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.

A History of Nibiru, the Made-up Planet That Keeps Failing to Destroy the Earth

Nibiru, the secretive Planet X speculated to exist by some people who are not astronomers, will not pass through our solar system and destroy the Earth this Saturday, goddamnit.

David Meade, an author who boldly describes himself as a “Christian numerologist” despite that not now, or ever having been a job, predicts the world’s end in a potent mix of Bible-code-eschatology and New Age Planet X fears. And he issues his prophecy via the means best accepted by the people: incredibly stupid Youtube videos.

A woman will descend from heaven, looking like something out of a Pure Moods ad.

“…but because she saw The Shape of Water, she’ll kinda be into it.”

A great red dragon will appear, looking like a Langolier rendered on a Nintendo 64.

Snatched up by God in a way akin to the magical books in Myst, yet somehow with more antiquated graphics.

Ah yes, what more Judeo-Christian symbols are there than Astraea, Hermes, Ares and Aphrodite? We later learn that her child is Jupiter – that classic figure of Christianity, Zeus, God of Thunder.

What follows is an apocalypse depicted with all the verisimilitude of a basic cable drama starring a lesser Skarsgard.

My god, look at the sky…it’s a blurry aurora, at this time of year, localized entirely in your shitty Youtube video!

People disappear worldwide from stock footage of major cities, carried away in epilepsy-inducing balls of light. On this random street, hazy filters distract us from how few people are actually there as cars crash and helicopters fall in some hollow The Leftovers-ripoff. I guess the message is less “be Christian and stuff” and more “NEXT TIME YOU INVITE FINAL PAM TO BARBECUE”.

Pants fall from the sky and we close with a final warning:

…says the man literally making an overwrought Youtube video saying the exact day and hour he thinks the world will end. What a world, what a world. Continue reading

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!

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.

“You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet”: One Pastor Reveals Barack Obama’s Frankly Incomprehensible Plan to Ship All Black People To Africa

Dr. James David Manning runs Harlem’s Atlah Worldwide Church. He’s also very concerned about Barack Obama sending African-Americans back to Africa in this bizarrely hilarious video from 2012.

Why? He doesn’t really¬†say. Perhaps to solve America’s economic problems, and crime problems, and industrial problems, as this pastor – who is, I must point out, is black – believes. But he does reveal that Obama is working with Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg, George Soros* and Bill Clinton to send all black people to Haiti or western Africa. And that Obama is the son of Satan.

“When we go back to Africa, Al Sharpton will be the President. TD Jakes will be your President.”

You’d think the Presidents and Prime Ministers of the countries of West Africa might object, but I’m sure Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is fine with it.

And holy shit, is it intense. “PRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY. MAYBE WE CAN STAY IN AMERICA. MAYBEEEEEEEEE!”

But the really hilarious part is the sudden change of tone about five minutes and thirty seconds in. He leaps from fire-and-brimstone preacher to morning show meteorologist in seconds. It’s almost like it was an act or something!

Via r/conspiratard.

*I’m amazed that, after all this time running this blog, I haven’t run into any George Soros conspiracy theories until now. He’s also into FEMA conspiracies and is a birther.