Hell in popular culture  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
devil in popular culture, hellmouth, doom paintings

Hell is a common theme for entertainment and popular culture, particularly in the Horror and Fantasy genres where it is often used as a location.


In art


In literature

  • Dante Alighieri's famous epic poem The Divine Comedy tells how he visits Heaven and Hell. His visit to Hell is probably the most famous literary depiction of the concept. Hell is systematically divided in thematical tortures for crimes of the same nature. Dante claims to have seen several famous people being tortured in hell: biblical characters (Judas, Cain, ...), mythological characters (Medusa, Minotaur,...), historical characters (Nero, Brutus, Attila the Hun,...) and people of his own lifetime. His journey is described with many imaginative details.
  • In Jean-Paul Sartre's play No Exit the famous quote: "Hell is other people" is made.
  • The novel Job: A Comedy of Justice, by Robert A. Heinlein, offers a Hell that is a thriving community centered on a Lake of Fire that, while it is indeed a burning lake, is something of a practical joke. Incoming souls, who are in apparent corporeal form, fall to the lake but are (usually) caught by attendants who stand by with nets. The newly-arrived citizens are assigned temporary quarters, have jobs, and often meet old friends (and enemies). Sex, eating and drinking, and other forms of entertainment are part of Hell; this Satan is a reasonably courteous host and has a sense of justice.
  • In the novel The Black Tattoo by Sam Enthoven, Hell is depicted as a Roman type empire, complete with gladiator pits.
  • The novel The Taking by Dean Koontz features a global alien invasion, but it is suggested that the invaders may be demons instead of aliens.
  • In Piers Anthony's series Incarnations of Immortality, Hell, along with Heaven and Purgatory, are actual locations populated by the main characters and souls of the dead.
  • In the novel City Infernal by Edward Lee, Hell is depicted as a modern metropolis (the Mephistopolis), albeit where bones are currency and electricity is provided by tapping the bio-electricity of tortured souls.
  • In the novel The Silmarillion, The Dark Lord Morgoth's first empire Utumno, bears many similarities to Hell, as Morgoth himself is similar to the Devil and both are deep underground, infested by demons and other evil creatures.
  • In The Black Jewels trilogy by Anne Bishop, Hell is one of the three realms.
  • Stephen King suggests that Hell is repetition in his short story "That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French The story focuses on a woman who is forced to repeat the first hours of her and her husband's doomed second honeymoon over and over.
  • In David Weber's book Echoes of Honor, Hell is the nickname given to the Havenite prison planet of Hades.

In film

  • At the end of "Ghost (film)" (1990), Sam's killer is swarmed by a legion of shadowy figures and dragged through the streets, presumably to Hell.
  • 2000's Little Nicky depicts hell as a kingdom where monsters, giant fire birds, flying jellyfish and a large castle, named the Castle of The Underworld belong and the entrance to Hell is a fiery gate, called the Gateway to Hell.
  • What Dreams May Come, a 1998 movie that won an Academy Award for its depiction of heaven and hell as the subjective creations of the individual, was an essentially mystical interpretation of heaven, hell and reincarnation. It was based on the eponymous novel by Richard Matheson.
  • In the film Deconstructing Harry by Woody Allen, the protagonist descends into Hell where he has a chance to learn from the Devil himself (played by Billy Crystal), among other things about the significance of having air conditioning in Hell, and then proceeds to discover his own father. After learning those reasons, Harry grants absolution to his ancestor and suggests that latter is to be taken to Paradise - only to be reminded: I am Jewish and do not believe in Paradise!.
  • In the 1991 film Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey, the title characters end up in Hell.
  • At the end of the 1995 horror film Tales from the Hood it is revealed that the three of the four main characters (Stack, Ball, and Bulldog) are not in a funeral home, but in Hell, which they had been in all along while listening to the horrific tales told by the funeral director, Mr. Simms. The walls around them shatter to reveal the fiery Hell as Simms morphs into Satan himself.
  • At the end of 1996's The Frighteners, the main villains are grabbed by dark tentacles and dragged into a fiery vortex that is clearly meant to be Hell.
  • The movie Event Horizon also deals with themes of Hell. As a ship with an experimental, singularity-inducing reactor core, that was supposed to travel faster than light by folding space, instead entered another dimension, which is likened to Hell (and through some cross-media, may be similar to the Immaterium).
  • Constantine (a 2005 Warner Bros. film) depicts as graphic a version of the traditional Christian version of Hell as can be found in cinema: it shows a parallel plane with many of the same buildings and structures as the normal world, but twisted, ruined and perpetually seared as if eternally hit by the blast wave of a nuclear bomb. This movie is based on the DC/Vertigo comic series Hellblazer.
  • In the Stephen King movie, Storm of the Century, the character Andre Linoge states that "Hell is repetition".
  • Hell is depicted in the Danish film classic Häxan (1922).
  • The Night on Bald Mountain sequence in the Disney film Fantasia (1940) shows Tchernobog ruling Hell.
  • In the Pluto cartoon Pluto's Judgement Day Pluto is sent to Hell where he is punished for harming cats.
  • Hell is also depicted in Tex Avery's The Blitz Wolf (1942).
  • In the Tom & Jerry cartoon Heavenly Puss Tom is nearly sent to Hell.
  • A depiction of Hell based on Dante's Inferno appears in the 1935 Spencer Tracy film Dante's Inferno.
  • During the Christmas Future segment of Mickey's Christmas Carol, Scrooge McDuck is thrown into a grave with a coffin that opens directly into Hell.

In radio

  • The BBC Radio 4 comedy series Old Harry's Game is set in Hell. It was written by Andy Hamilton who also stars as Satan.
  • The radio show Coast to Coast AM has circulated a sound recording which is said to feature the screaming of people suffering in hell, supposedly recorded by Russian engineers drilling into the ground in Siberia, although it is a hoax. [1][2]

In comics

  • In the comic book series Hellboy by award-winning artist Mike Mignola, Hell is shown in the two page story "Pancakes" (1999 Dark Horse Presents Annual) to be a dark, alternate dimension filled with flames and demons and where the infernal capital city of Pandemonium resides. In issue one "Seed of Destruction" the Nazis with aid of the mad monk Rasputin successfully breach the transdimensional boundary of Hell via magic and call forth the infant Hellboy so that he may bring about the end of the world. They are stopped, however, by the Allied Forces who also rescue Hellboy and raise him.
  • In the comic book series Ghost Rider, Johnny Blaze sold his soul to the devil to cure his adoptive father from dying of cancer. In the recent revival of the series we see the Ghost Rider residing in Hell to pay up his end of the bargain. Hell is depicted as a red desert with cannons and pools of lava. We see the devil as a powerful political leader residing in a grand palace with many servants and advisors. The palace is surrounded by burning towers.
  • The comic book Spawn sees Hell its demons as an important plot element. Mercenary Al Simmons gets betrayed by his own employers, dies, and goes to Hell. He then makes a deal with the Devil that if he agrees to fight with Malebolgias ( Guardian of Hell ) he would get to return to Earth and see his wife again. Throughout the comic he meets and fights many nefarious characters.
  • Lobo in the DC Universe was banned from hell, as he caused too many problems there, thus achieving immortality, as he was also banned from heaven for much the same reason. Incidentally, God apparently got some mirth from watching Lobo's antics.
  • In the one-panel comic The Far Side (created by Gary Larson in the eighties) Hell is featured among other recurring themes, depicting Satan and his minions as grim-looking figures in robes with horns and pitchforks, running the place in business-like manner: in one instance, the bespectacled secretary behind the typewriter asks her boss seen as a silhouette behind the office door: There is an insurance salesman here. Should I admit him in or tell to go to Heaven?
  • In the comic strip Dilbert (created by Scott Adams) "heck" is a lesser version of hell reserved for people who have done misdeeds that are not evil enough to warrant hell. Heck is ruled by Phil, the Prince of Insufficient Light who carries a giant spoon instead of a pitchfork.

In television

  • In The Simpsons Hell is depicted numerous times. In Bart Gets Hit by a Car Bart enters Hell due to a car accident where the Hieronymus Bosch painting The Garden of Earthly Delights is parodied and Satan has a Macintosh computer which he uses to view details about everyone who enters Hell. Bart's arrival is, however, too early, so the Devil sends him back to Earth, advising him to continue to "lie, cheat, steal and listen to heavy metal." Homer ended up in Hell in The Simpsons Halloween Episodes. In Treehouse of Horror IV Benedict Arnold, Lizzie Borden, Richard Nixon, John Dillinger, Blackbeard, and the 1976 Philadelphia Flyers are brought up from hell to form a "jury of the Damned". In the same episode it is suggested that James Coco also went to hell. In the episode Treehouse of Horror XI Homer is tortured in hell by the devil. His screams wake up John Wayne who also resides there. In Simpsons Bible Stories, the entire family fall asleep in church and wake up to find the Apocalypse occurring, whereby a staircase opens in the ground and they are sent down to Hell. Homer is at first excited by the smells of barbecue but soon starts screaming in agony. In Treehouse of Horror XVIII The Devil sends every person in Springfield to a Hieronymus Bosch-like hell.
  • In the television show Futurama, the characters go to Robot Hell on occasion, where the Robot Devil and other evil robots reside. In "Hell is Other Robots" Bender was put in there to be tormented in a series of "ironic punishments" such as being rolled into a giant cigar for smoking. In "The Devil's Hands Are Idle Playthings" Fry and Bender go to hell to make a deal for Fry to get robot hands so he can play the holophonor. The robot whose hands Fry will get is determined by a large wheel with every robot on it. Fry winds up with the Robot Devil's hands (I just put my name on there as a show of good faith to the other robots). The Robot Devil proceeds to use a "circuitous plan" involving Bender and Leela to convince Fry to trade hands back.
  • In many episodes of the television show South Park (Do the Handicapped Go to Hell?/Probably), Satan appears. On many occasions he is accompanied by his homosexual lover Saddam Hussein, who ironically seems to be even more malicious than Satan himself. Hell in the series is an overpopulated place where several famous people as Frank Sinatra, John F. Kennedy, John F. Kennedy Jr., Walter Matthau, Dean Martin, Diana, Princess of Wales, Tiny Tim, Michael Landon, Gene Siskel, George Burns, Andy Dick and Mahatma Gandhi live next to more obvious people as Adolf Hitler, Jeffrey Dahmer, Ted Bundy, John Wayne Gacy, Djenghis Khan and Mao Zedong. Only Mormons seem to go to Heaven. South Park's version of Hell can also be seen in the film South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut (2000) and the episodes Best Friends Forever and Hell on Earth 2006. In this episode Steve Irwin (who had only recently died at that time) was depicted as an inhabitant of Hell, causing much controversy with viewers and Irwin's family.
  • In the Buffyverse, there are several places in the world, that are natural gateways between the Underworld and the world of Mortals. One of these Hellmouths is located directly under the library of the Sunnydale High School. However, instead of there being one "hell", there are hundreds of hell dimensions, in which demons are the dominant lifeform and non-demon life, if there's any, is subject to great torture.
  • In Doctor Who, the 10th Doctor comes across a being which identifies itself as 'the Beast', resembles popular interpretations of the Devil, and makes numerous references to Hell. In a later episode, "Hell" is said to be a synonym for the Void, the coordinates of which are all sixes
  • In the satirical puppet show Spitting Image, hell is depicted as a fiery inferno containing people like Hitler and various Russian leaders. A later sketch set in the future depicts John Prescott going to hell to find it contains Ronald Reagan and Margareth Thatcher. The devil treats Prescott nicely, unable to think of any form of torment he hasn't already been through whilst alive.
  • In Bleach, Hell is the destination of those who committed unforgivably evil acts during their lives in the human world. When a Hollow whose mortal soul is too wicked to enter Soul Society is slain by a Zanpakutō, the gates of hell (giant doors held by skeletons) appear and begin to open. A giant, laughing spiritual being with a blade spears the wicked spirit and drags it down into hell.
  • A 2008 television ad-campaign for Capital One credit cards features a Hell that has been 'frozen over' because customers are able to get spending bonuses without restrictions. The ads depict Satan and his minions in a comical manner.
  • In the Family Guy episode Holy Crap Peter visits Hell in a cutaway joke where he finds Adolf Hitler, Al Capone, John Wilkes Booth and Superman. This baffles Peter, but Superman explains he was sent to hell "after murdering a hooker who made a joke about him being faster than a speeding bullet."
  • In the Dragon Ball anime series, Hell was known as HFIL. This acronym was stated to stand for Home For Infinite Losers.
  • In the anime Jigoku Shojo, Hell is not seen but, the soul is ferried there. The story is that when a person is being tormented by someone else or is belittled by them it effects their life. During the course of each episode of season one, they randomly hear of Ai Enma the Hell Girl and that she will take revenge for you. Then, they summon her and out of the blue there she is, in apppearence she is a black haired girl with blood red eyes(later on in season one it's revealed they used to be brown similar to Tai Kamiya's). Then, she introduces herself simpily as Ai also later on revealed to be her birth name. Baffled to see her, the client is then given a doll made from straw all having a red thread on their neck. She always states that when the thread is undone, Ai makes certain that the tormentor is ferried to Hell as she is the one that takes them there. There is a price for her services however, when they die she will come for them and take them to Hell. This means they will never know the joys of Heaven and even never by with their loved ones when they're dead. She does this because back in the village she grew she was lined up to die as it was tradition to sacrifice a seven year old girl or boy to the Harvest Moon. She escaped this fate for six years with the help of her cousin and the only friend she had, however do to economic claspe in future Ai was betryed and buried alive and her chocolate coloerd eyes now hell red. Three years afterwards she came back with a vengeance. The village was burned to the ground and the inhabitants sent to Hell, she even had her cousin killed for tresin. She was visited by the God of Hell for what she did. Now she tends to people that are being tormented and take care of what happened. She has done this for four-hundred years. She doesn't do this alone she has three companions who help her later in the third and last season one more. Their names are Wanyudo,a wheel like demon that turns into an old man he helps Ai get to her cliental, Ren Ichimoku, a demon that used to be a sword who turns into a male 17–20 years of age he looks after both, targets for revenge and cleints to see if the avenger will pull the string or not via a big bulging eye that appears on his forehead,back of his head and on any wall, Onna Hone like her namesake she can turn into a walking skeleton this women 19–21 years of age in appearance, also watches the client,and last Yamawaro, a satin-like creature who turns into a boy of 9–12 years of age he helps Ai with talking to clients about their problems and why they want vengeance. Before sending the victim to Ai says, a well known saying for her, "O pitful soul in the darkness, causing pain and suffering to others, o soul in such sinful karma. Do you want to see what death is like?" this make the target go crazy knowing that Hell is coming. When the person wakes up they are on a boat on its way to Hell with the infamous Girl from Hell taking the rudder. The God of Hell had made it clear to Ai that if she was to take revenge for herself or any other kind of sign she that is showing any of her emotions she will be in Hell never to return, but she has done this thousands of times and has always come back.
  • Supernatural television series mentioned Hell many times as the place that demons originated. Dean Winchester, one of the main characters, has been sent to Hell once but later rescued by the angel, Castiel.

In music

In video games

  • In the Super Smash Bros. series, Metroid has a close resemblance to Hell.
  • The 1996 city-building god game Afterlife has the player "build" Heaven and Hell as cities.
  • The video game series Devil May Cry features Hell as a location to battle through. The name of the main character Dante is a reference to The Divine Comedy, as is his twin brother Vergil.
  • The first Fear Effect game deals extensively with the Chinese concept of hell, replete with its aforementioned political ramifications. Several of the later levels actually take place in the Chinese hell.
  • The famous PC game series Doom also involves the concept of Hell, but with a science-fiction twist, as a future teleportation experiment accidentally opens a gate to Hell, releasing demons. Hell is treated in the Christian conception, replete with Satanic symbols and corporeal demons, as a parallel universe of crimson skies, black mountains and oceans of fire. At the end of the second game in the series, after the main character has killed the 'largest demon he's ever seen' Hell is wrecked, and the main character wonders where evil people will go when they die. In Doom 3 the player must travel to Hell to obtain a powerful Martian artifact.
  • The first game in the Quake computer game series involves an invasion by forces from Hell, more exactly the Great Old Ones. Note however, that the rest of the series has nothing to do with this concept.
  • In the first of the Diablo series of games, a "leaked-out" portion hell is featured as a pit deep under the ground largely characterized as a place of suffering, as the bodies of hundreds of apparently tortured people reside there. The game manual refers to this place as actually part of the mortal realm whose barriers with the metaphysical Hell have weakened, causing it to take on hellish attributes combined with more worldly ones. None of the apparently tortured bodies show any signs of life or torment, and as such may simply be the Decor that Diablo, the lord of Terror, has chosen for his home in the mortal world. This fits with the view of the actual Hell as portrayed in Diablo II, which features Hell as a bleak landscape populated by grotesque monsters and souls in active torment.
  • In the game Tony Hawk's Underground 2, there is an unlockable level (within 2 others) that depicts Hell. Little Demons, rural citizens, and a jazz dancing Satan are in the level.
  • The 2006 film Silent Hill depicts Hell numerous times throughout the movie. It implies a private hell, where we punish ourselves by denying our guilt and fate, only prolonging our suffering and agony. The overall concept of the film is the lengths a mother will go to for her child, traveling to 'Hell and back'. Hell is also depicted as a modern world, but decayed and rusted, populated by strange and horrific creatures. In a number of respects, this concept is rather far removed from the game setting.
  • In the fourth edition of the game series The Elder Scrolls, Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the main quest in the game involves preventing and stopping monsters from coming through gates linking to a place called Oblivion. It is widely believed that this is synonymous with Hell. However, the realm seen mostly in this game is only one of the 16 realms of Oblivion, the one belonging to the daedra lord Mehrunes Dagon (a 4 armed almost human creature). The other 15 realms of Oblivion (one for every other daedra prince) are not the same as Dagon's, and the realms of the more benevolent daedra (such as Azura and Meridia) are probably not hell-like at all. Also, Oblivion is not an afterlife for the sinful.
  • In the expansion pack Hordes of the Underdark for the game Neverwinter Nights, the player gets banished to the eighth level of hell, a frozen wasteland called Cania.
  • In the popular fighting game series, "Street Fighter", the character Akuma uses a move called "Shun Goku Satsu" which sends the opponent's soul to Hell.
  • Hell is portrayed as a battlefield frozen in time in the video game Painkiller. Everything from bullets to trenches to mushroom clouds are present in stark stasis, allowing the player to move about the vista to get a good look at it. The most notable omission from the stage is that of people; the player is the only living thing in the scene, occasionally accosted by wraiths—presumably ghosts of the dead soldiers. Being the final level in the game it is relatively short and culminates with a showdown with Satan himself.
  • In another popular fighting game series, Guilty Gear, the characters Testament and Eddie both have a stage based on Hell. Hell was Testament's stage in Guilty Gear X, while in Guilty Gear XX, it was Eddie's stage. Up until Guilty Gear XX Accent Core, it was depicted as the freezing kind of Hell in GGXX, but in GGXXAC, it is depicted as a more fiery hell with buildings halfway sunken in what appears to be a whole ocean of blood. The GGXXAC Hell was also Venom's stage in that game. Guilty Gear Isuka also has two stages that reference to Hell; in any mode other than GG Boost mode, a stage owned by both Testament and Eddie is called Hell's Forest, which is also called Deep Forest in the American Release of GGI. The GG Boost mode stage that references to Hell is called Hell's Prison, and is the fourth and second-to-last stage of GG Boost mode.
  • The RTS Age of Mythology has several missions that take place in Hades.
  • In the video game Marvel: Ultimate Alliance, Mephisto's Realm is a name given for hell.
  • In Hellgate: London, demonic armies has merged from hell and reduced London to ruin and is slowly converting the world to hell through a process called "Hellforming". The protagonist must fight back the demonic invaders and destroy hell.
  • In both God of War games, the main character, Kratos, gets sent to the Hell of Greek mythology thrice. The first time, he is killed by a broken pillar thrown by Ares. The underworld is depicted as having floating platforms made of bloody flesh and huge bones. There are red clouds above and below; above is the underside of the world, below is the massive river Styx. The souls of the dead are seen falling into it. The second time, Kratos is killed by Zeus; it is a giant cave with black, skeletal arms everywhere. The third time, Kratos falls into the Great Chasm with an elderly, insane Icarus. He steals his wings and glides down to rest on the rocky Titan Atlas.
  • The upcoming "hack and slash" Fantasy Horror video game Dante's Inferno, based on the medieval poem of the same name, is exclusively set in Hell, fully realised in its medieval Roman Catholic conception as a physical and supernatural environment full of grotesque suffering and torture in correspondence with various sins, with the nine circles of hell making the different parts of the game through which the player, Dante, must fight.

In roleplaying games

  • In the Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game, there are seven hellish planes, that are usually called the Lower Planes. The Plane most often referred to as 'Hell' is the Outer Plane Baator and comprises nine levels, sometimes called the Nine Hells or the Nine Hells of Baator. The other planes are Pandemonium, an endless underground network filled with howling winds that cause madness; the Abyss, a collection of countless places of evil and chaos, each one worse than the one before; Carceri, the prison of the multiverse; Hades, place of grey and bleak plains (that also has a place called Niflheim); the four peaks of the vulcans of Gehenna; and Archeron, a place of broken weapons and engines of war from all battlefields.
  • In Nomine, an rpg where the plot is the forces of heaven and hell fight each other in a modern setting, Hell is the home location of all Demons. Hell is divided into several subdivisions called Principalities, each ruled by one or more Demon Princes. Interesting enough all of hell's principalities are named after different versions of hell (i.e. Sheol, Hades, Tartaurus, etc) In addition, an area known as lower hell exist, were Lucifer himself resides. Most Demons stay away from there and only go when they have no other choice.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Hell in popular culture" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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