Weekends in the fall are often spent in pumpkin patches, apple orchards and around bonfires. However, there are also spooky activities like haunted forests, haunted corn mazes and ghost tours.
And of course, there’s always a haunted house, the house at the end of the block that everyone in the neighborhood races past, the house with a scary backstory that makes one’s skin crawl. Most of the time, these haunted houses’ backstories are invented to profit off the Halloween season, according to Hustle.
There’s a specific type of haunted house that many evangelical communities create every year. It’s referred to as a hell house. In hell houses, different scenarios are shown to invoke fear in individuals concerning where they’ll end up after they die. According to Ranker, real-life situations regarding abortions, drug use and those in the LGBTQ community are shown being punished for going against what the Bible preaches as sin. The last scene is usually a portrayal of heaven. Essentially, the goal is to scare people into salvation, according to an article from Vice. These hell houses can be a way to satisfy the thrillseeker in evangelicals, Halloween but make it Christian.
The Cut reports that a problem with the goal of hell houses is that many of its attendants already come from religious institutions and backgrounds and already consider themselves Christians.
Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, puts on their own hell house every year called Scaremare. As someone who’s from the area, it’s a big part of fall culture to go to Scaremare with friends. This is a tradition I refused to participate in. Something about waiting in line for two hours to be chased around by a clown with a chainsaw didn’t appeal to me.
According to HowStuffWorks, Scaremare is on the milder and less graphic side of hell houses, a mix of traditional haunted house elements and religious scenes. Churches can run different variations of typical hell house scenes that also vary in levels of violence, according to Ranker. Trinity Church in Dallas created a hell house so controversial it was featured in a documentary in 2002. In 1999, The New York Times reported the church was criticized for depicting scenes of the Columbine High School shooting only six months after it had occurred. The shooters were shown being dragged to hell by demons for their actions.
If a church needs help putting together its hell house, it can purchase a kit for $299, according to Pacific Standard. The kit gives step by step instructions for creating fearful scenes of drunk driving, suicide and abuse.
According to Ranker, some situations depicted in hell houses showcase a person struggling with mental health issues. The culmination of the scene doesn’t usually end with the person getting better but rather, it shows them succumbing to the issues. In an era where mental health is already stigmatized, hell houses aren’t making people feel great for struggling with their mental health.
On the Scaremare website, within its mission statement is the phrase, “Ironically, this House of Death points to the Way of Life!” Fear of death can be used to encourage people to live life to the fullest, but the context it’s presented in by hell houses is that fear should make one reach out for a religious solution. Evangelicals shouldn’t use hell houses to scare people into religion. Salvation should occur naturally and willingly instead of as the result of fear.
Allison Baxter is a junior media arts & design and communication studies double major. Contact Allison at firstname.lastname@example.org.