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A Damn Good Time

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This weekend, LAist went to Hell and back. Yes, we finally made it to Hollywood Hell House, and our wicked little souls thank them. If you're still not familiar with the concept, basically, Hell Houses have become something of a fundamentalist Christian Halloween tradition. They’ve sprung up all over the Bible Belt as an alternative to haunted houses, but instead of skeletons and ghosts, they're full of homosexuals and abortion patients, and the "scary" part is watching the sinners burn in Hell for their crimes against God. Hollywood Hell House features a rotating cast of local comedians (including some big names) doing a word-for-word presentation from an official Hell House script in order to poke fun at the whole thing.

Despite its comedic slant, Hollywood Hell House is pretty scary, too. Sure, it is funny, but it's funny the way Cold War-era Communist propaganda is funny, or those racist WWII-era Bugs Bunny cartoons, which is to say, it's not really funny at all, even if you find yourself laughing out loud. At least those other things can be viewed through the prism of history, but what's disconcerting about Hell Houses is that they're happening right now in much of the country.

Like any form of propaganda, the sights on display in Hollywood Hell House (a Hasidic Jew roasting in a cauldron, an Arab forced to suffer an eternity of oral surgery) can seem silly and ridiculous to non-believers. It's easy to laugh while watching the show, but it's hard not to be affected by it, too. Although the ludicrous, over-the-top depictions of things like raves, school shootings and RU-486 are cartoonishly misinformed, Hell Houses wouldn't be so successful unless a large part of the intended audience took them as the gospel truth.

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Of course, the first step toward defeating propaganda is recognizing it as such, so we're grateful that Hollywood Hell House is bringing this phenomenon to the attention of the mostly-uninitiated LA population (and simultaneously drawing attention to the terrific documentary Hell House on the same subject). Hollywood Hell House is funny, bold and terrifying, in all the right doses. It's definitely worth seeing, though it's difficult when watching it to forget that what you're seeing isn't a comedy show.

Even if it is.

Hollywood Hell House continues through Halloween at the Steve Allen Theater. Tickets may now be reserved by calling 323-960-4418 or visiting www.plays411.com. Reservations are highly recommended.