While I was in Chicago, Nick told me about a film called Hell House, a documentary spotlighting the annual haunted house called Hell House, which is hosted by a church in Cedar Hill (a town just a little southwest of Dallas). I watched the film on Wednesday and I can’t stop thinking about it. Instead of the usual goblins, ghosts and witches jumping out of dark places, Hell House has reenactments of suicides, date rapes, abortions, drunk driving fatalities, family violence and homosexuals dying of AIDS as its scare tactics. The point is to shock the audience that comes out to Hell House and the shock of Hell House the film is that it is surprisingly unbiased and well-done.
Before I go any further, I must say this: I find this kind of haunted house as incredibly tasteless, one-sided and very slippery scale-like. For example, thinking that a person would go from reading Harry Potter as a child to playing Magic:The Gathering in the teen years to becoming a suicidal Goth is incredibly stereotypical and just downright misinformed. The other reenactments follow this steep slope, thus removing any sort of believability on my end.
As far as the documentary itself, I felt that filmmaker George Ratliff did a fantastic job in going behind-the-scenes with the organizers of Hell House. The film shows these people as relatively sane but passionately self-righteous people putting on a morality play, complete with cheesy effects and heavy-handed preaching. Plus, these people are not presented as total loonies – they’re normal human beings thinking they’re doing the right thing by presenting a fantasy-like version of Scared Straight.
I have a problem with people who view their goal in life is to convert the misguided into the “right.” As someone who used to think that I could steer people in the “right” direction, I learned the hard way that I cannot steer, change or sculpt anyone else other than myself. Seeing these people be so motivated to change people is a grim reminder of my past mindset.
Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips says in The Fearless Freaks is we should have fun with the things that scare us in the movies because what really happens in real life is far scarier. I totally agree and after watching Hell House, knowing that the original Hell House is about 30 minutes from my house is more frightening than a vampire coming back to life to reek havoc on its ancestors.