Bill Maher, Sarah Silverman, David Cross, and Penn Jillette might seem unlikely candidates for evangelical youth ministry. But they're among 80 rotating cast members in Hollywood Hell House, an immersive theatrical experience aiming to scare godless kids straight. Sort of. In an L.A. revival of the conservative church-sponsored haunted houses immortalized in the 2002 documentary Hell House, blood spurts freely in full-term-abortion and teen-suicide scenes, and death by AIDS, RU-486, and satanic ritual is played for lurid laughs. But producers insist they haven't added comedy to the original script. ''The Bible Belt claims that Hollywood wants to [corrupt] their children,'' says codirector Jill Soloway, a Six Feet Under producer. ''So we're showing Hollywood what the Bible Belt shows their children.''
Among the opening-night guests: Colorado pastor Keenan Roberts, who claims the Hollywood folk did stray from his text (which, after all, is pretty much a given in this town), but figures God can save souls even through irony. ''Every person who experiences the final scene is hearing the plan of salvation,'' says the pastor, ''if they can get past what they're looking at.'' And that could be a big if, given the show's finale: Andy Richter as a scarily beatific Jesus Christ, in front of a blue shag cross.