Demons & Halloween Lies: A Trip Through Hell House

Evangelical Christian culture is an enduring fascination of mine; as someone who grew up secularly, in a left-wing mainline Protestant stronghold it’s so alien to me it feels as fringe as UFO channelers, Indigo children, or internet werewolf cults. Evangelical right-wingers actually make up the largest religious group in the US, but for reasons both intentional and geographic they feel like a weirdo artifact.

Evangelical separation from mainstream pop culture results in, above all, a hidden world of films that are completely terrible in both filmmaking and assumptions about human nature, a world glimpsed by others only in fleeting PureFlix ads on Youtube. We Arrogant Liberal Elites know so little about the culture that large chunks of society belong to; what goes on in the world of people who agree with Mike “Horsefucker” Pence’s views on talking with women (don’t, lest those slutty, slutty whores tempt you into sin by existing in a professional context)?

One element of evangelical culture absolutely confounding to outsiders are hell houses, captured in George Ratliff’s 2002 documentary Hell House, which I somehow missed then despite being deep in my edgy atheist phase.

Hell houses are fake Halloween haunted houses with a Christian message, guiding visitors through scenes of sin that play like community theater Grand Guignol. Blood, guts, and acting that vacillates between stiff and downright feral.

Though the concept started in the 70s, and became common in the 90s, hell houses didn’t attract mainstream notice until one in Cedar Hill, Texas staged a scene based on the Columbine…a mere six months after the shooting. Clearly stung by the bad publicity two years prior, a church in Waco would base a scene off 9/11.

Hell houses naturally attract outrage and mockery, but Ratliff’s film, much like 2006’s Jesus Camp, stays relatively neutral. Instead of on-screen narrators or expert interviews, the believers in Cedar Hill tell their own story, and the film refuses to turn them into a sideshow, shooting them speaking in tongues as if they were singing “Happy Birthday”.

The planning for the next Hell house dives into awkward comedy: a debate over whether the occult “roleplaying game” Magic: The Gathering is called Magic or The Gathering, delight over being cast in “the suicide scene”, portentous talk of how dozens of people die at every rave ever held, a switch in the occult scene’s candles after a warlock’s complaint. But Ratliff plays their beliefs sincerely.

And it’s the sincerity that makes passages of Hell House chilling. A woman whose experience acting in the Hell house led her to forgive her rapist, who attended that Christian event openly; a man who prays over a seizing child to cure him. Moments like this, of course, wouldn’t seem chilling in the culture of Cedar Hills’ evangelicals. Of course you forgive those who hurt you. Of course you attribute healing to God. It’s a clash between fundamentally different views of how the world works.

The climatic trip through the hell house makes you wonder how many people truly come to a place to be converted. Much of evangelical pop culture is aimed at outsiders, but consumed by the in-group. Turns out most people don’t want to watch turgid indie films in the hopes of changing their entire religion. The silliest manifestation of this tendency were Chick tracts, which invariably act as if people who grew up white in America would never have heard of Jesus until someone hands them a cheap comic at a bowling alley. I always wonder to what extent they realize they’re preaching to the choir – the hell house’s visitors are already-converted locals or outsiders tricked by its resemblance to a typical haunted house and more apt to be annoyed than converted.

Most commentary on hell houses attack their most obviously offensive elements – the allusions to recent tragedies – and pass over their hatred of women. Who could ever guess why skeptics & atheists of the 2000s mostly ignored women’s rights unless it let them be racist?

But the “rave” scene involves a woman being date raped, and in the end someone goes to Hell. Guess who? That’s right – the rape victim, who is victim blamed for her rape, kills herself in despair of ever being believed, and is dragged off to Hell. We can only hope the rapist would be granted a chance to repent, and maybe even get a seat on the Supreme Court.

The Columbine scene is here downgraded to a schoolroom suicide (and obligatory Hell-dragging-offing). The true centerpiece is a sequence that combines two hell house obsessions – AIDS and abortion – into one bloody tableau.

Hell houses first attracted controversy by advertising a chance to see AIDS funerals; here, a gay man is dying of AIDS when a woman who just took an abortion drug, and is now bleeding to death because that’s absolutely how abortions work, is wheeled in. He rejects God and goes to Hell; she repents at the last second and is saved.

The final sequence in any Hell house depicts Heaven and, well, heck. A man enters the gates of Heaven; his sins were many, but he was cool with Jesus, so it’s alright. Others descend to Hell, where a man babbles about how being molested as a child made him think being gay was okay (you’d think the child molester would be in Hell too, but I guess he was cool with Jesus, too, so it’s all good).

Here is where Ratliff pierces the bubble and introduces the film’s only critical voice. Our savior takes the form of a group of edgy teens who question the attraction’s homophobia and the concept of someone being damned to eternal torment essentially for having depression. They display the eloquence groups of angry teens are famed for, but the operators can’t really muster a proper response to the idea that, y’know, maybe reality has “nuance”.

Hell houses are far from beloved by the bulk of American Christians, especially mainstream Protestants, who object to conversion by fear. After all, someone who believes exclusively because they’re afraid doesn’t really believe. But the make-your-own-emotionally-manipulative-fake-haunted-house kits still sell, and the Hell house in Cedar Hills is still kicking, even if it doesn’t make headlines anymore.

The conservative culture warriors of the 1980s through 2000s, though, have mostly vanished or pivoted to more overtly political tactics. The Supreme Court legalizing gay marriage didn’t seem like an ending at the time, but the way that – a homophobic city hall clerk or two aside – Republicans basically conceded the victory dropped the curtain on purely cultural or religious rage. It took a few years for the old homophobic, “they’re coming for your children” arguments to resurface, now targeted at trans people, but there’s a distinct directness in their rage. People attack trans folk many ways, but they don’t often say they’re going to Hell.

Part of this is flirtation with an alt-right that’s largely atheistic and more openly hateful, and abiding by the harassment tactics of GamerGate. Dogwhistles are so 1999. Part of this is an openly not-especially-religious President. Part of it just secrecy: Republicans still believe the world is ending soon, they still support Israel primarily due to Biblical prophecies about its existence being a precondition for Jesus’ return, but as long as they don’t say it, anyone that does accuse them of believing what they believe looks like a nutter, don’t they?

Ratliff once said that the people in Hell House do it because they don’t have therapy; that this is how they process and purge their feelings. Within the walls of a hell house, we see the unfiltered id of the right-wing evangelical vomited out for all to see, with no regard for decorum or smarm, and wholly dedicated to saving souls through fraud and trauma.

3D Phantoms & Nokia Ghosts: A Guide to Vintage Ghost Photos, Part II

Previously…
NOW…
The Ghost Girl

Origin: Allegedly, Indonesia circa 1993; others place it in Sarajevo, Ohio or Texas.

Bei längerem Betrachten dieses Bildes wurden bereits bei vielen Menschen auf der ganzen Welt psychische Störungen festgestellt.

 

Ova slika uslikana je na jednom od mjesta zlocina 1993 u Indoneziji.U ovom hodniku desio se zlocin.Ova slika trebala je da sluzi kao jedan od dokaza u sudnici.Medjutim nakon izrade ova se djevojcica pojavljuje na slikama!!!!!

 

La siguiente fotografía es original de Indonesia, en la época de los disturbios en contra del gobierno en 1993, y la foto fue tomada por un reportero que estaba documentando los acontecimientos en uno de los edificios donde había ocurrido una masacre masiva. El fotógrafo disparo el flash a la estancia, en el lugar exacto donde fue la matanza, para documentar el lugar de los hechos. Al revelar la película esto fue lo que apareció, este suceso ha dado la vuelta al mundo. ¿Nos lo creemos o no?

 

This picture was taken by a reporter in Indonesia, in 1993. The reporter wanted to take a photo of a room where a mass killing was done.When the photo was developed showed this!! It is said that people that were looking at this picture for long, had nervous breakdown problems afterwards.

Spreading at least as early as 2002, and likely earlier, this photo is as classic as it is easily explained.

The origins of the ghost girl are always placed in places of horror: unrest in Indonesia, massacres in Eastern Europe, Ohio. To even glimpse this phantom invokes a curse – those afflicted suffer breakdowns and mental illness.

Why a reporter’s camera would pick up red & green colors is never explained. Such an odd spirit, to distort the world to look exactly like an image meant for 3D glasses.

That’s what this photo clearly is. Frustratingly, my history with this supposed spirit is personal: I vividly remember seeing this image, or at least one like it, in a book in the mid-to-late 90s. It must have unnerved me, for me to remember; when I encountered this photo a few years later my entire reaction was “oh, it’s that photo from that book!”

Alas, the source of it has never been found, so I have no clue if it really was the origin or not. ALAS.


CELL PHONE GHOST

ORIGIN: Allegedly Manila, circa 2003, though earlier uploads may exist

This was taken last week, the girls are using Mobile phone that has a camera, I believe it is Nokia 7650, the girls are having fun, but when they look at the screen of the phone they saw a person next to the other girl and holding her hand. It was so scary.

 

Lo scatto in questione proviene da Eastwood City, Manila, è stata fatta con un Nokia 7250, un telefono cellulare con fotocamera. La storia dietro ad essa narra che due ragazze dopo una notte di divertimenti volessero farsi scattare una foto, così chiesero ad un passante di fotografarle, ma ciò che videro nello schermo del telefono scioccò loro. Un essere spettrale era accanto alla ragazza a destra e sembrava toccarle il braccio

 

This photo was taken at Eastwood City in Manila through a Nokia 7250, a phone with a camera. These two girls were out for the night and they wanted to have their picture taken. After asking somebody to take their picture, what they saw on the phone’s screen shocked them. A ghostly being was beside the girl in right and it appeared to be holding her arm. FREAKY!

A mainstay of ghost websites to this day, this photo is in the resplendent quality of early camera-phones.

Though an easy explanation is that someone moved out of frame as the photo was taken, claims of a double exposure are dismissed as impossible by most sources, and I don’t know enough about early cell phone cameras to confirm or deny. The ‘ghost’ resembles one in a ghost-photo-fakery app, but as we know this photo is really from 2003, it can’t be an app (more likely the app modeled their ghost on this photo, not the other way around). A Ghost Study reader helpfully says:

“I get a strong feeling that the ghost in that pic holding the girls arm was a close friend, or relation. The letter ‘K’ keeps appearing in my mind.

But he doesn’t claim to be a psychic. Just a weirdo online.

Reportedly the photographer & the subjects didn’t report anything unusual, and for once the unearthly appearance of the ghost rules out the possibility that it was, y’know, just a person walking by.

My best guess is “Photoshop, probably?” or “some camera glitch from motion”, but most debunkings gravitate towards “they faked a photo provably from 2003 with an app” and “double exposure, which is maybe impossible, I guess”, so we can at least class this one as Kinda Spooky.


AND NOW SOME FACES IN JUNK

Why did everyone in the 2000s see faces in everything

Na slici se nalazi prizor pozara jednog auta.Obicni pozar il nest malo vise,pogledajte tu vatru!?

Hier ist ein Foto von einem Autobrand… War es ein Unfall, oder eher das Werk eines Flammengeistes???

Und jetzt was Aktuelleres: Bilder vom 11. September von CNN.

A wild time where the Devil was just appearing in every fire and cloud but Jesus was in our toast so it’s all good, I guess

NEXT TIME: Smol aliens

Over on Youtube, I maintain a playlist of bizarre videos. There’s nearly 100 on there now, with videos ranging from Freddy Freaker to the Judderman. I’ve arranged it into sections, because that is exactly the dorky thing I’d do, so watch it sometime.

One of the videos I’ve had up there for a while is a Chicago-area PSA from the late 80’s. In it, an unnamed preacher rails against Halloween:

There’s so much amazing here. Samhain, which is actually pronounced Sah-win, isn’t just an alternate name for Halloween. And I refuse to believe that this guy hates Halloween. He’s just so into his character. He looks like he loves Halloween, as he plays a scenery-chewing Devil trying to “take Chicago back”. It’s incredible.

Happy Halloween, everyone! Make sure to stay safe when trick-or-treating on 1666 Dark Shadow Lane!

The Jersey Devil, or possibly some kind of goat prop on a string, caught on camera.

Ah, New Jersey. That place next to New York. A state where you can’t pump your own gas, but where you could spend a death-defying day of family fun at Action Park. The great state of New Jersey is very weird. There’s even a magazine about how weird it is. And its most enduring legend is that of the Jersey Devil.

According to one popular origin story, the Jersey Devil was the thirteenth child of Mother Leeds. Leeds declared that her child would be the Devil, for…some reason. The newborn Leeds child grew hooves, bat wings and other devilish accouterments. And, much like a Russian gangster, the now-transformed devil-baby fled into the Pine Barrens, never to be seen again.

Until now.

An anonymous New Jerseyan, hailing from Galloway, claims to have seen the Jersey Devil. And they managed to snap a picture before it disappeared:

jersey-devil

This incontrovertible photographic evidence proves the existence of New Jersey’s most famous flying goat demon monster. And elsewhere we find convincing video evidence.

As anyone with even the slightest knowledge about flying goats can tell you, they keep their bodies absolutely still while they fly. Some say this video looks “obviously fake”, and “cheaper than a Tom Baker-era Doctor Who monster”. These people are ignorant clods who wouldn’t know a Jersey Devil from a Connecticut Goatman. You are all disgraces to the rigorous and not at all credulous-bullshit-filled field of cryptozoology.

Cryptozoology tells us the truth we’ve long suspected, but have always been too afraid to say: Hell is real, and it’s in New Jersey.

Happy End of the World (II)!

Tonight, the Cubs take on the Pirates in the National League’s wild card game. The Cubs are, of course, the Illuminati’s favorite squadron. And hockey season begins, to the delight of many Canadians and seven Americans. And probably some things that aren’t sports are happening tonight. But more importantly, it’s THE END OF THE WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORRRRRRRRRRLD. Again!

The last time the world ended, it was April. Through long summer days, as we listened to Taylor Swift’s 1989, an anonymous prophet not only gave us a specific day (April 30th), but named a time (11/10 Central) for the end of the world. Now, it’s a cold fall night, and as we listen to Ryan Adams’ 1989 we face a much vaguer tribulation, an apocalypse we just can’t shake off so easily.

The eBible Fellowship claimed that the world would end in May 2011. But whoops, math is hard, it’s clearly going to end in October 2015. Those simple math errors! The world will be annihilated sometime tonight, according to the fellowship. What time? Who knows. At least that anonymous Reddit prophet specified a time zone. Does the apocalypse hit Australia first? How would we even know the difference? Is that why Australia is such a blasted deathscape of monstrous creatures – because every apocalypse hits them early, and leaves traces behind? Does Australia act as the world’s bulwark against its end? The questions are as plentiful as they are pointless!

My bet on when the world will end still remains on the “death via sun expansion, billions of years from now” option. We won’t be in any danger when it happens, though, because humanity will have evolved into either pure energy or some form of gigantic newt by that time, and the Earth will be naught but a museum for our great-great-great-great-(thirty hours later)-great-great-grandchildren and their superintelligent newt families, who will marvel at how, 7.5 billion years from now, the Cubs still haven’t won the World Series.

There’s a 99.9% chance the world won’t end tonight, and the .1% chance involves some implausiable yet thrilling Tom Clancyian intrigue in an exotic foreign locale. So don’t worry. The world will be here tomorrow.

Flashback Friday: Weird Tales, and Images, from Wisconsin

“Wisconsin has the highest proportion of eccentric environments in the USA, more than 10% of the total.” – Jan Friedman

Since the demise of Time Cube, I’ve become nostalgic for the early, more personal days of the internet. Before social media was around, before content was shuffled towards a few overarching services. Things that are now Twitter feeds and Tumblr blogs would once be a gigantic number of individual, single-topic websites and forums, an array of personal homepages and strange blogs stretching off into eternity. You might stumble across a weird Subreddit now, but at least it’s cloaked in the familiarity of a larger site. Finding one of the web’s oddities once meant entering into an alternate world, created to mirror the author’s mind.

I once enjoyed browsing these websites. I heard about them on the old Snopes message boards, or places like Crank.net and the Museum of Hoaxes, or through long lists of links on places such as the Insolitology or even the Sci-Fi Channel.

I don’t know where I found today’s website. It’s one of several sites describing the many oddities of Wisconsin. I’ll detail the others in future Flashback Fridays; bizarrely, while today’s site is defunct, the other sites that are still up look way more outdated.

What do you think of when you think of Wisconsin? Cheese? Beer? Serial killers? The Fonz? How about the Beast of Bray Road, the werewolf that calls Elkhorn home? Or the Hodag, a reptilian beast made up in a failed attempt to make Rhinelander interesting? Those are just the obvious legends about the state. Today’s site looks at the deep cuts.

The now-defunct Weird Wisconsin last updated in 2004; it vanished some time in 2006. Presumably inspired by Weird New Jersey, it’s home to many accounts of Wisconsin’s paranormal phenomenon, and wonderful images like this:

WISCONSIN Continue reading

Blurry Photo or Evidence of Demons?

Ghost Study, the biggest ghost site on the web since 1999, offers the world two things: dubious ghost photos and advice on how to best misuse tools to make them find “ghosts”. This photograph hails from August 2001 and describes a concept that couldn’t even catch on in the world of ghost hunters.

“Look for the demons. You’ll find several of them in this picture!”

crowdNo, photo, YOU ARE THE DEMONS.

Supposedly this photo includes several DEMONS, including: t-rex eating a dude’s head, a shadow man in the stands, and a giant bird or something they helpfully highlighted.

It’s impossible for these to be a woman’s hair, or a face, or a dude wearing black. It’s impossible that this is a terrible photo. Photos never lie, have errors or just look like shit. No, it’s DEMONS.

“This photo from Jeff gives us greater insight into the phenomena of crowd demons. The term “Crowd Demons” is a term I came up with here at Ghost Master to differentiate them from other demonic beings caught on film. It’s not unusual to catch strange and unidentifiable anomalies on film which I call “Crowd Anomalies”, but this is much different! These are not ghostly anomalies at all, but appear to be actual Demons on film! It is believed that the appearance of these types of demons are a direct result of either the location being haunted or their attractiveness to the photographer or member/s of the audience…….scary thought.”

Scary thought…

If you’re looking for other examples of “crowd demons”…there aren’t any. The few times paranormal sites discuss “crowd demons” it’s…a link to this photo. This terrible, terrible photo.

It’s a terrible, terrible photo that’s lasted until 2013, when it made an appearance on a Listverse listicle about lesser-known kinds of ghost, along with kobolds (!?), doppelgangers of Nic Cage, 100% artificial ghosts and vortexes, strange, camera-strap like spirits that only show up on camera.

So next time you’re talking a low-resolution photo of a crowd with a terrible camera, you can always hope that someone will find ghosts and demons in it and keep spreading it around with some ridiculous backstory about “crowd demons”. Ain’t life grand?