Ron Ormond‘s 1971 If Footman Tire You, What Will Horses Do? is likely to inspire the hackneyed question, “What Would Jesus Do?” The answer is that, if the old boy was actually forced to see it, is he would most assuredly become a militant atheist.
This first collaboration between recently saved exploitation hack Ron Ormond and Rev. Estus W. Pirkle is the accidental masterpiece of Christian scare films, and of course it could only have been produced by Baptists (Ed Wood, Jr. knew of what he spoke when he cried, “These Baptists are stupid, stupid, stupid!”) It’s the only CINO denomination that can give Pentecostals a run for the money (and boy, do they run for the money). Like Ormond and Pirkle’s 1974 followup, The Burning Hell, Footman was one of the few times the two denominations put aside theological differences. I doubt a single soul within either camp is overly familiar with the word theology: one of mother dear’s visiting evangelists referred to the field as “soundin’ like some kinda bug ya might catch.” Being subjected to a viewing of Footman went hand-in-hand with all the apocalyptic sermons we were force-fed, because deep into the Cold War, Commies made the top ten list of demonic demographics (along with gays, Catholics—especially of the Mexican variety, because they were trying to invade, Jews, civil rights activists, gun control advocates, women’s libbers, Democrats, rock and roll musicians, and TV shows such as “Bewitched” and “Superman“) that inspired frenzied tongue-speaking outbreaks.
Even before Ronald Reagan (whom the fundies were initially suspicious of since the name RONALD WILSON REAGAN added up to 666, and he met with old Charlie Pope!), the Soviet Union was theEvil Empire. Over half the sermons focused on exactly what was gonna happen to Bible-believin’ Christians once the Russkies invaded and gotta hold of ’em. Modeling myself after the prodigal and leaving mother dear’s church in the early eighties, I’m not sure what they focused on after the Soviet Union’s fall, but Jack Chick sure was forced to go back and change a helluva lot of his tracts (Harry Potter became a noteworthy focus, but it just doesn’t register quite like the Red Army).
Being born again didn’t include any miraculous upgrade in regards to Ormond’s (cough) filmmaking skills. He’s just as inept as he was directing monster T&A films, trading in cleavage for the Republican Jesus. That is to our benefit, because a pre-glory walk Ron Ormond would probably be a mere footnote in the book of Z-budget exploitation filmmakers (with the exception of his opus Mesa of Lost Women). However, under the auspices of Jesus, Ormond evolved into the undisputed Protestant prophet of Christsploitation.
Footman springs from the Cold War climate of fear, and is a hodgepodge of naive surrealism dressed up as a Christian scare film. It opens with the stoic Pirkle sermonizing to his extremely well-fed Baptist zombie flock (several keep nodding off in the pew), who go out of their way to live up to endless stereotypes (Baptist haircuts, Jesus bumps, cascading chins, polyester suits, ghastly floral dresses, Tammy Faye mascara, and blank expressions). He begins by predicting a Soviet atheist takeover of the good ol’ USA within twenty-four months (oops). Like the four horsemen of the apocalypse, here comes the Russkies, ready to trample over Bible-believin’ Christians, but first…”Ya know ‘dem liberal protesting colleges are part of the reason we have high crime rates. Aren’t you bothered by the killing of policemen and judges?,” Pirkle asks before reverting back to Commie horsemen, as Ormond’s camera pans over dead fat rednecks in the field, representing Christian victims. In addition to going after our churches and herding our preciously plump Baptist baby mommas like Capitalist cattle, the Russkies are gonna make you work seven days a week, 365 days a year with two days a year off (? apparently, the Baptist calendar has 367 days?)
Ormond’s camera loves the image of kiddie corpses, and we get our first shot of dead tykes for Jesus before being introduced to their antithesis—Judy, the sinning ho, dressed in a mini-skirt twelve inches above her knees! As she chews gum in church and daydreams of necking, Pirkle lays the blame on public school systems teaching sex education. Predictably, it’s dramatized with an oily-looking mustachioed teacher advocating fornication and teaching about the seven erotic zones of passion in women.
TV, cartoons (cuz you know, Bugs Bunny leads children to sex), drive-in theaters (a spawning house for sex), dancing (it’s the front door to sex in parked cars), alcohol, drugs, and cigarette smoking (I’m convinced this is why I became a smoker and still feel we should have far more smokers) are all part of the liberal plot for a Commie takeover, which will take all of fifteen minutes after zero hour.
Ormond and Pirkle imagine a Soviet takeover with a Stalin look-alike (complete with southern accent and 10 lb. sideburns) teaching children that “Communism is good, Christianity is stupid. Communism is good, Christianity is stupid. Give up. Give up. Will Jesus give you candy? Let’s ask him… nope, he didn’t give you candy. Fidel will give you all the candy you can eat,” he says, throwing a sackful of taffy.
In one jaw-hitting-the-floor dramatization a boy, refusing to renounce Jesus, is arrested, hog tied by Commies, and has a pointed bamboo stick shoved into his ear drums so he can’t hear the word of God (apparently, after the takeover, Tennessee will have bamboo farms). With cherry sauce coming out of his ears, the poor Christian pubescent loses his lunch. It must have been one hell of a meal, because he pukes a bucketful. Still, he’s better off than the classmate who is reduced to a Christian head on a stick after those mean Commies decapitate him.
After hearing of this and getting an eyeful of Baptist boys forced to pitchfork their daddies, salt shoved into the mouths of dehydrated believers, and with Russkie rapists despoiling good Christian housewives, Judy is still chewing gum in church—that is, until her big Bible lovin’ mama croaks (none too soon). A dead mama and a visualized image of a Commie stepping on a print of Warner Sallman’s “Head of Jesus” are the proverbial straws that break the camel’s back, sending a hysterically bawling Judy to take the glory walk. Yes, she caves in, goddamn her. Seeing the light, Judy kneels at the altar, and when that mini-skirt hikes up a couple of inches, Pirkle, like Roy Moore in a schoolyard, comes-a-sniffin’. Hallelujah.
Now, for viewers who are eternally blessed to have never been raised in a fundie environment, Ormond’s zigzagging from Russkies on horseback to rubbernecking and slaughtered hicks and lots and lots and lots of blood splattering may prove a tad disconcerting, but Footman authentically captures the unique brand of homegrown naive surrealism inherent in Midwestern and Southern evangelical circles of the period. Indisputably, it’s true cult cinema, perhaps the most authentic kind: tailor-made for church basements (AKA porn screening rooms for fundies). The proof is in the pudding—altar calls immediately followed showings of this (and Burning Hell), and believe me, those altars were packed every time. How many other cult movies can say that? Indeed, Ormond’s pre-Pirkle films are comparatively tame and no match for the sensationalism of his best “Christian” opuses. An at home experience isn’t quite the same, but to mantle the spirit of the whole thing, we recommend you Bring Your Own Hankies.
*originally published at 366 Weird Movies