A hell of a time at the movies

Because I'm the kind of person who will watch anything if it's on a screen, I've been to a lot of film festivals. I've attended animation festivals, gay film festivals and more than my share of bad film festivals back in the ironic '80s. When the second annual Greater Orlando Christian Film Festival showed up this past weekend, I went to that, too. It may have lacked artistic cachet but it had one more important quality. It was free.

Plus, I wanted to see how the CFF would stack up to such prestigious cinema events as Sundance and Cannes. I noticed two strong similarities right off the bat. First, I wouldn't have known anyone at Cannes either. Second, I couldn't afford a $3.25 Coke any more at the Christian Film Festival than I could have at Cannes. Interesting how theaters use the same pricing for soft drinks that topless bars do.

At any rate, I settled in to watch "'M 10:28' Hell Exists," the code being a Bible verse, which is something I noticed that Christians use to back up their words the way lawyers cite precedent.

Goth with the wind

The movie promised to be something on a par with the beloved old after-school specials, only instead of watching youthful dopes learning something from their mistakes (and presumably forgetting it by the time the credits rolled), there was a promise they'd end up in hell.

Which one did. The plot involves two Bad Girls who get involved with an idiot and end up getting shot. One has a near-death experience and goes to hell, where she wears bondage gear that looks like it was designed by Gautier and is confronted by a demon straight out of HR Geiger. Whatever happened to the old days when Satan wore red tights that suggested he shared a closet with Freddie Mercury?

This hell is modeled on a Goth club/Jaycees haunted house, which saddened me because I always thought of it as more of a sports bar.

After the movie, an attendant stood up and talked about how hell was an actual physical location, though he gave no specifics. Could you drive there? Would you need a phrase book? No one asked. He said that if we opened the door to our hearts Jesus would come in. I tried. Nothing. Jesus must have looked at my door and wondered if there was a water bucket teetering on the top. He's no idiot.

The man then invited people to come up to the front of the theater if the spirit moved them. Christians accuse gays of recruiting, but I have never been to a gay event where anyone said, "If you accept Tommy Hilfiger into your wardrobe, you'll go to heaven. Within the hour if you meet anyone cute."

The next movie I saw was "Bibleman: Breaking the Bonds of Disobedience," a new adventure that I attended without having seen any of the old adventures, but figuring that I could figure it out anyway. So, technically, I am capable of leaps of faith. Bibleman is a Christian action hero who battles evil-doers on God's behalf and wears one of those Mexican wrestler suits like all superheros do. His suit includes the "Waist Belt of Truth," the "Helmet of Salvation," and, no kidding, the "Shoes of Peace." I thought they would be Birkenstocks. Actually they were more like ski boots so you could knee evil in the groin if you had to.

A dry eye in the house

In this story, Bibleman, played by Willie Ames (of "Eight is Enough"), is so obsessed with his stage show that his "Spiritual Health Profile" is dangerously crappy. "I've barely had time to pray," he says, at which his assistant, Cypher, who is a bit of a nag, reminds him that "the Bible tells us to pray continuously." Nonetheless, Bibleman's workaholism leaves him vulnerable to a supervillian who infects him with "the germ of disobedience," which causes him to be bitchy and have blurred vision when he tries to read the Bible.

Bioterrorism that causes PMS and dried contacts isn't the highest order of supervillainy, but this is a kid's show, remember. And it causes trouble for Bibleman, who has "the ticking time bomb of rebellion in his brain." Rebellion is treated like chicken pox, something you don't want to catch.

What with this kind of attitude and Bible verses constantly being thrown out as guidelines for life, original thought doesn't seem to be encouraged much. Indeed, Bibleman fights his final big battle with a light saber, a rather glaring bit of borrowing from the "Star Wars" movies. In the end the supervillains just self-destruct, which I'd probably do too if I had to listen to people moralizing all the time.

But that is what going to film festivals is all about: expanding your horizons by getting to check out ideas from other cultures. Spending a little time here at the CFF accomplished that goal. Now I know what Rod and Todd Flanders would be doing on a Saturday afternoon.

As far as WWJD? I don't know if Jesus would attend. As a carpenter, he'd probably just stay home and watch "Trading Spaces."