It’s the time of year again for haunted houses, ghost stories around the campfire and Halloween scares. But one church in Dawson County is striving to bring a haunted house alternative to the community that offers not only chilling scares and a captivating storyline but also a thought-provoking message about faith and the end times as told in the Bible.
Hell’s Gates, put on by Lighthouse Baptist Church in Dawson County, is an hour-long experience based on Biblical prophecies about the end of the world, complete with live-action characters, explosions, pyrotechnics and other special effects. Attendees follow the story of a family living through the end times, as told in the Biblical book of Revelation, to see what it could be like at the end of days.
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This year will be the 11th year that the church has put on Hell’s Gates, and each year the scripts and scenes change so it’s always a new experience, even for those who come back every year. According to Hell’s Gates representative Matthew Blackstock, this year’s experience is more raw and frightening than that of last year.
“Every year the script changes a little bit, obviously it’s still based on the same Biblical background but the storyline changes a little,” Blackstock said. “This year we’ve tried to make it a little more intense, we’ve changed a few different things. I feel like last year we had kind of taken a little bit of a route of maybe taming it a little bit and we felt like we should bring it back up a little bit, so there’s quite a few really intense parts.”
This year’s experience, he said, will include a new, scary character introducing the “one world leader”, as well as a larger and more intense Armageddon scene.
The attraction officially opened last weekend and will run for three consecutive weekends, ending on Nov. 6. According to Blackstock, the opening weekend went very well, with packed tours all three nights.
“Last weekend was our first weekend; it was awesome; and two more weekends to go so we’re pretty excited about it,” Blackstock said. “It looks like we’re going to have a good crowd this year; we’ve seen a lot of ticket sales and things are progressing really well. We’re really hoping we can get more of the community out; we’re seeing a lot of people showing up from other states and all around Georgia but we haven’t seen a huge rush from our local community.”
Feedback on this year’s experience has been very favorable so far, he added, and haunted house reviewer Constantine’s Haunt Reviews even came through last weekend, rating the attraction a 4.7 out of five.
“The comments keep getting better; we got reviewed by Constantine’s Haunt who goes around and reviews haunted houses, so for him to say some of the things he said was pretty exciting especially considering this is one hundred percent volunteers from our church,” Blackstock said.
It takes a village of volunteers from the church to make Hells Gates happen each year, he said, with about 150 people needed to cover acting, ticketing, concessions, childcare for the actors’ kids and more each night.
“With everything last year with Covid, we were really working hard to get volunteers and we relied a little bit more heavily on video, but this year as the volunteers are really starting to pick back up a little bit we’re going to start morphing that back over to a lot more acting,” Blackstock said. “Everybody is really really dedicated.”
While North Georgia is full of fall and Halloween events for anyone, Blackstock said that Hell’s Gates is truly unlike anything else that the area has to offer.
“In this Halloween season, there are plenty of great activities to do with the family, but what we’ve provided is an activity that not only challenges you in a mental or a scary aspect but also spiritually,” Blackstock said. “As the reviewer put it, it’s not just about the jump scares but it’s about the thought that you take home with you: are you prepared for what the end of the world could be. I think that’s really important that people consider their spiritual status and whether or not they’re prepared for the reality of what’s to come.”
Blackstock encouraged anyone who hasn’t experienced Hell’s Gates to come out and try it out for themselves.
“We are constantly trying to make it better and we’re also constantly trying to make sure that we’re giving the best product we can for the viewers,” Blackstock said. “There’s nothing like it; I would encourage people if they’ve never been to at least give it a shot and I don’t think they’ll be disappointed.”
Hell’s Gates will be open for the next two weekends, Oct. 28 through 30 and Nov. 4 through 6. Tickets are available to purchase online, and tickets on Sunday evenings are discounted from Fridays and Saturdays.For more information about Hell’s Gates or to purchase tickets, go to https://escapehellsgates.com/.