If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?

Director: Ron Ormond             
Estus W. Pirkle, Judy Creeh, Cecil Scaife

Strange as it may seem, the collapse of the Soviet Union was, if you look at it with an alternate viewpoint, kind of a blow against fundamental Christianity. Think about it - for decades, hard-line Christians certainly did criticize communism every chance they got, but at the same time they also used this threat to their advantage. Since a lot of aspects of the Soviet Union were shrouded with mystery, and that this superpower was more or less trying to convert the rest of the world to its philosophy, it lead to a lot of opportunity for Christians to win support for their cause. Those pesky Soviets restrict outside information coming in? Why, we'll smuggle Bibles across the Iron Curtain! All those reports of gulags? Why, we'll bring them up in our sermons, and compare situations like that to what us loving and God-fearing people do instead, looking even better than if we just described ourselves without comparisons! The Final Days according to the Bible? Well, we'll find some kind of interpretation to show the Soviets as one of the predicated evil forces to do battle!

So you can see that when the Soviet Union did collapse, it left a number of Christians flummoxed. Yes, communism still existed, but Pirkle, the man himself!countries like Cuba don't exactly seem to be as aggressive in promoting communism world-wide as the Soviet Union was. The predictions that the armies of the Soviet Union rising up in The Final Days now seemed ridiculous, since Russia and the surrounding countries' armed forces quickly became antiquated and broken down. The changed world was certainly an embarrassment to high-profile Christians who had predicated the Soviets would bring the world to the brink - poor Jack Chick had to rewrite or withdraw several of his famous cartoon tracts that dealt with the communist threat. It also made several of Ron Ormond's Christian movies absolutely obsolete in this new world - though having watched my first one recently - If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? - I think I can safely say that as far as an attempt to convert people to Christianity, they became ineffective even before the first time they reached a projection bulb.

A quick and superficial biography on Ron Ormond, for those readers who have not heard of this director (and because this amazing individual has received nowhere the exposure of Ed Wood, Phil Tucker and other directors of a dubious reputation): Ormond got his start in the '40s, producing, writing and directing cheap and forgettable Lash LaRue westerns, but it was in the '50s and '60s that his filmmaking "talents" really became evident. The quality of movies of his like Outlaw Women, The Monster And The Stripper, and The Girl From Tobacco Row can be pretty much guessed from the titles alone. (One movie of his you may have heard of - Mesa Of Lost Women.) Sometime after his last exploitation movie in 1968, Ormond survived a plane crash (maybe two plane crashes - as I said, information on Ormond is kind of sketchy), and as a result of this became a born-again Christian, teaming up with various Baptist churches and preachers (including Jerry Fallwell at least once!) to make movies that would spread The Good Word. Ordinarily, this would be a sad ending, because we would be deprived of more hilariously inept exploitation movies. But as you'll see in the case of Ormond, though Christianity took him out of the world of exploitation, it couldn't completely take the penchant of exploitation that lay within him. And, needless to say, his dubious talents as a director didn't change.

Associating with the Baptist faith, Ormond soon teamed up with the legendary Reverend Estus W. Pirkle, one of the more colorful and outrageous Baptists of his time - maybe of all time. Already, Pirkle had been distributing audio recordings of his fiery sermons in the Baptist community, and it seemed that evolving into the motion picture medium would be the next logical step in spreading his word - as well as making a few bucks in the format. (As it turned out, Ormond left Pirkle after several movies, when he discovered the good Reverend was essentially ripping him off.) One of the first collaborations between Pirkle and Ormond was If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do, an adaptation of one of Pirkle's most famous sermons, which he had already cunningly converted into book format for Christian book stores. Naturally, there had to be a number of changes to convert it to a movie (especially one that was only about 45 minutes long.) For one thing, the movie right at the beginning essentially asks us to accept the facts that we are about to hear, without learning what sources Pirkle got these facts from. The movie opens with an off-screen voice asking, "Reverend Pirkle, are the pictures we about to see true fact, or are they figments of your imagination?"

Pirkle's voice responds, "I can document every statement in this film. And all of the documented re-enactments are taken from actually events that have taken place in Russia, Korea, China, and Cuba, where the communists have already taken over. The only difference is that we're using Americans to emphasize that the same thing can and will happen.... if they take over." Not only do we have to simply take Pirkle's word for it as to what he claims happened in the past and what will happen in the future, we can only conclude that Ormond and Pirkle felt that people would only be moved by scenes of inhumanity if the pictured victims were Americans - though one must also wonder why none of the victims (or anyone else) seen in this movie is of African or Asian descent. Guess they felt seeing minorities getting butchered and abused wouldn't move the Christian soul that's in all of us.

The movie then properly starts. Actually, instead of there being an actual story, it's more or less a filming of Pirkle's sermon, intercut with short Why did they die with such sad faces? After all, they were about to go to heaven, right?scenes depicting what he claims could happen in the future. Before getting into those, a look at how Pirkle starts off his sermon . In a small church, Pirkle asks a group of bored-looking parishioners, "I would like to ask you a question: What do you think about the future of our country? Are you alarmed by the increased crime rate in all of our cities? What about the riots that break out on our college campuses nearly every week? Do you think this is just the younger generation coming of age? That things will soon be better?" (Hey, that's more than one question!) "If this is what you are thinking, I'm afraid you are in for a rude awakening!"

Pirkle continues, and for the next while tells us quite bluntly that there must be a revival in America within the next 24 months, otherwise not only will God during The Second Coming completely forsake America and go to another country instead (?), America will be taken over by the communists! He warns us that there are "footmen" around us, slowly and subtly corrupting our minds so that eventually those dreaded communists will be able to conquer us softies. The situation is much different than that of his youth during the 1900s - he reminisces of games like "Drop The Hankerchief" and the good old McGuffey Reader. It's clear at this point how deluded Pirkle is at this point, not just for his somewhat unfair comparison of society long ago with now, but that when the movie shows us his memories of the 1900s, a number of the people are wearing modern-day clothing.

What are these corrupting "footmen" he talks about? Well he gives us some examples of supposedly innocuous things that are poisoning America. Cartoons on TV? Why, they are filled with violence and sex! TV by itself is bad; he claims that TV has increased crime by 1000%! Worse of all, people are watching TV instead of reading the Bible! (So I guess the Sunday morning programming must be evil as well.) Drive-ins? They are "a spawning house for sex!" Dancing? "Just as wrong as it's always been! It's the front door to adultery! The thing that started on the dance floor is expected to be finished in a parked car or a motel somewhere!" (Insert your own jokey Footloose reference here.) His words start to have effect on one young woman in the audience, who silently recalls with shame the times that she put makeup on her face, danced with her boyfriend, afterwards socially drinking a glass of alcohol with him.

But that is not the most horrifying thing Pirkle has to tell us. No, the most horrifying events to be found in America will happen in the future, if we don't all surrender to God now - America will be taken over by communists! Interestingly, he doesn't say just how this invasion will happen without nuclear war breaking out - all that is revealed is a clip of a TV anchorman telling his audience that reports have come in that the president and his Teaching communism in schools! Won't someone think of the children?chief advisors were killed, as well as the governors of several states (though not telling us any details of any of these deaths.) Pirkle actually begins describing the terrible things that will happen to us after the communist invasion will have on our democratic society by starting with the biggest blow to us. No, not the loss of God or the church - our 40 hour work week and 2 to 3 weeks of vacation will be gone! The communists will have us working from 5 AM to 8 PM for 363 days of the year, the other two days being devoted to praising the joys of communism. (Since this communist work ethic leaves such little time to do the day-to-day things outside of work, and that only a short time each year promotes communism to the people, it's no wonder we won the cold war.)

All of Pirkle's ranting and supposed claims are insanely hilarious, and by itself would make this movie an instant camp classic. But it gets even better, and that's when Ormond uses actors to dramatize all of these "What would America be like after the communist invasion?" scenes. While Ormond may have found Jesus, he certainly didn't lose a directorial style that was both inept and exploitive, which is evident in these and other enactments:

  • Though the communists will have conquered the land of the automobile, they will all choose to do their policing on horses. (Symbolic! They are the horses in the title of the movie!) The only time they'll use a vehicle is when they go house to house to round up the children for re-education school.
  • Streets will be covered with bloody, bullet-riddled bodies. To get this across, we get a close-up of a slow pan across a pile of blood-soaked bodies.
  • The communists will use "cunning and subtle" lessons to break the faith of children. A communist teacher asks his students to pray for Jesus Christ for candy. Of course, no candy arrives, but when the children pray to the glorious Fidel Casto, a soldier just happens to come in and dump a bag of candy in the classroom! Pretty cheap-looking candy if you ask me, but candy all the same
  • There will be more bloody and bullet-riddled bodies than you think. To get this across, we're given another close-up of a slow pan across a pile of blood-soaked bodies.
  • If communists catch children hearing "the word of God" at secret Bible meetings, the communists will ram a sharp piece of bamboo through one ear and out of the other of the child. It won't kill the kid, but evidently it'll make you sick, as Ormond is careful enough to show us one of these youthful victims vomiting several times near the camera lens.
  • As time goes by, there will be even more bloody and bullet-riddled bodies than you think. To get this across, we're given yet another close-up of a slow pan across a pile of blood-soaked bodies.
  • Drunk communist soldiers will barge into civilian houses and demand sex from the woman in the family. What's worse is that if the husband protests and gets a bloody bullet wound in his stomach as a result, the woman will act as if having a dead husband in her hands isn't such a real cause for concern as you might think.
  • Since the communists plan to exterminate "67 million" American Christians, that will mean groups of Christians will be constantly gathered together and gunned down. What will make it easier for the communists is that the Christians are all considerate enough to stay in their place in the group once the shooting begins. And as you might have guessed, these shootings result in more instances where the camera gives us a close-up of a slow pan across a pile of blood-soaked bodies.
  • Torture will get a workout in this new society. Christians will be forced to face and stand 7 inches from a wall for hours on end to blur their vision and break them down, since they are too polite to close their eyes. Repeated scoops of salt will be rammed into the mouths of Christians who had been deprived of water for the previous two days. Groups of Christians will be gathered together and brainwashed by the following audio recording repeated over and over: "Communism is good... Communism is good... Communism is good... Christianity is stupid... Christianity is stupid... Christianity is stupid... Give up... Give up... Give up..." (Trivia note: this audio was sampled by the rock band Negativland for one of the songs on their Helter Stupid album.)
  • To emphasize what a horrible place America has been, we get still more close-ups of... oh, forget it.

Hallelujah! Here we have another Z movie classic, one that can lower its head with shame in front of Ed Wood. True, it's not perfect - Pirkle predicted that Phil Silvers would join the communists when they took over Americathe short running time may make it arguable as to if it can actually be considered a movie, and the last five or so minutes are pretty predicable and boring (that "sinful" woman sees the light, cries out to be saved, Pirkle does the expected praying and reading of the Bible with her, etc.) But even then, this demented masterpiece has a lot more laughs and jaw-dropping moments than a lot of those other better known and so-called Z movie classics. And to be fair, I must admit that seeing the movie did, in a way, get me to see the light - after watching it, I praised God, thanking him that he made a world where there was a Ron Ormond.

UPDATE: Byron Henry sent this along:

"This may seem a dubious honor, if "honor" it may be deemed, but there are four movie review sites that I peruse on a regular basis--and four only!--and The Unknown Movies shares that special place with Stomp Tokyo; Cold Fusion; and Not only do you manage to include wit with your reviews, you do so with honest and apparently well-informed discourses on the points you make (or gripes you have), and you also do it without sounding like an old Eddie Murphy or "Dice" Clay routine. It may seem like nothing much to you, but I'm glad to see people who can make their arguments in an educated manner.

"I digressed, didn't I? Anyway, while reading the review for If Footmen Tire You..., I came across the following passage:

"Repeated scoops of salt will be rammed into the mouths of Christians who had been deprived of water for the previous two days."

"If Mr. Pirkle had actually taken the time to read "The Gulag Archipelago", which was, I believe, published before 1970 (smuggled out of the USSR and printed "bootleg" style), he'd have been able to back up his views of what he feared would come with much more vivid images that this. "Archipelago" was finally published in the US in 1973, but was available elsewhere, possibly To be fair, though, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn did mention that, en route to the prison camps, prisoners were often fed salted carp (with huge grains of salt clinging to them) with no water to be had for up to two days. Even in prison, someone would be lucky to get two glasses totaling eight ounces each day. Was this a lucky guess for Mr. Pirkle? We'll never know.

"In any case, it's sad when a person takes something as serious as a government's abuses of its citizens and turns it into cheesy propaganda for his own use. Personally, I feel it's even sadder when someone has all the information he needs to make his points, and eschews them in favor of blindly regurgitating stereotypes.

"Feel free to interpret that as my take on the election year shenanigans we're suffering, too, if you like, but either way, thanks for the web site and reviews. It's good to stimulate my brain cell every so often."

UPDATE 2: "Tibi" wrote in commenting on the movie's candy scene:

"Actually, this is based on real stuff that was happening in the 50's in the communist countries. My father grew up in Romania in the 50's there and he remembers these kind of things happening at school. Of course, they'd not "pray" (too religious) to Fidel Castro (not yet in power), they'd have to look at and "ask" the portrait of Stalin (installed in every classroom). Also, it did not involve a soldier dropping in, but the teacher handing out the candies (or whatever they were asking for). Whatever other faults that movie would have, that's actually based on real stuff."

UPDATE 3: Chris Jimson sent this in:

"A semi-correction to a footnote in your review of If Footmen Tire you, What Will Horses Do?

"While technically correct that Negativland used a section of the film's audio on the Helter Stupid album, their original use of the Estus W. Pirkle sermon was on the song "Christianity Is Stupid" from the previous album Escape From Noise, and that song was later used for a media prank by the band, which generated more audio for them to sample for the Helter Stupid album (an interesting story by itself, perhaps even more relevant today than back in 1989 when the hoax was perpetrated). I suspect you may in fact know this story but simply erred in referring to Helter Stupid rather than Escape From Noise. It is probably more accurate to refer to the song "Chrisitianity is Stupid" from Escape From Noise (rather than Helter Stupid) as this marks their first use of the Pirkle audio, but also that song was a minor college radio hit at the time, and is essentially as much an Estus W. Pirkle song as a Negativland song, since his sermon is edited to create all the "lead vocals" for the song.

"Estus W. Pirkle"-- what a great name, almost sounds invented, like for a character in a cartoon or Dickens novel."

Jacob Lisak wrote in with this:

"I recently read and enjoyed your review of If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? I noticed that you made many references to Ed Wood when discussing the film. Because of this, I thought you might be interested in knowing that: the scene where the solders enter the Christan's home to sexually attack the wife uses a sound track which is PROMINENTLY in Ed Wood's 1953 film Jail Bait. I just thought it was a fun coincidence and worth sharing with someone else who loves exploitation films."

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See also: Blood Freak, Eternity, Troll 2