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Vol. 8 No. i (2020): Spring 2020

And the Winner for Best Abortion Girl is: Performance and Religious Identity in Evangelical Hell Houses

November 21, 2023


Hell Houses have terrified spectators for the last forty years. Developing first as a religious haunted house and eventually morphing into a sensation, Hell Houses have been a topic for many researchers due to their ability to scare people into belief. However, much of this rhetoric is reductionistic of Hell Houses, claiming they are formed only to scare. The research laid out here tries to understand the connection between identity creation and performance through the analysis of George Ratliff’s 2001 documentary Hell House. The Evangelical Christian identity is laced with historical subtext and built through a multitude of religious figures and movements. Specifically, three religious figures or movements are fundamental in understanding Hell Houses: George Whitefield during the First Great Awakening, Aimee Semple McPherson and the Pentecostal movement, and Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. Performance is one tool harnessed by preachers in the Evangelical Christian tradition. My research attempts to explain that Hell Houses are not just events made to scare, but to construct Evangelical Christian identity and a political agenda through performance.