Ventura County Star

It's hell

Depending on whom you ask, Maggie Rowe is leading people on
the path to hell, doing God's work by saving souls or
making people laugh at the sight of blood and gore.

In reality, she might be doing all three.
That's because Rowe, along with colleague Jill Soloway, a
co-executive producer for HBO's "Six feet Under," has
created an overtly sarcastic version of a fundamentalist
Christian tour of horror known as Hell House.
Running Saturdays through Oct. 30, and with special tours
on Halloween, Rowe's Hollywood Hell House is a trip through
the sins that some argue might send your soul to the
eternal pit of despair. There are special appearances by
the devil and Jesus, both of whom are usually played by
well-known celebrities.
It might surprise visitors to the haunted tour to discover
that Rowe, who co-directs the 40-minute tour with Soloway,
was raised a fundamentalist Christian.
"I was a missionary," Rowe said, standing in the middle of
a blood-spattered room in the Hell House, which by day is
the Center for Inquiry-West. "The whole idea of hell
terrified me. Then I saw this documentary about 'Hell
House' that George Ratliff did, which had all of the stuff
that scared me. It said that if you veered from the
fundamentalist path in any way that you would burn in hell."
Rowe no longer believes the ideology she was taught as a
child. She also realizes that others like herself might
find Hollywood Hell House to be an ironically funny
The concept for this alternative haunted house was
developed by Keenan Roberts, a pastor of Destiny Church in
Arvada, Colo. For $200, Roberts sells a how-to kit, which
includes his script. Rowe contacted him.
"I was a little deceiving," she said. "I told him I was
part of a West Hollywood youth group."
Roberts soon learned the truth, but he didn't oppose Rowe
because she promised not to alter his script.
"He said, 'Sometimes Satan does God's work,' " Rowe
recalled, laughing at the fact that the pastor referred to
her as the devil.
Roberts, in fact, attended opening night and saw the tour
firsthand, performed Hollywood-style.
The performance begins with a group of 20 to 30 audience
members being led by a demonic guide into a room where
three women are performing witchcraft. The guide explains
that the women began innocently with a Ouija board, and now
they sacrifice people, one of whom is dragged from the
audience (a cast member) and placed on an altar.
The next room is a dirty, bloody clinic where an abortion
is taking place. Next up is a rave party where a woman is
sexually assaulted and then urged by the guide to commit
suicide, an act that will send her to hell.
There's a high school shooter who listens to heavy metal
music and later a gay man with AIDS, both of whom are also
The tour winds down to the building's basement, aka hell,
where Satan gives the lowdown on his warm home. Famous
Satans have included Penn Jillette and Bill Maher. Happily,
Jesus, who has been portrayed by Andy Richter, rescues each
tour and sends the group off to a Christian music revival
with punch and doughnut holes.
Though Rowe hasn't hidden the fact that the group's campy
"Hell House" is meant to be ironic, some of the visitors
believe it's the real deal. When those people thank her for
the service she's performing, she simply smiles and says,
"You're welcome."
When pressed for full disclosure, Rowe admits there is 1
percent of her that still thinks the fundamentalist
teachings she grew up with might be true. And if that's the
case, she quickly adds, "I've conned all these Hollywood
people into doing God's work."
Hollywood Hell House tours are given from 8 to 10 p.m.
Saturdays through Oct. 30, with special tours on Oct. 31,
at the Center for Inquiry-West, 4773 Hollywood Blvd., Los
Angeles. Tickets are $15. The cast rotates each week.