(Note: This post contains spoilers for the Oct. 24 episode of “American Horror Story: Cult.”)
In the latest episode of “American Horror Story: Cult,” dubbed “Winter of Our Discontent,” Winter (Billie Lourd) tells a story that gets into the origins of her brother Kai (Evan Peters) and how he became the murderous leader of a clown cult.
Winter explains how she and Kai visited “Judgment House,” a place run by a man calling himself Pastor Charles that resembles a traditional haunted house, but with a fundamentalist twist: it features gruesome depictions of the wages of sin. One room shows a woman who’s dying because of a botched abortion. Another has a man dying from drug addiction. And still another showcases a man who’s going to be killed for being a “sodomite,” according to Pastor Charles.
At first, Kai and Winter think the victims in the house are actors. But they’re not — in fact, Charles is a serial killer using the house to torture and murder people he thinks are sinners.
But if the “Judgment House” concept sounds familiar, that’s because it shares a name with several real-life productions; but fortunately, unlike in “American Horror Story: Cult,” they’re not murder factories. Instead, they’re straightforward haunted houses, run by evangelical churches, and peopled with actors.
As the Washington Post reports, the idea is to use the haunted house to “save” people by getting them committed to Jesus. The scenes in the house show people dying, and depict whether they’ll go to heaven, because they believe in Jesus Christ, or to hell, because they don’t. There’s also a Judgment House website that has more information about how it works by depicting dramatic scenes meant to encourage people toward Christianity.
But there’s a more intense version of “Judgment House” that’s more thematically in line with what’s shown on “American Horror Story: Cult.” It’s called “Hell House,” and it uses a similar approach, but with a harder edge. “Hell House” is a Christian haunted house showing people going to hell because they get abortions or because they’re gay. They’re notorious for explicit, often visceral depictions of what they consider sins, and the afterlife horrors that await those who commit them. Like “Judgment House,” the intention is that that people will convert to evangelical Christianity thanks to what they see.
Still, while the fictional Judgment House in “American Horror Story: Cult” takes a little bit of inspiration from the real world, the one seen in the episode has more in common with the murderous traps of the “Saw” movies than anything that’s happened in reality.