Friday, July 1, 2011

Just For The Hell Of It

“The heat is on, so arm your soul.”   ---Ziggy Marley
It’s Summertime here in the high desert. High desert summers are different than other summers. I was reminded of this during a recent trip to the tropics. Yes, New Mexico summers are hot, sometimes with three-digit temperatures for days at a at a time, but as we Southwestern grammas say from our curmudgeonly lawn chairs, it’s a dry heat.
Those ain’t just gramma words, folks.  Here in New Mexico, shade means something. It makes a difference.  If you get too hot, you find a shady spot and cool down. If there’s a breeze and a beverage involved, it’s absolute Heaven. 
I was sitting on my porch last night in my private little Heaven, mojito in hand,  thinking about Hell.
I didn’t realize there were so many different concepts of Hell. Of course the first thing that comes to mind is what I call Cartoon Hell.  This is where red guys with horns, pointy goatees, and pitchforks poke hapless sinners as they slog through a lake of fire.
I dismiss this literal view of Eternal Damnation.  I figure after I die I will no longer have a physical body, and it takes a physical body to experience physical pain such as Phoenix-in-July heat and pitchfork pokeage. If you listen to guys like Pat Robertson, this version of Hell is full of gay people,  feminists, free thinkers, and Democrats.  Hmm.  Sounds kinda like Heaven to me.
Moving on.
When I was fourteen, I discovered another kind of Hell.  I’ll call this one Hell that Sneaks Up On You. A made-for-TV movie titled Haunts of the Very Rich introduced me to this concept.  The film opens on a mysterious airplane filled with minor celebrities from the 1970s and some really cheesy music.

                                                      (Click picture to view the full film)

(Are you scared yet? I am.) These folks are headed to an equally mysterious resort that looks a whole lot like Fantasy Island.  This resort appears heavenly, with rooms specifically designed to fulfill each guest’s every desire. BUT!  None of these people remember booking their vacation, and none of them have any luggage, except what they had with them when they died.  Oops – did I just say that out loud? Don’t you just hate it when someone spoils the movie for you by thoughtlessly announcing how it ends?  Scratch that.  No one knows how they got to the resort and each one appears to be the embodiment of one of the Seven Deadly Sins,* but there are drinks included, so who cares?
As the story unfolds, a hurricane arrives and wipes out all the amenities, leaving the guests stranded. Various means of rescue are promised, but never materialize, and it quickly becomes apparent that this version of Hell involves giving hope, then taking it away. For eternity.
This is a pretty strong concept, given that it comes from a big slice of television fromage. It dug its way into my teenaged brain and seriously creeped me out for years to come.  I could and did buy into the concept of Hell consisting of an eternity without hope.

Without leaving the 70s, we can travel to Hell for the Goose.

I used to love Rod Serling's Night Gallery.  My high school friends and I would watch the series in our pajamas, eating popcorn in the dark, alternately laughing at the black humor and attempting to creep each other out. There were several episodes that dealt with various concepts of Hell, but the one that sticks in my mind was one titled "Hell's Bells."  A badly-bewigged John Astin plays a hippie who dies in a car accident and is transported to Hell. Here we find that Hell has a waiting room, and the waiting room has rules.   No sleeping. No talking. No smoking. No standing. No breathing. No littering.  A cranky housekeeper pops in (literally) from time to time to make sure the rules are enforced.  Soon the protagonist, anxious to begin his exciting fire-and-brimstone-acid-trip experience, finds himself ushered into a room that contains a phonograph, hundreds of vinyl records, and some old people. The music is all straight out of an elevator, and the old people want to do nothing more than show thousands of slides from their recent vacation.

Slowly it starts to dawn on our hippie that this experience is not at all what he expected it to be. In comes the Devil (see Cartoon Hell paragraph above) who assures him that this is indeed Hell. He will be stuck in this room, with this music, these people, and their vacation for eternity. "You know," says the Devil, "It's a curious thing, but they have exactly the same room Up There."

Poor hippie.  He finally gets it.  "Bummer,"  he wails.  "Bummer, bummer, bummer!"

Hell for the goose can be Heaven for the gander, and I heartily agree.

(click picture to view full episode)
In another slice of Hollywood Hell,  the feature film What Dreams May Come depicts an eternity where you choose your own torment.
This one I understand.  For anyone with a conscience, the idea of having to relive all your mistakes, unkindnesses, and transgressions over and over without end would truly be Hell.  But people with a conscience are good, right?  And don’t only bad people go to Hell?

In the film, this actually turns out to be the case. Even if you are in Hell, there can be forgiveness. But first you must choose to forgive yourself.  (And then you can go to Heaven and see all your dogs.  Good movie. See it.)

I asked my friends for their thoughts when I decided to write about this. I asked,  “If you were to die and wake up in Hell, what would it be like?” Responses ran from a very fundamental Biblical version of Hell, to an eternity of doing stuff you hate with people you hate in places that you hate,  to the idea that there is no Hell and why the Hell was I asking.  Then came this one from a fellow writer:
“Hell would be not waking up.”
BINGO!  This is the one that scares me the most.  I’ve lived my life believing that I am here for a reason, that I am here to learn things, to become a better, more enlightened being before I move on to whatever is next. What if  we make a mess of what we have right now, and this is all there is?
Yikes. I guess I’d better do better while I’m here – just in case.
*For those who may be interested but don’t want to think too much as they watch the movie, Ed Asner is Greed, Cloris Leachman is Vanity, Lloyd Bridges is Lust,  and Anne Francis is Annoying (not a deadly sin, but it should be.)


  1. That Haunts of the Rich movie looks epic! I want to see it.. I've also thought maybe the concept of hell is just another elemental dimension? The world we were in before birth was Water in the womb. The element we're in now is obviously Earth. Perhaps the next element is Air which is why ghost are see through :D and the concept of Heaven is a fluffy cloud place in the sky. So maybe someday we will all return to an Element of Fire?!?! The concept of Hell, which destroys the old, but creates the new, to do it all over again. Just another weird thought that runs through my head. Anyway, your blogs are getting very good, I like the embedding that you are doing!

  2. Haunts of the Very Rich is hard to find. I found a link to it on Megavideo. If I can find it again, I'll send it to you. :-)
    Several faiths believe that in this particular plane of existence we will be consumed by and return to the element of fire. Love your insight!

  3. I love cheesy horror movies! I can't believe I haven't seen this one.

    To me, Hell would be coming back and having to start all over again. For an example, see the movie, "Defending Your Life."

  4. "Defending Your Life" is a good'n. I saw it again just recently on TV. Megavideo has a link to "Haunts of the Very Rich."
    A true classic seventies cheesefest! Enjoy!