Self-satisfied second-rate and third-rate actors lined up for roles. HBO's Bill Maher played Satan, and Andy Richter, the former Conan O'Brien sidekick now starring in Fox's sitcom "Quintuplets," acted as Jesus. Richard Belzer of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" also joined the cast, as did former "Saturday Night Live" cast member Julia Sweeney and former porn star Traci Lords. Actors and producers from shows including "The Simpsons," "24," "Arrested Development," "The Daily Show," "Six Feet Under" and "The King of Queens" lent their talents to the mockery.
Mocking what? It is an exercise ridiculing not the excesses of these fundamentalist Christians, but the essence of fundamentalist Christianity. For her part, the director Maggie Rowe, who calls herself a "recovering fundamentalist," said the show is therapy for her, since "The biggest journey of my life has been trying to undo what I think of as the spiritual terrorism of my church and fundamentalist churches in general." Her group claims, "Hollywood Hell House is not in any way an indictment of religion, Christianity or the Bible. Its purpose is to demonstrate the absurdity of a literal interpretation of the Bible, specifically the belief in a literal everlasting hell."
But how do you not "indict" the Bible while declaring its literal interpretation is absurd? It's like saying you don't mean to mock anti-tobacco activists, you just think their warnings about the dangers of cigarettes are ridiculous.
Hollywood is not kind to religion, especially in its "judgmental" varieties -- you know, those religious institutions governed by eternal principles -- but the irony is that Tinseltown, too, has what you might call sacred cows. What do you suppose would be these actors' reaction were fundamentalists to take their propagandistic movies about the frightening dangers of abortion opponents ("If These Walls Could Talk") or opponents of homosexuality ("If These Walls Could Talk 2") and play their scripts -- for laughs? The outcry over the insensitivity, the mean-spiritedness, the intolerance of it all would be deafening.
"Hell House" is tasteless. "Hollywood Hell House" is also tasteless -- and offensive.