "Satan Ruleth," the fanciful church claims that the holiday celebrates the fall of humankind and the rise of Catholicism - and the LandoverBaptist.org website describes their unique interpretation of the Hell House phenomena as "a reality-based adventure that takes people on a 7-scene journey, each scene depicting the hell and destruction that Satan and His world bestow on those who choose to not accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Personal Savior, submit to God's authority, join a Bible-based church, and participate in and financially support the Baptist faith."
This year's fantasy-rich vaporware Landover Baptist Hell House is billed as featuring "an unparalleled experience of horror," according to commentary on the subject, which claims that "Real Corpses from Turkey's Earthquake that would have been wasted in mass graves, will (sic) frozen and delivered to Landover Baptist Church, to be used in the Godly purpose of winning souls! We intend to so traumatize people with images of death and Hell, that they will have no choice but to fall flat on their faces in the conversion tend and repent, get baptized and get their little Devil loving souls into church!"
The entire tour of Landover Baptist's fictive Hell House is billed as taking approximately a half hour to view its 10 scenes. One vignette has allegedly been shortened to a mere 30 seconds, "in an effort to cut down on all the vomit we had to clean up between groups last year."
Highlights of the fright fest include the funeral of a gay teen who died from AIDS contracted by touching ink from a "pedophile homosexual Secular-History teacher," the suicide of a drunken father responsible for the auto related death of his family, a graphic teen suicide autopsy, a pot smoking devil who introduces children to the drug before being begged to impregnate them, Satan both performing and devouring an abortion while disguised as a Jewish doctor, a gay man raping a live chicken that is then cooked and served to the audience, and unrepentant souls being whipped and beaten until converted.
A signed medical waiver is supposedly required before entering the Landover Baptist Hell House, which, among other things, hopes to bring salvation to "teenagers influenced by the poison of negro music."
Although Landover Baptist church is an unrepentant satire, in the real world much of what it promotes is not. While there is no official word about whether its development owes any direct thanks to Roberts' Hell House Outreach kits -- odds are strong that the lampoon is a more than fitting homage for a profoundly anti-sex, anti-equality message that belongs buried in the dark ages of antiquity.