Saturday, November 16, 2002

When Halloween goes fundamentalist, in a new documentary:

When the Trinity Church of Cedar Hill, Tex., wants to scare the pants off you around Halloween, it doesn't do it with a typical haunted house featuring ghosts, goblins and ghouls. Instead, it erects a Hell House in which congregants act out Grand Guignolesque scenes warning of the dangers of sinful behavior. At Hell House — actually a series of house trailers — the church stages one scene in which a gay man dying of AIDS is mocked by a grinning demon who welcomes him into Hell. Another vignette warns you to watch out what drugs you consume, because you might overdose, and then that friend of the Evil One will drag you into purgatory.... But as far as the Texas-born, New York-based filmmaker George Ratliff was concerned, most of its critics missed the point. "I was curious about the theology that allowed this behavior," said Mr. Ratliff. "I don't think this culture has ever been accurately portrayed in a documentary or film. They're really easy to poke fun at, because these guys are so over the top." The outcome of Mr. Ratliff's curiosity is "Hell House," a documentary opening on Friday at Cinema Village in New York.

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