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Hollywood Hell House: Carny-ization of Fundamentalists

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Hollywood Hell House at the Steve Allen Theater in Hollywood is part parody and part carny show. Being religious isn’t particularly hip in Hollywood or most of liberal California. So as one might expect during the short 40-minutes which costs a mere $10, audience members walk through various scenes meant to scare them out of temptation’s way, but the result is usually laughter.

Hell House is by itself a fundamentalist Christian phenomena. George Ratliff’s 2001 documentary, Hell House, centered on the Cedar Hills, Texas annual production. However, its very first permutation may have been the ScareMare in 1972 Lynchburg, Virginia which was sponsored by the Liberty University, founded by Reverend Jerry Falwell, leader of the Moral Majority. But Falwell is not directly involved in the Hell House propagation. Instead, Keenan Roberts, an Assembly of God minister in Bloomfield, Colorado, began making and selling kits for $200 in 1995.

To put on this latest Hollywood version Maggie Rowe, who co-directs with Jill Soloway, fibbed a bit to procure a kit. Roberts can take comfort in Rowe and Soloway’s faithful adherence to the script.

As with any good haunted house, you are led through some scary scenes, in this case by an impatient devil (Demon tour guide played by Jimmy Doyle). First, we learn that reading Goosebumps and graduating to Harry Potter eventually led to satanic devil worship and human sacrifice. It seems funny that Buffy and Angel don’t get mentioned. It’s also odd that the worshippers (Alisa Surmont, Laura Summer and Rebecca Davis) and sacrifice (Paget Brewster as Tracy) are all female. Being that this is Hollywood, the worshipping threesome get to wear pretty cool goth garb.

Next on the theatrical agenda, we are exposed to a young girl’s partial birth abortion as we are told that abortion is Satan’s way of keeping the population of preachers down. We never hear about the boy who is nvolved in this young unmarried woman’s (Daisy Gardner as Chrissy) careless Camaro sexual adventure.

Likewise, in the rape gangbang scenes (the rape is only suggested and there is no nudity or kissing or what would pass as heavy petting), the gang (Jim Kohn, Ben Hoffman and Eric Giancoli) that drugs Jessica, the victim (Becky Thyre) aren’t subject to critical admonition either. Instead, we examine the victim who decides to commit suicide. You won’t be surprised here because that’s the comic strip featured on the Web site.

The other sinners Roberts focuses on are Steve (Kevin Pass), a gay man dying of AIDS (and the viral infection is apparently part of God’s will), and a young man who decides to shoot his classmates and teacher and finally himself.

After a journey through hell (a worthy grotesque which was a credit to make-up and costume designers), we do get an audience with one of the rotating Satans. Bill Maher has played this part, but you never know who you might get since the full cast of 200 rotates every Saturday. For Satan (David Cross on Sept. 18), whose speech is especially long, the cue cards are plastered on the wall.

Luckily, we are saved from Satan’s monologue by a blonde, blue-eyed angel (Melanie Truhett) who leads us to Jesus (Ron Zimmerman), smiling, even as he’s pinned to a cross. His speech is predominately voiceover.

Being saved, we are now given a choice between hell and donut holes. In a land ruled by low carb diets this might seem a hard choice. But we are soon led to a room where we can imbibe red punch and donut holes as another group of actors (Loretta Fox Bill Rukoski, Paige Bernhardt, Adam Wodka, Barbara Romen, Julie Cain, Stephen Rowan Katie Schwartz, Josh Trank and Morgan Krantz), all with bad hair and dressed in nerdy clothes, bounce around and sing Christian songs. You can also “pin a sin” on Jesus posting board, buy a t-shirt or visit the concessions.

There’s something uneasily borderline in laughing at abortion or gang rape yet one notices how focused the house is on women and their sexual behavior. Guys just shouldn’t have sex with other guys or start shooting up people. Unlike other haunted houses, Hollywood Hell House brings benefits greatly from its many professional or semi-professional performers and good special effects.

The overall experience is like a visit to a carny show. Instead of seeing the freaks you’ve never really wanted to meet, you are exposed to the strange species of Christian fundamentalists. As the production makes clear via large posters in the waiting area, no disrespect to Christianity is intended and the only targets of this deadpan serious satire are Christian fundamentalists.

This is not by any means good theater but a curious representation of popular theater as practiced by ordinary people. What it does delineate is the ideological division that exists in America today.

Hollywood Hell House
Playwright: Keenan Roberts Hell House kits using scripts from the original Hell House productions at Trinity Baptist and Destiny Church.
Director: Maggie Rowe and Jill Soloway
Director of Haunted House: Amit Itelman
Production Designer: Jerry Buszek
Cast: Rotating cast
Make-up and Creature Supervisor: Cass McClure
Costume Design: Jill Roth
Music Supervisor: Jack Rudy
Running time: 40 minutes

Running dates: August 28, 2004–October 31
Steve Allen Theater, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 960-4418. Tours begin at 8 p.m. and run until 10 p.m. Saturdays, until October 30 and Sunday, Oct. 31. $15.
Official Web site : www.hollywoodhellhouse.com.
The documentary movie’s Web site is: www.hellhousemovie.com
Reviewed on Sept. 18, 2004 for CurtainUp.com where a slightly different version appears.

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