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By Merle Bertrand | October 31, 2001

You hear about ’em every year. Those scary religious zealots who insist on trying to take the fun out of Halloween like they do everything else.
“Hell House” takes that same idea to the extreme. Run by the Abundant Life Christian Center near Denver, “Hell House” is a Halloween haunted house by way of Ned Flanders; an extremely conservative fire and brimstone passion play meant to scare young kids to Jesus. Dewey Nicks’ highly problematic quasi-documentary — more on that in a moment — takes a gauzy look at this truly scary place as well as the simplistic, self-satisfied boobs who run it; the kind of geniuses who use a scoreboard (!) to keep track of the number of “Salvations” they get at each night’s show as if they were collecting pledges for the bike-a-thon. I kept waiting for the hypocritical morons who run this fun factory to hang themselves on the rope Nicks easily could have provided them. Yet, he candy-coats this place in so much sugar, it’d make an ant ill. Nary a dissenter is found. Not a single former cast member appears to argue that simplistically portraying Satan as a sort of bad-a*s Darth Maul shamelessly mugging for the cameras to scare little kids probably isn’t what Jesus had in mind. Not once does someone go on camera and point out the obvious: that the hateful, bigoted brand of “Christianity” spewed forth here holds about as much water for true people of faith as does the Flat Earth Society. Simply put, Nicks has got some explaining to do. Either he thinks these idiots shoot themselves in the foot enough just by opening their mouths, thus inadvertently letting “Hell House” tilt sympathetically in their favor by default…or he works for ’em. If the former is the case, the unfortunate cant is perhaps understandable, given that this is his first documentary. If the latter is true, this revolting right wing propaganda piece had no business being in the festival as a “documentary.” It’s a close call, but the end text providing information on how to join the ministry sure seems like a tip-off to me.

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