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“In 1989… at the peak of the Satanic Panic, a small media company called Reel to Real Ministries began selling a video documentary called Hell’s Bells: The Dangers of Rock and Roll,” writes Stephen M. Deusner at Pitchfork Media of the anti-rock music doc that was shown in public schools around the time of various “metal-inspired” teen killings in the late ’80s and early ’90s. “Taking its name from the AC/DC song, Hell’s Bells was produced, directed, and hosted by Reel to Real’s founder, Eric Holmberg, an amiable emcee and a mid-life convert whose self-confessed gods had once been John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix, and Jim Morrison. The documentary, which was shown and discussed in churches, homes, Christian academies, and youth group retreats, explored rock music’s harmful effects on listeners’ bodies, minds, spirits, and souls. Over the years it has continued to sell steadily, on VHS and eventually on DVD. In 2004, a Christian publisher called the Apologetics Group released a sequel, Hell’s Bells 2: The Power and Spirit of Popular Music, updating the fears to include Marilyn Manson, Courtney Love, nu-metal, and hip-hop. Earlier this year, to celebrate its sweet sixteen, Reel to Real (which has changed its name to the hipper Reel 2 Real) re-released a 2xDVD version of Hell’s Bells in a limited run of 500, each numbered and signed by Holmberg himself.”

For Deusner, revisiting the doc is an act of personal anthropology that explains for him the formation of his own tastes: “While its cultural influence has been minor, I’m surprised how many people I come across who either have seen Hell’s Bells or are familiar with its message and tactics. It’s difficult to deny the impact this documentary has had on me personally. When I first watched it 15 years ago, I took very seriously what others in my class laughed off. I went home and listened very closely to the music I loved, and I eventually developed and refined my own criteria for assessing what I heard. As a result, I can’t take Holmberg seriously or even watch without laughing a little myself. By giving me concrete negative examples of the kind of criticism and Christianity I didn’t want to practice, Hell’s Bells helped me to reconcile my love of rock music with my tentative faith. For that I am truly thankful.”

Deusner also suggests that music fans may be the largest block of purchasers of those 500 numbered copies. The doc is a virtual who’s who of the pop, metal and alternative scene back then.

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