What are Hell Houses? The disturbing real-life phenomenon behind PLL Summer School’s Pride episode

PLL Summer School has been praised for raising awareness about the horrific phenomenon of “Hell Houses” in its recent Pride episode. But what are they in real life?

In the show’s Pride episode, Pretty Little Liars: Summer School – a spin-off of the original PLL series which ran from 2010 to 2017 – depicts a homophobic event run by a local church, described as “Redemption House”. 

The episode, which aired on Max on Thursday (6 June), portrays Redemption House as a theatrical haunted house event, in which students reenact wild parties, sexual assaults, drugs and suicide, with the “devil” then punishing them for their “sins”. 

In one scene, classmates Greg (Elias Kacavas) and Henry (Ben Cook) are seen looking at gay porn together, and are then sent to hell for it. 

Trans character Ash (Jordan Gonzalez) is then seen speaking to his partner Mouse (Malia Pyles) later in the episode, explaining in an emotional scene that “Redemption House is the kind of thing that makes trans kids hurt themselves… worse than hurt themselves.”

Thankfully, the episode is not all horror for its LGBTQ+ characters, with Mouse and Ash later planning a joyful Pride pool party in protest.

Speaking about the PLL Summer School episode, trans actor Jordan Gonzalez told Teen Vogue that the Pride episode showed the “weight of the reality” of homophobia and transphobia. 

“If these kids can’t, at the bare minimum, talk to someone about how they’re feeling without judgment, they’re going to feel isolated,” he said. 

“They’re unfortunately not going to want to be on this planet anymore, because they don’t feel seen, they don’t feel heard, and they feel othered, and we’re not. We’re no different than anyone, I’m no different than anyone. I’m a boyfriend, I’m a son, I’m a brother.”

Gonzalez added that “the state of our country is not great for trans people”, and “how emotional I was in that scene… was pulled straight from how I felt in the world.”

“I hope that we as young people continue to fight for what’s right and swing that pendulum, because if we don’t then it’s just going to be a repeat of the cycle. We have to break it, just like generational trauma,” he said. 

The nightmare continues.

The Max Original Series #PLLSummerSchool is now streaming on @StreamOnMax pic.twitter.com/eQwYT2dgTK

— Pretty Little Liars (@PLLonMax) May 31, 2024

What are real-life Hell Houses?

The depiction of Hell Houses in PLL Summer School’s sixth episode is sadly based on an actual phenomenon. 

The houses are part theatrical performances and part haunted houses, typically run by evangelical Protestant churches. They’re designed to frighten their visitors into “repenting” for their sins. 

Bloody Mary by Lady Gaga playing in Hell House #PLLSummerSchool pic.twitter.com/OmYcEtEi8S

— Bloody Rose (@BloodyRosePLL) June 6, 2024

Explored in the 2002 documentary Hell House, the events usually portray scenes such as drug use, same-sex marriage, abortion, drug and alcohol use, and suicide. The purpose of the events are usually to scare visitors away from “sinful” acts and encourage them to “repent” by following the church. 

Hell House events were explored in a 2017 Vice article, with journalist Josiah Hesse saying the events were first popularised in the 1970s, claiming the message of the events is that every societal ill (like drug addiction and domestic abuse) is “evidence that there are demons around us aiming to seduce us into sin, death, and eternal torment in hell”. 

Hesse, who participated in several Hell House events as a child, described them as “traumatising”, adding that they feel “akin to car-crash footage being used to scare teenagers in driver’s ed”. 

one last thing about pll is i genuinely had no idea hell houses were a real thing but its so despicable the hatred and ignorance people spew in the name of religion #PLLSummerSchool

— Arabian Princess 🪻 (@daniphin) June 6, 2024

Sadly, Hell Houses are still going on to this day, with several people still speaking out about the damage they have done. 

Pretty Little Liars: Summer School is available to stream on Max with the next episode airing on Thursday (13 June).

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