HELL HOUSE is one of the scariest documentaries you will ever see. In it, fundamentalists with what they consider to be the purest of motives, put on a Halloween house in which scenarios are staged depicting violence that is intensely disturbing both emotionally and graphically. Its all meant to convert the unsaved by demonstrating a version of Christianity where straying from this churchs strict interpretation of Gods will leads straight to Hell. Things like attending a rave or being gay.
Filmmaker George Ratliff is scrupulously even-handed in telling the story of the people behind Hell House. Their sincerity is never questioned, indeed, it is palpably apparent. Thus, the message of these good-hearted people, one that is judgmental, narrow-minded, and exclusionary, is rendered all the more disconcerting for not being espoused by unfeeling sociopaths.
In addition to an excellent transfer, the DVD offers deleted scenes, including the Hell House awards ceremony in which a winner thanks her rapists, without whom she would not have won. Of special interest to budding filmmakers and others is the short film Ratliff made, THE DEVIL MADE ME DO IT, which was used to raise funds for the feature length HELL HOUSE. Though the production values arent first-rate, the reason Ratliff and then his backers became fascinated by this phenomenon is evident. A minus is that there is no commentary track, which I miss, but Ratliffs segment on the film that aired on the public radio show, THIS AMERICAN LIFE, is included and offers some of what a commentary track would have had.
In a world where religion can drive true believers to lethal extremes, HELL HOUSE should be required viewing.