Originally published in the MetroTimes
I found myself holding the hand of a 13-year-old girl in a pitch-black corridor awaiting entrance into the House of Judgment, an evangelical haunted attraction called a "hell house" that aims to “scare people for Jesus.” By all appearances, this is your typical small-town haunted house, featuring the sounds of shrieking women, enough strobe lights to give anyone a full-blown seizure, and a jittery gaggle of pubescent teenagers squirming in anticipation of a good fright. However, clearly unknown to some (specifically the chain-smoking baddie wearing the "HIGH AS FUCK" beanie and his young crustachioed comrade), this horror house has a mission of salvation.
My new friend timidly leans in after a brief pinky squeeze and whispers, "I hope it's not too scary." I nod, but before I'm able to reassure her, we're escorted into a sweaty room fashioned in the style of a Victorian-era parlor illuminated by only the Cheetos-gold glow of flickering faux-candelabras. A pale-faced dad shrouded in a cloak emerges from the shadows and greets us.
"Welcome to Judgment House." He bellows. "First, a few rules. Number one, absolutely no swearing. Number two, do not take the Lord's name in vain."
A teenage boy of about 15 scoffs at the rules under his breath, still staring at the glow of his screen. Our guide turns to him and asks him to turn off his phone as we're shuffled onward to the scene of an old apartment. In his best Vincent Price, our guide demands we line up against the wall of the room — but snaps out of character to reprimand the defiant boy in the group for swearing.
The two argue for a moment, and the boy walks onto the set and out an open door. Our guide throws up his arms and tells us the show is over due to our "inability to follow the rules." After a few shouts from behind the set, the back wall of the room lunges forward and collapses at our feet. The defiant boy is bloody and crucified to the wall. Our visit through the House of Judgment would follow his journey through hell.
The following 20 minutes depicted the horrific future in store for those who dare to have a potty mouth, which was similar to imagery found in secular haunted houses presumably in an attempt to tap into the potential range of fears held by visitors. Between each new room we were instructed never to "stray from the path" in some holy attempt at subconscious programming. Children around the age of 8 nipped at our ankles and giggled like the little Christian demons they are and led us into the "pit of hell" — a cartoon version of the underworld, complete with a horned tomato-red man who declared us all sinners.
Next, an aggressive werewolf questioned each of us about our desires for the afterlife, shaming those laughing at the spectacle. "You think hell is funny?" he growled. "Hell is real. Only a fool would choose hell over heaven!"
On that cue, a door opens to a room where a boy in a loincloth hangs from a cross. In one fell swoop the face of all teen horror addicts are distorted into disappointment and confusion. Channeling Passion of the Christ, Jesus heaves a deep breath and mutters, "I forgive them," and collapses.
Before given an opportunity to process the salvation-scam, the exit door is flung open, an angel exclaims "He has risen!" and biblical booklets are shoved in our hands as they usher us out the door.
Once outside, the teens run off into the night, seemingly unaffected by the attempt to scare them straight. Many of them toss the book in the trash down the block. The fact is, Teen Wolf was right: Horror and hellfire was the best part of the whole show. Once they brought Jesus into the equation, it ruined everyone's good time.
While the supple minds of the youth are certainly intrigued by traditional Hollywood horror, Grace Baptist Ministry — the church behind The House of Judgment — fails to realize that even teenagers have a more sophisticated understanding of eternal damnation as to not be driven into the "arms of god" by the local cast of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat prancing around to the Nightmare on Elm Street soundtrack. If anything, the message of manipulation and fear-mongering from the church was enough to scare even some of the most naïve of the group — not into the arms of Christ, but away from the church altogether. I chalk this one up as a win for the sinners.