‘If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?’ or — Like ‘Red Dawn’… But F*%king Insane?

Colin Edwards
3 min readFeb 4, 2024

In 1971 exploitation filmmaker Ron Ormond teamed-up with Southern Baptist minister Estus W. Pirkle to film one of Pirkle’s fire and brimstone sermons in order to bring the preacher’s message to a wider audience, as well as making them both millions of dollars in the process from the donations collected in the countless churches their film was shown in. This occurred after Ormond, along with his film-making family, survived a plane-crash, became born-again Christians and vowed to dedicate the rest of their lives to the glory of God instead of sleaze and gore.

For their first film, ‘If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?’ (1971), Ormond constructed the flimsy narrative device of a promiscuous young woman attending Pirkle’s sermon detailing a near-future United States under Communist occupation and the untold horrors that would inevitably ensue. At first sceptical and dismissive she finally sees the light, turns her back on sin and enters the realm of the Lord. Pirkle’s sermon would be “real” and directed at we, the audience, as such.

The only problem (or should that be “blessed miracle”?) is that Ormond might’ve given his soul to Christ but his heart was still eternally and irremovably located in exploitation film-making where he “excelled” at depicting sex, torture and extreme violence, but rather than toning any of that down to depict Pirkle’s unhinged ravings for the screen the preacher’s apocalyptic diatribe was so ripe for excessive imagery that Ormond created a movie even MORE extreme, gross and nightmarish than anything he’d made before. The result is a film that’s like going to Sunday school, if that Sunday school was held in Pasolini’s ‘Salò’ (1975).

And so we witness “real-life documented incidents” of laughing Communist henchmen gunning down innocent, church-going, ALL-WHITE Americans in showers of blood, piercing the brains of young boys with bamboo-stalks and beheading little children going to the shops to buy some sweets and the effect this had on the average congregation member who saw this movie was to have them running out of their churches in horror and vomiting in the street.

But we need to be shocked because, according to Pirkle, America is screwed! For example, did you know that Saturday morning cartoons have caused crime in America to increase by over ten thousand percent? Neither did I, so it’s just as well I’ve been warned about that and that godless fucker Scooby Doo!

Yet what’s truly bizarre is that for all the reactionary, right-wing, conservative, certifiable, deluded religious bile that’s spewed out of the screen is that what Ormond and Pirkle’s film reminded me of the most was the Marxist revolutionary work of Godard and Gorin’s Dziga-Vertov period, specifically ‘Vent d’est’ (1970) and ‘Vladimir et Rosa’ (1971) where political lecturing combined with low-budget re-enactments results in hilarious consequences.

I also kept thinking that Estus Pirkle, with all his hate-filled, deluded gibberish wasn’t really a product of a bygone time and would be a raging success on today’s social media and could not only challenge various alt-right “thought leaders” for influence (his description of “Communism” simply needs tweaking to “radical left”) but that he’d probably end up winning the Republican candidacy.

So as a left-leaning atheist I hated this, right? God no! Are you insane? These films are awesome and Ormond and Pirkle’s movies are so incredibly addictive and moreish, a bit like fundamentalist Malteasers, I dove into their sequel, ‘The Burning Hell (1974) straight afterwards with a gusto I can only describe as ravenous. And in ‘The Burning Hell’ Pirkle describes the ACTUAL, geographical entrance to Hell (something I personally had no idea existed so, again, this was extremely educational) where the damned are cast down into fiery damnation and, again, Ormond brings all this to the screen with vision I can only describe as “sectionable”. Imagine a religious movie that’s even funnier than ‘The Life of Brian’ (1979) and you’ve got an inkling of what it’s like.

Ormond and Pirkle haven’t managed to convert me in the slightest (indeed, they make being a bloodthirsty Communist look fun) but when it comes to their batshit crazy movies I’m certainly a believer.

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Colin Edwards

Comedy writer, radio producer and director of large scale audio features.