31 Days of Horror: Film 2: If Footmen Tire You What Will Horses Do? (1971)

It’s time for the 31 Days of Horror: 2014 Edition. For those of you who weren’t around for last year’s journey, the plan is to watch at least 31 horror movies I’ve never seen before and review them all. So sit back, strap in, and enjoy my journey down the rabbit hole.

I’m not religious. Like a lot of people my age, I did attend a church when I was a child, but gradually moved away from organized religion in my teens. At this point, I really don’t feel any need for religion in my life. But I’ve found, as I’ve grown older, that the practice and belief systems of different religions interests me. Particularly, I am fascinated by the disconnect between the peace and love most religions profess to preach and the fear-mongering (and occasional strong-arm) tactics too many supposed religious people use in an attempt to convert others to their way of seeing things.

Because of my interest in this area, I’ve been intrigued by the rise in indie Christian films released over the last few years. But I’ve not been interested enough to sit through a bad movie that seems merely interested in preaching to the choir. Films like God’s Not Dead, Fireproof, and Heaven is for Real struck me as more about selling a film to an audience that felt duty-bound to watch it—and more importantly, help it turn a healthy profit.

This week, it felt like the Christian movie market turned a corner with the reboot of the Left Behind films. By casting an honest to goodness movie star (no matter how faded) like Nicolas Cage in a film about the Rapture—an event that lends itself to instant drama—the film seems like an attempt to reach out to a secular audience and shake some faith into them. While I doubt that will be the end result, it does show some ambition beyond simply telling a built-in audience what they want to hear.

This led me to wonder about other religious films that reached out to an audience beyond those predisposed to agree with them. My initial thought was to check out the A Thief in the Night films from the ’70s that were marketed to the drive-in movie crowd. While I will probably tackle that series at some point in the future, some friends pointed me in the direction of an even more obscure film.

If Footmen Tire You What Will Horses Do? Is nearly impossible to classify. The filmmakers would have the audience believe the film to be a documentary. In reality it is more in the vein of a melodramatic docudrama with large chunks of the film made up of nothing more than Baptist preacher Estus W. Pirkle (the film is adapted from his book) delivering a sermon to the camera (with occasional cuts to a congregation listening in stone-faced reverence). The rest of the film is made up of dramatizations of the horrors that Pirkle claims the American people will face if every man, woman, and child doesn’t turn to Christ.

Most of these horrors are at the hands of invading communist forces that will surely take over the country if Americans continue their sinful ways. Never mind that Pirkle never explains how sin (his definition of sin seems to be everything other than regularly attending church) will lead to a communist invasion, what matters is his extreme vision of the persecution and violence that Christians will face at the hands of the sadistic communists. In this regard, the film falls firmly into horror movie territory.

Directed by Ron Ormond (a prolific indie filmmaker who produced and directed the type of drive in movie fare that Pirkle attacks at one point), the dramatizations are crudely constructed but occasionally hit a disturbing nerve. Some of the more awful moments Ormond and Pirkle come up with involve the camera lingering over the bloody corpses of children, a scene where kids are forced to impale their father on a pitchfork, and a gruesome depiction of a child having his eardrums punctured with a sharpened piece of bamboo.

While these scenes are too amateurishly constructed to truly offend (with the exception of the eardrum scene), the effort by the filmmakers to shock and frighten is sincere. I have no doubt after watching the film that Pirkle and Ormond honestly believe this kind of torture would be prevalent.

I can’t help but admire that sincerity. Unlike the current wave of financially successful Christian films, If Footmen Tire You What Will Horses Do? Doesn’t feel cynically calculated to simply make money by patting its built-in audience on the back. It announces from its first minute that it intends to scare the viewer into believing. It failed to accomplish that task with me and I actively disagree with a lot of what Pirkle is preaching as far as what constitutes sinful behavior, but I appreciate the honesty of intentions.

You can contact me at obsessivemovienerd@gmail.com and read all the extraneous crap that goes through my head by following me on Twitter.

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