There's a massacre in a Texas school. Schoolgirls with twisted faces are on their knees among upturned desks and heart-rendingly screaming: "Don't shoot!" Nearby lies their dead friend. Blood is pouring from her chest. A teenage murderer bumps the barrel of a pistol into the temple of one of the girls. "Please …" - she sobs. But desperate pleas do not touch the guy - in a second he unloads the clip at everyone who is still breathing. The mutilated bodies fall to the floor. Children's squeals are heard from another corner of the room - there is an auditorium, separated by plastic tape, which police usually fence off the scene of the crime. It was just the first scene in the Hell House mystery - it will be even bloodier further. This mystery is the traditional for provincial America Halloween entertainment Haunted House ("Haunted House"). Theaters in the towns are rare, but here and the people are entertainment,and the opportunity for students to earn extra money.
The performances run 10 nights (every weekend before Halloween, from October 10, and also on weekdays just before the holiday) and begin at 7 pm.
20 spectators are allowed at the same time (children under 13 are allowed only under the responsibility of their parents). So that everyone who wants to have time to watch, the show is repeated more than ten times until dawn. The slaughter at school and other fascinating episodes with the participation of devils - an abortion, a gay wedding - are shown in a barn specially built for Halloween, inside which there is a suite of rooms with decorations.
I'm in a slightly different kind of attraction - it's in the backyard of the Trinity Evangelical Church in Cedar Hill near Dallas, Texas, and it's called The Devil's Playground (the phrase "the devil's playground" is borrowed from the Amish sect who call the whole world beyond the outskirts of their settlements - Americans so often speak for any reason, Billy Idol even has an album with that name). Remembering the medieval methods of persuasion, the activists of the parish decided that the expression "fear of God" should be taken literally by children. The cost of a 45-minute show is only $ 10. During this time, the child manages to get severe mental trauma.
What it is. The plots of all the scenes are taken from life - this is a reenactment of the most popular sins in the United States. In addition to the school massacre, clandestine abortion, rape, suicide and child abuse are staged here. “Last season, we also showed a scene with homosexuals - about how one guy got infected and died of AIDS,” says 27-year-old student of the theological school at the Holy Trinity Church, Yarik Molina. “But this year we replaced gays with a drunk driver. For our places, this problem is more urgent. We try to reflect reality."
Purpose. It is simple at the "hellish houses" - to scare children so that they would lose their sinful temptations and see what awaits them if they turn off the righteous path.
What it looks like. It's dark outside, it's dark in the barn, children, accustomed to going to bed very early, go by touch along the narrow corridor, enter a room where the light flashes, and they are shown a bloody mess. Then the lights go out and the children walk down the dark corridor to the next room. An actor in make-up and a devil's costume from the same place comments on each scene. “There is only one way to heaven,” the pastor concludes at the end of the performance, “and it is possible only if you walk with Jesus. You must make your choice."
Thanks to the fantastic popularity of "Hell Houses" (some are called not Hell House, but Judgment House, that is, "House of Judgment"), more children are now admitted to the faith than before 1991, when this genre first appeared in the south of the country. Now there are more than 3000 Hell Houses at evangelical churches in the United States, they are in all states. Detailed guides for staging the mysteries are already being sold to foreign churches (for more details on the genre, see the corresponding website).
Of course, these views face criticism, primarily from organizations advocating for the rights of sexual minorities and against the prohibition of abortion.
Actually. This is a very successful business project. The Trinity Church performance - one of the most famous in Texas - brings in $ 100,000 a year. This money goes to finance Christian missions and spiritual education of young people.
Participants. At sunset outside Trinity Church, a group of enthusiastic young men in black capes and demonic masks smear each other with fake blood. All this resembles an episode from a cheap horror movie. The actors are preparing for the night performance. These guys spent a whole month learning their roles. Celina Dominguez, 15, was a regular spectator of the show. Last year's mystery made such a strong impression on her that she wanted to take part in a new scene showing the consequences of an accident caused by a drunk driver. “When I came here last year, I realized that hell really exists,” she says. - Now I believe in it, the performance was a wake-up call. The abortion scene shocked me, so now I know for sure that I will not have sex before marriage."
After the spectators have been scared with bloody horrors, everyone will be gathered in front of the entrances to the last rooms. One - spacious and light with calm music - represents paradise, the other - dark and gloomy, with cells in which the souls of sinners languish, groaning and screaming.
Spectators. Housewife Terry Hines is confident that today's show will have the same preventive effect on her three daughters: 16-year-old Kylie, 13-year-old Elizabeth and 11-year-old Madison. “They heard about all sorts of bad things at school. That's why I want them to see it,”the woman explains. “They watch the news with me and they know what sorrow is. I want to prepare their hearts. " It took them three hours to get from their town to this Hell House. The girls do not look scared; rather, on the contrary, they are happy about the upcoming entertainment and are constantly sending SMS to their friends. Only little Madison is visibly tense. “I am a little afraid of what I have to see,” she says in a whisper.
Inspired by the festive atmosphere outside of Hell, Madison and the sisters begin to talk lively. But that is not all. Next comes a room resembling a treatment room. A teenage girl is beating in agony in front of them on the operating table. The nurse wipes the sweat from her forehead, and the doctor launches shiny instruments between her legs, taking out bloody pieces of something that resembles the flesh of a baby (for naturalism, the presentation uses pieces of real meat). "It's too painful for me!" - the patient screams and loses consciousness. The children back up. The devil sitting in the room in a black cloak and a mask of death is enjoying the torment of the unfortunate woman. He addresses the public: "Can you believe these doctors are benefitting a woman?" And then he adds: "They care about her rights!"
The author of this scene, 27-year-old Heather Sertaine (she plays a doctor herself) deliberately shocks the audience: “There are two things I want to convey to the audience: sex before marriage is wrong and terminating a pregnancy is also wrong. I'm against abortion. In my opinion, this is murder. "
It is the abortion scene that causes the sharpest outrage among critics. “They give a completely distorted view of this procedure, which does not reflect reality at all,” says Reverend Lynn. “They instill the idea that schools are dangerous, that modern healthcare is dangerous. Instead of showing clandestine abortions, which are of course unsafe, they would rather show how it actually happens. Modern abortion is much safer than childbirth. They show the massacre at school, although, according to statistics, significantly more children die on the roads."
Dr. Elizabeth Cornwell, a developmental psychologist at the University of Colorado, believes the fright and trauma caused by the scenes shown at Hell House can seriously harm children. “Fear is a complex emotion, we can even enjoy this feeling, for example, when we watch thrillers. But most of us separate fiction from reality, she explains. “From the point of view of this Christian community, hell and the prospect of spending eternity in hellish torments that resemble torture are very real. This stretching of fear over time leads to serious injury. " Research shows that it disrupts the brain and affects the processes of remembering and learning. “I don’t know of a single child psychologist who has chosen fear as a parenting tool,” adds Dr. Cornwell.
Hell House is a radical way to reach out to people by showing them real problems (abortion, homosexuality). These are sinful acts that upset the balance in the world.
Opponents of anti-homosexual scenes recall the experience of psychoanalysis: “You cannot frighten children with topics of sexuality. It is impossible to show them deviations in a situation of severe stress - this, on the contrary, increases the risk that the child will grow up to be a homosexual. Parents and religious leaders must be held accountable for this,”says Debra Hafner, former director general of the United States Council on Sexual Information and Education. - Children need good information about sexuality. These dramatizations give the wrong idea of how it really happens. " And the performances really instill in children the fear of God. In the prayer hall - the last stage of the mystery - children’s fuss is not heard at all. Many are too scared to speak. Some cry, others close their eyes and reach out to pastors who are always ready to comfort thosewhom they themselves had just driven to hysterics.
There is no previous revival outside. Parents calm down the shocked children: one girl faints, the other has seizures. Terry Hines hugs a tear-stained Madison. The older sisters sob too. But Mom doesn't regret paying to get them through the test: “Girls have to be ready. I wanted them to realize how terrible abortion is. They have seen and heard too much for their age, and it would be nice for them to know what wrong actions lead to. " Now Madison knows it for sure: “It was scary. I never imagined abortion so naturally. This is hell!"
Vicki and Dale Boyd are also sure that it was not in vain that they showed their twins (who are now crying together) this performance. "Do you understand that this can happen in life?" Their father asks. Children don't hear him. “I know a lot more about reality than my kids,” says Vicki, who works as a church secretary. “I knew where we had taken them. I want the boys to be warned. To be honest, it seems to me that the performance of hell turned out to be so terrible."
“We didn’t start all this to be concerned about political correctness, not to get everyone's support,” says Pastor Roberts (he is excited, unstoppable). - Everyone is protesting against what we are doing. Don't you like it too? Then get in line!"
I didn’t get in line - I went home. And on the way I remembered a scene from "Andrei Rublev" by Tarkovsky - when the Last Judgment is being written in the cathedral. Daniel Cherny says: “I invented such a demon. Smoke from the nose, eyes … "And Rublev answered him:" I can't write this. Disgusting to me. I don't want to scare people away. Understand, Danila."
Photo: Getty Images
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