In 1971 Estus W. Pirkle and Ron “Mesa of Lost Women” Ormond teamed up to make the deliriously apocalyptic If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? Pirkle was a Mississippi-based Baptist preacher who wrote several—books? tracts? whatever—about Hell, Heaven, and the Communist takeover of America, and Ormond is credited with directing the movie and also writing the screenplay, which was based on Pirkle’s words and narrated by Pirkle himself. In my brain Pirkle is the auteur here, but Ormond’s demented skill at concocting gruesomely vivid cut scenes is not to be denied.
If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? is just under an hour long, and I would reckon that just about every single minute of it features a mind-boggling image of Communist oppression of Christianity in America or, at the very least, a garish dress pattern or two. The movie suggests a Chick Tract as directed by a redneck Ed Wood—if that description doesn’t make you want to hit “play,” I’m not sure what will.
Rev. Estus W. Pirkle
The title of the movie comes from Jeremiah 12:5: “If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, Then how can you compete with horses? If you fall down in a land of peace, How will you do in the thicket of the Jordan?” In Pirkle’s vision, the footmen and horsemen (which he references incessantly) represent the Communist overlords of a totalitarian America that is about to happen any minute—or is already happening? Pirkle’s not super clear about what’s documented fact and what’s a likely outcome if the Christ-hating collectivists get their way.
Pirkle sincerely expects there to be a mass conflagration in the United States “within the next 24 months” that will result in “tens of millions of Americans” being “shot down like flies in our towns. Many of you listening to me today are going to see hundreds of dead bodies on the streets of your hometowns.” (Hmmm, are flies really ever “shot down”?)
Eek! The dread Communist horsemen!
The movie really has to be seen to be believed. The narrative is episodic, insofar as it frequently returns to Pirkle’s own fervent face as he describes the horrors to come, before cutting away to yet another schlocky scene of bloodthirsty Communists torturing innocent Christians and whatnot. The Communists in Pirkle’s mindset are remarkably well organized, although why they use horses to get around in 1971 is anybody’s guess (because Jeremiah 12:5 says so!). One of the terrors the Communists will impose is the mandatory consumption of “lectures” in which phrases like “Communism is good! .... Christianity is stupid!” are repeated over and over again. If that phraseology rings a bell, it’s probably because Negativland used audio samples from the movie for their signature song “Christianity is Stupid” and their 1989 opus Helter Stupid. (If you want to see that bit of business, go to minute 34.)
Time for the old bamboo eardrum torture
If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? is awash with slow pans over the bodies of massacred Christians—as always, the evangelical proclivity to entertain visions of horrifying violence is right up there with that of any atheist. (Of course, it’s all worth it if it keeps the flock on the straight and narrow.) In the communistic society to come, a moustachio’d teacher insists, “I personally believe that premarital sex is necessary” before elucidating “the seven erotic zones of passion in every woman.” (Dagnabbit, I must have missed that class at the local indoctrination center!) Later, a dastardly Commie punctures a child’s ears with bamboo shoots and—oh, for Pete’s sake, just watch it. You will be amazed.
Here’s Negativland’s “The Mashin’ of the Christ” video, set to the tune of “Christianity is Stupid”
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Christian scare films of Ron Ormond and Estus Pirkle: If the Devil don’t get you, the Commies will