Day 21 of the Scarecrow Psychotronic Challenge is 21. Opiate of the Masses. The power of the Scarecrow compels you to watch a religious film! I’ve been dying to watch this movie, as I’ve known parts of it from Negativland’s song “Christianity Is Stupid.” Once Nicolas Winding Refn added it to his site www.bynwr.com, I knew this would be my pick.
The title of this film references 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?”
The director, Ron Ormond, started his career in vaudeville doing magic, before making B picture Westerns and exploitation films such as Mesa of Lost Women, Untamed Mistress, Teenage Bride/Please Don’t Touch Me and films such as 40 Acre Feud, which starred country star George Jones. After that, he spent much of the 1950’s writing books with Ormond McGill about magic and psychic belief, such as Religious Mysteries of the Orient/Into the Strange Unknown, The Art of Meditation and The Magical Pendulum of the Orient.
It gets stranger. By the 60’s, Ormond moved on to producing roller derby for Leo Seltzer and making films like The Girl from Tobacco Road with cowboy star Tex Ritter and The Monster and the Stripper, an inordinately bonkers film that plays like a variety show packed with exotic dancers, contortionists, rockabilly and a swamp monster played by musician Sleepy LaBeef that was filmed in the studio of a Methodist Church with exteriors shot on location in the Okefenokee Swamp.
Then, well, Ormond crashed his single-engine plane near Nashville and had a Paul on the road to Damascus moment. Soon, instead of making movies that’d play in drive-ins for horny teens, he’d be converting them to the will of God. Yet this movie proves that he lost none of his exploitation edge. After all, his son’s godfather was Bela Lugosi. Now, Ormond was woke to the teachings of one Estus Pirkle, who was convinced that America faced its greatest danger from Communism.
In their follow-up to this film, The Burning Hell, Pirkle would speak to the horrors of the afterlife while Ormond matched him with the kind of imagery that could only come from a junk movie pioneer who nearly smashed a plane into the unforgiving Earth. Actually, he crashed another plane in 1970, after finishing The Monster and the Stripper, so two signs from God were enough to get Ormond on board. Because after all, Pirkle would preach hellfire and brimstone like this: “Hell is forever. 10,000 years from now, every sinner will still be in Hell. 100,000 years from now, every sinner will still be in Hell. 1,000,000 years from now, every sinner will still be in Hell. 100,000,000 years from now, every sinner will still be in Hell. 1,000,000,000 years from now, the inhabitants of Hell will still be sinning, cursing, crying, swearing, and in a pain that no mortal man has to experience now.”
But let’s discuss this movie because it truly boggles the mind.
As Pirkle reads a sermon, we see an America that is made up of Southern accents and good Christian folks getting decimated by Communists with the worst accents you’ve ever heard. They force people to renounce their faith, accept Castro as their personal savior and shoot their own mothers when they’re not shoving bamboo sticks into children’s brains through their ears, making those kids puke all over the place. This entire sequence is shown up close and in person. Christians are shot, stabbed, hung, tortured and murdered. Their children are made to hang them and drop them onto spikes. It’d be frightening if it wasn’t so over the top. I’ve always had the belief that Christians have way better Satanic imagery than most Satanists, as this movie and the Jack Chick tract The Beast have both shown me. But look — don’t take it from me. See it for yourself!
This film was often played in churches and in tent revivals, where at the end, there would be an altar call. Supposedly, this movie achieved its goal of saving a million souls, which was now the box office that Ormond was now really concerned with.
Pirkle promised that hundreds of dead bodies would litter the streets of our towns and tens of millions of Americans would be killed by Communists within the next 24 months. He also found the time to shame a good Christian girl who witnessed but had the temerity to wear a mini-skirt while doing so. And he also drops bon mots like “Are you aware that less than sixty years ago there was not one Communist in the world, whereas today Communism controls one billion, one hundred million people?”
I know that I grew up Catholic and that warped me beyond belief, but I really am glad that I never attended any tent revivals growing up. I would have ended up speaking in tongues, handling snakes, drinking poison and saving people with psychic surgery.
Seriously, this movie messed with my mind on a level that Alejandro Jodorowsky could only dream of. This is a movie where Communists machine gun Baptists into a giant unmarked grave as the camera luridly moves amongst the carnage and a small boy says, “Where’s my mommy? Where’s my daddy?” before another Communist monster with an accent like Dracula demands that the kid step all over a painting of Jesus, which leads to that cherubic child getting beheaded rather than turn his back on Christ and his head tumbles into the ground in dramatic slow motion while a member of the audience within the audience screams and gives up her hippie ways and finds her way back to the Lord while the ghost of her mother cries from an open casket.
This isn’t just the best religious movie I’ve ever seen. It may be the best movie ever made.
Want to see the whole thing? Fuck yes you do. I posted a YouTube link above and if you join the ByNWR site, you can see the best quality version of this film that exists.