Hell houses are haunted attractions typically run by Christian churches or parachurch organizations. These depict real-life situations, 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 Hallowtide.
A hell house, like a conventional haunted-house attraction, is a space set aside for actors 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 real-life situations and the effects of sin or the fate of unrepentant sinners in the afterlife.
The exhibits at a hell house often have a theme focusing on issues of concern to the whole public. Hell houses frequently feature exhibits depicting Christian interpretations of sin and its consequences. Common examples include abortion, suicide, use of alcoholic beverages and other recreational drugs, adultery, occultism, and Satanic ritual abuse. Other hell houses focus on the theme of the seven deadly sins. Hell houses typically emphasize the belief that those who do not repent of their sins and choose to follow Christ are condemned to Hell.
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. Falwell's "Scaremare" event of 1972 included a mixture of haunted house frights, a crucifixion scene, and a distribution of Gospel literature. 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. 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. The resulting documentary, Hell House, 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.
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