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Wednesday, October 8, 2003

Pass The Ammo

By Kevin John

With the election for the next President of the United States looming over our heads, I find Hell House (recently released on DVD by Plexifilm) haunting in a way very much different from what the uppity Christians who populate this documentary intended. In the Left corner, we have the Democratic Party scrambling to position a recognizable enemy before The W from Texas. In the Right corner, we have the Trinity Assembly of God church (in guess, just guess, which state) whose members work together to create morality plays in haunted house drag every Halloween with quite specific enemies: abortion, homosexuality, rave culture, mothers who have sex, etc.

Director George Ratliff runs off a great deal of footage on the construction of the annual Hell House event. And I'm talkin' actual construction. Every nail hammered into wood, every wire connected to a bank of security monitors lends a frightening materiality to their evil ideological project. Here, homophobia is a mere logistical problem, as in the scene where an editor encounters snags while recording and editing the sound for the room showcasing AIDS as God's punishment for homosexuality.

Oh sure, there's plenty of room for snickering. During script rewrites, two volunteers can't figure out exactly what Magic the Gathering is called and don't seem all that particularly concerned to get it right. One particularly eager sort doesn't know the name of the date rape drug that's featured in the rave room. You inevitably wonder, how can these people attack something they can't even name?

But hip, media-glutted cynicism is difficult to transform into collective activity. However clueless you find these everything-fearers, you gotta admit one thing: they get shit done. As so many Left-leaning types are currently cauterized zombie-like on electroclashed dancefloors across America, Ratliff's de facto main character is a decidedly unhip father taking care of a boy with cerebral palsy. Not many opportunities for striking curious poses there.

So who's our surrogate in this film? The exceedingly intelligent heavy metal vomit kids enraged by Hell House? One hot pepper argues outside afterwards with Hell House's Head of Security: "That's stereotypical Christian faggot shit. That fucking horseshit with the fucking faggot dying. I was fucking offended by that. I got gay friends." This is the guy I'm going to bond with to prevent four more years of Bush? No wonder we know more about Eminem than Howard Dean.

But if our media-glutted sensoriums amount to little if they're atomized, then the upcoming political challenge may be for us to inject higher doses of hip or irreverence into the political process so that it becomes a requirement. After all, Question Mark vs. Bush are going to have to duke it out on our terrain — popular culture. Ever since at least Kennedy, every president has had to master a variety of media and essentially become a star. Just ask Bob Dole — commercials co-starring Britney Spears do you no good after the election. Changing the rules so that familiarity with Magic the Gathering becomes a political asset can leave the Hell House ministry trapped in their haunted house, exactly where we want them in 2004.

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