‘The Believer’s Heaven’ or — Ron Ormond > Terrance Malick?

Colin Edwards
4 min readFeb 8, 2024

Have you ever watched Carl Sagan’s ‘Cosmos’ but wished it was so fucked-up and terrifying that it’d make you shit your pants in fear? Then Ron Ormond’s ‘The Believer’s Heaven’ (1977) is the film for you!

‘The Believer’s Heaven’ sees the fundamentalist dream-team of deranged Baptist minister Estus W. Pirkle and “former” exploitation filmmaker Ron Ormond reunite to present us with another slice of theological lunacy and boy, this one does not disappoint. In fact, it might be their masterpiece.

This time Pirkle is here not to scare us into the arms of the Lord with tales of murderous Communists or sickening visions of Hell but to tell us how beautiful Heaven will be and what we can expect once we get there… IF we get there. How sweet! The thing is, what with this being Ormond and Pirkle, that this vision of Heaven is still as fucked-up and brain-meltingly berserk as any of their fire and brimstone onslaughts, if not even more so because it’s all meant to be comfortingly reassuring.

Pirkle, obviously aware that modern Americans might need hard evidence to back up his proclamations, adopts a more “scientific” approach this time round so provides plenty of cast-iron proofs and formulas that only a fool would dispute. This starts by calling the period of Christianity the “church-age”, as though it was some sort of ecumenical space-age and just as technologically sophisticated.

This leads to some startling facts and scientific theories such as when Pirkle calculates the precise speed and velocity of Christ returning to Earth which, being slightly quicker than the speed of lightning, turns out to be just over 270,000 mph. Naturally this immediately raises certain questions ranging from the thermodynamic properties of Jesus’ robes (they’d need to be able to withstand incredible temperatures) as well as the fact that it would be theoretically possible to insert Christ into the Large Hadron Collider, smash several Christs together and then determine and identify the various Messianic sub-atomic particles emitted from the resulting collisions.

Pirkle is also able, by ways of highly advanced mathematical reasoning, to accurately answer that age-old question — how much bigger will the New Jerusalem be than present day New York City? Turns out the answer is — 7,000,000 times bigger. Who knew!

Yet the greatest piece of information revealed herein is that we get to discover Estus W. Pirkle’s middle name… and it’s Washington. Estus Washington Pirkle. But before you start claiming that the most gloriously ridiculous name there is we also discover Estus’ father’s name…and it was Grover. Grover Washington Pirkle — a man who possessed the most ludicrous name in history and the craziest son who ever lived.

Behind the camera director Ron Ormond does his typically phenomenal job of bringing Pirkle’s descriptions of Heaven to life with such staggering verisimilitude it’s like he actually went into the afterlife with a movie camera and what we’re watching is a documentary. It’s THAT convincing.

We see visions of angels, a woman in white singing against billowing clouds and rapturous blue skies and even the back of God’s throne is filled with shimmering stars and all the while we are repeatedly reminded of Christ’s promise- “In my father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so I would have told you.” What a beautiful, if utterly incoherent and nonsensical, thing to say.

Although this being Ormond and Pirkle means they still have to hit us with some nightmarishly phantasmagorical imagery that’ll render us incapable of sleep for the next decade, something they duly provide by cutting from the floating bliss of paradise to — BLAM! — hard to cut a group of poor children with wizened limbs singing against a blisteringly blue skyscape that’s so unnaturally psychoactive I threw my hands up in the air exclaiming “Oh fuck you, Ormond!” because I realised I had finally been presented with a cinematic image I was completely unable to process.

‘The Believer’s Heaven’ is a psychotropic bombardment that’s essential viewing for anyone who finds the work of Ken Russell or Alejandro Jodorowsky too subdued or understated. It’s like speed-running ‘Bioshock Infinite’ whilst simultaneously binge-watching the original ‘Star Trek’ on hallucinogens and in terms of being a voice-over heavy illustration of the divinity of creation it’s greater than anything Terrance Malick’s made in the last 25 years.

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Colin Edwards

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