If you didn't grow up in the Bible Belt, then you've probably never heard of hell houses. These controversial Halloween attractions are evangelical Christian haunted houses, but instead of scaring audiences with ghouls and goblins, these extreme haunts use scenes of violence to push certain viewpoints and bring people into their congregation.
Evangelicals operating hell houses believe they're scaring audiences into turning their souls over to God by exposing what they consider modern sins. Hell houses take it to the limit, though - many of the scenarios that play out rival the horrors of extreme haunted houses.
Not all Christians agree with these scary conversion tactics, and several ex-evangelicals rue the time they spent working in hell houses. Still, many staunchly believe in hell houses' mission of using fear to convert people.
Not all hell houses are the same, but many feature a variation of one specific scene: a botched abortion. In 2017, a Vice reporter attended Trinity Church's Hell House 27: No Escape in Cedar Hill, TX, and reported on one of the staples of the evangelical haunted house.
In the room, a demon tricked a woman into forcing her daughter to get an abortion. Throughout the scene, demons coaxed the actors to take part in the procedure as they told the audience how they manipulate and advocate for abortion.
At one point, a demon discussed the doctor, saying:
This woman honestly believes she's providing a service all because of women's rights. "My body my choice!" Well, actually, it's my choice! Now gimme that little morsel in your tummy.
In certain versions, the woman receiving the abortion bled out and died, but then repented and got carried to Heaven.
In 1999, a hell house run by the Trinity Church of Dallas, TX, operated a room based around the Columbine High School shooting - only six months after the tragedy. In the hell house, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold served as agents of Satan. The scene featured Cassie Bernall, as well.
In the aftermath of the shooting, word spread that Harris asked Bernall if she believed in God. According to the story, she said "Yes" before Harris shot her. Students who saw Bernall's death say the interaction never happened, though, and it was Klebold who shot Bernall after saying "Peekaboo" when he found her under a desk. According to these witnesses, the 17-year-old did not say anything in return.
Despite these claims, Bernall's presumed martyrdom featured throughout the hell house. At the end of the scene, angels brought Bernall to Heaven, but demons dragged the shooters to Hell.
Same-sex marriage and relationships serve as major talking points for hell houses. In some cases, gay people go to Hell. In more extreme versions of these sketches, they receive a different punishment.
The National LGBTQ Task Force published a report on hell houses in which they discussed two scenes. One, showing a gay wedding, featured a heterosexual couple posing as a same-sex couple, with the woman in "masculine makeup for the necessary male look." A demon married the couple and asked, "Do you solemnly swear to never believe that you're normal," before declaring the couple was "burning in a repulsive lust for one another."
Later, visitors found one of the men, "Steve," writhing in agony in a hospital room. They were told he had AIDS. The demon explained, "He thought his homosexual lifestyle was everything a real man could want, but now he's dying of AIDS."
A hell house in Lineville, AL, included a room about depression and drug abuse. The sketch in this room showed a young woman dealing with the stress of her parents' divorce by taking pain medication. She became an addict and overdosed.
When she reached the pearly gates, she met God, who told the woman addiction had damned her for eternity. The woman pled with God to give her another chance at life, saying she could beat her addiction, but he allowed a pair of demons to drag her to Hell.