Hell houses are haunted attractions typically run by American, Christian churches or parachurch organizations. These depict sin, the torments of the damned in Hell, and usually conclude with a depiction of heaven. They are most typically operated in the days preceding the triduum of Hallowmas.
A hell house, like a conventional haunted-house attraction, is a space set aside for actors attempting to frighten patrons with gruesome exhibits and scenes, presented as a series of short vignettes with a narrated guide. Unlike haunted houses, hell houses focus on occasions and effects of sin or the fate of unrepentant sinners in the afterlife. They occur during the month of October to capitalize on the similarities between hell houses and haunted attractions.
The exhibits at a hell house often have a theme focusing on issues of concern to evangelicals in the United States. Hell houses frequently feature exhibits depicting sin and its consequences. Common examples include abortion, suicide, use of alcoholic beverages and other recreational drugs, adultery and pre-marital sex, occultism, homosexuality, and Satanic ritual abuse. Hell houses typically emphasize the belief that anyone who does not accept Christ as their personal savior is condemned to Hell. They are notable for their use of hyperbole, for example, the short clips seen of a Hell House rehearsal in the Documentary The Root of All Evil?, presented by Richard Dawkins.
The earliest hell house is thought to been created by Trinity Assembly of God in Dallas, but it was first popularized by Jerry Falwell in the late 1970s.1 Falwell's "Scaremare" event of 1972 included a mixture of haunted house frights, a crucifixion scene, and a distribution of literature pertaining to the Christian Gospel.2 Similar events began in several regions during that period. More recently, the concept has been promoted and adapted by Keenan Roberts, originally of Roswell, New Mexico, who started a hell house in Arvada, Colorado in 1995. Since that time, hell houses have become a regular fixture of the Halloween season in parts of the United States. Roberts remains active in the hell house ministry by providing kits and directions to enable churches to perform their own attractions.3 He is now the senior pastor of Destiny Church of the Assemblies of God where Hell House is usually performed each year during the month of October.
In October 2000, documentary filmmaker George Ratliff filmed a production of a Hell House in Cedar Hill, Texas from scripting to the final night of the production.4 The resulting documentary, Hell House,5 has inspired numerous live plays and hell-house performances, including one based on Pastor Roberts' production, which played for a month during the 2006 Halloween season in an off-Broadway production in Brooklyn, New York by Les Freres Corbusier.67
- "Hell houses, judgment houses etc.". ReligiousTolerance.org. Retrieved 2007-11-17.
- W. Scott Poole. Monsters in America: Our Historical Obsession with the Hideous and the Haunting. Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2011. ISBN 978-1-60258-314-6.
- "'Hell House' Kits Selling Nationally". Christianity Today. 1996-10-07. Retrieved 2007-11-17.
- "Hell House (2001)". IMDb. Retrieved 2007-11-17.
- "'Hell House' Film Depicts a Church That Wants to Scare the Hell out of You". NPR. Retrieved 2007-11-17.
- "Hell House". Retrieved 2007-11-17.
- Theresa Smalec (May 2007). "Celebrate Like True Believers': Performing Evangelical Christianity in Les Freres Corbusier's Hell House". Retrieved 2009-07-17.
- Nixon, Elisabeth Ann (2006) Playing devil's advocate on the path to heaven: evangelical hell houses and the play of politics, fear and faith (PhD dissertation).
- Judgement House Promo - 2011 - an example of typical scenes in a hell house