Hell houses are haunted attractions typically run by evangelical Protestant churches or parachurch organizations. They depict real-life situations which the organization in question deems as sin and its consequences, the torments of the damned in Christian hell, and usually conclude with a depiction of Christian heaven. Such depictions are sometimes shown to children to arouse fear on matters interpreted as sinful in a fundamentalist Christian context, including but not limited to: same-sex marriage, abortion, extramarital sex, raving, the use of alcoholic beverages and drugs, and teen suicide. 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.
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. They are most typically operated in the days preceding Halloween.
The earliest hell house is thought to have been created by Trinity Assembly of God in Cedar Hill, but it was first popularized by Jerry Falwell in the late 1970s. 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 New Destiny Christian Center of the Assemblies of God. As of 16 Jan 2017 the "Hell House Kit" Is still available.
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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