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Hell House
dir. George Ratliff
Plays November 17th through November 24th

"For a month straight I claimed her soul and condemned her to Hell... And we've been going out ever since"

The premise is what really grabbed me: Ten years ago at the Trinity Assembly of God way down there in Hallelujah it's Texas! they started a trend that has caught on in churches around the country: the Hell House. A haunted house depicting scenes of domestic violence, school shootings, drug use, underage sex, and all the rest of the things that we, the jaded and careless, hold dear to our hearts as fun and entertaining. And, of course, in decent church-going form, the kids in all of these scenes are all dragged (physically, dragged, that is) out of the room and off to Hell. You even get to see them all burning in torment before you leave the Hell House. Which is nice, you get a great sense of closure.

George Ratliff, a Texas native, went back to Dallas to watch the planning, creation and operation of the tenth incarnation of Trinity's Hell House. Lucky for all he just happened to have his video camera with him too. What results from the effort is absolutely amazing. This is a documentary in the truest form. There is no narrator guiding the images, no subtext to the presentation. There is no slant to the work and so no clear message to this film. You walk out of it not very sure what you're supposed to take away aside from the fact that you've just seen a very strange slice of some interesting people's lives.

The Pros

The editing of Hell House by Michael LaHaie is superb. Like-wise the cinematography and sound work and original score are all excellent. Not only is there no need for a narrator, but you lose the sense that there's even anyone behind the camera. Due to some very adept interviewing, a perfect job of editing and a masterful sense of ambiance, the story just tells itself. And if this were not to happen the movie would be much less successful. If you felt, for one moment, that Ratliff or any of his crew was manufacturing the scenes, the magic would be lost. And even though they probably are pulling a few tricks over on us, you would never suspect it; technically speaking this a near-flawless work.

It's actually pretty creepy. For example: that no one can remember the name "Roofie," instead calling it just "The Date Rape Drug" for the whole movie; and no one seems to know what it does… weird! Or when the kids kill each other with guns, they are using real handguns in these scenes. Guns that the police have just handed out and taught them how to use that same night…spooky! But, for my money, the most chilling moment comes early on, when they are planning the various attractions for this year's house. The Pastor talks about how fully aware he is that the driving force of the Pentecostal Church is the fear of going to hell. And this is something that he wants to pound into the hearts and minds of all the teenagers who visit… scary!

It's likewise kind of amazing. The depth and absoluteness of these peoples' faith is astounding. On every person's face you see true and complete belief. Something you won't find in very many corners of New York. It's strangely refreshing to see people that are so committed to their church and so unquestioning about their religion. God is their life, and their lives, it seems, are all about God.

The Cons

It's slow. If you really hate documentaries or you find nothing at all fascinating about these people or what they are doing, then you will probably hate this movie. There isn't any glitz or magic to the film. But that's because there doesn't need to be any.


Creep-fest: Two-and-a-Half Angel Hearts
Much like your run of the mill horror flick Hell House manages to be chilling and absurd at the same time. But the absurdity is more outrageous than anything dreamt up by Wes Craven, and the chills go a hell of a lot deeper.

Sweet Texas Meat: One Trashy Texan Hick
The boys of Trinity just aren't cute enough. No wonder the girls are saving themselves for marriage. They're all hoping something better comes along. And of course all the fags are turning to Jesus, at least he's got a nice ass.

Overall: Three-and-a-Half Hipsters
This is an excellent documentary. Above and beyond any other documentary this year, Hell House give you a very real, very raw, very compassionate portrait of something that most of us feel very far away from. It's only playing for one week in November, go see it before you miss the chance… or spend the rest of eternity DAMNED!

We Bergie Update:
In a shocking turn of events Hell House has ripped off Michael Moore's balls and is the clear front-runner for best documentary.

B.C. Edwards
[email protected]


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[email protected] | November 2002 | Issue 32
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