Hell House (George Ratliff, 2001)
Hell House is a documentary, a quick look at the infamous haunted house run every October by a Pentecostal church in Texas. One gets the distinct feeling that the church members had no idea Ratliff was making this documentary to poke fun at them, as earnest as they are.
The best scenes in this are those where Ratliff is using wordless, lingering shots to show how little these people actually know about what they're doing. The funniest thing in the whole movie is one church member describing the "occult" scene, which uses a pentagram; actually, it's not a pentagram, it's a Star of David in a circle. (It continues to amaze me no one there, seemingly, knows how to count to five.) Moments like this happen with regularity in the film, if you're paying close enough attention. Most of them are more subtle, but the payoff is just as grand.
For those of you unfamiliar with the increasingly-popular Hell Houses, a quick rundown: a Hell House is a Christian "haunted house"-type Halloween attraction put on for the purpose of converting the heathen. Everything from the amusing (raves, satanic sacrifice) to the boring (kid commits suicide because his peers are picking on him) to the morally repugnant (at this congregation, at least, AIDS is still strictly a "gay disease") is depicted in an attempt to scare the heathen straight and get them to convert. Does it work? This documentary would lead you to believe not, despite the claims of one church member that a number of people converted that month. (Entirely possible; Ratliff couldn't film all the groups being ministered to, of course, and the church (backed up by news reports) claims three thousand coming through per day. Like the old mama said, if you throw enough spaghetti against a wall...
Best watched for the amusement factor, but prepare to be horrified as well. Yes, folks, people still think like Neanderthals in 2001. ****