‘The Grim Reaper’ or — Ron Ormond > Robert Zemeckis?

Colin Edwards
3 min readFeb 5, 2024

Young Frankie isn’t having that great a day. For one thing, he’s dead. We know this because our film begins with his funeral and Frankie lying in his open coffin after being killed in a stock car racing crash. What’s even worse, as the minster tells Frankie’s parents just before the service, is that Frankie is going to Hell because Frankie, just like his father, wasn’t a good Christian. Ouch!

Naturally this upsets Frankie’s parents (although Frankie’s dad’s idea about simply taking their son’s body to another church down the road that will let him into Heaven is an inspired one) and when Frankie’s mother is terrorised by her dead son’s ghost one night crying out in agony at the horrors of damnation he is experiencing Frankie’s father decides to seek the advice of spiritualist medium, Dr. Qumran. But, as every good Christian knows, dabbling in the occult is never a good idea.

‘The Grim Reaper’ (1976) sees Christploitation supremo Ron Ormond deliver another religious scare movie but this time without the raving reverend Estus W. Pirkle so this is less a filmed sermon and more a “conventional” (this is the only time that word will ever be used in reference to Ron Ormond) narrative which, after all the incoherent ramblings of the Pirkle films, is quite refreshing.

It also allows for some genuine dramatic thrust, especially when Frankie’s dad visits Dr. Quman (possibly the most entertaining medium in the history of cinema) and we discover not that the paranormal and mediumship, etc, is a load of ignorant, anti-scientific, play-acting, charlatan-driven, inherently abusive bollocks but that evil spirits actually DO exist and are out to get us. Eek!

This turns ‘The Grim Reaper’ into a full-blown horror movie as well as highlighting the logical, and theological, lunacy that automatically arises as soon as you invoke any form of the supernatural. Fortunately it also makes for spectacularly entertaining cinema, especially when they get into the technicalities of what happens after you die and how the afterlife functions, so in that respect it’s a lot like William Friedkin’s ‘The Exorcist’ (1973) and just as theologically ridiculous.

Yet what the film has most in common with is the episode of ‘The Simpsons’ where Homer refuses to go to church, and is almost as hilarious. You see, the reason Frankie is in Hell is because on a Sunday he’d rather stay home with his unbeliever dad and watch football and drink beer than go to church with his mother and brother. After Frankie’s death a minister asks his father if he considers himself a good Christian to which the dad replies — “I think I’m a very good Christian. I let my wife go to church every Sunday.” In fact, now I think about it, it might be even funnier than ‘The Simpsons’.

Although the father’s greatest moment is when he’s in the bathroom looking for some sleeping tablets and whilst muttering to himself about where they could possibly be he suddenly swings the mirrored door of the cabinet open and straight into the lens of the camera… only for the mirror to reflect not the camera and crew filming it but the empty corridor leading to the bedroom with NO camera or crew observable whatsoever. What?! I had to rewind the film to figure out how Ormond had done it and sure, it’s blindingly obvious once you realise how it’s done, but it’s so unexpectedly audacious I wanted to leap to my feet shouting “Bravo!” and start showering the screen with roses. Indeed, considering this is in a bloody Ron Ormond movie it’s an even more impressive bathroom cabinet mirror shot than the one during the opening of ‘Contact’ (1997)! Add onto that the funniest Lord-induced earthquake ever filmed and ‘The Grim Reaper’ is in serious contention for being the greatest religious movie of all time.

Sure, some might feel the lack Estus W. Pirkle robs this film of a certain lunatic vitality but, personally, I found the absence of his incessant vitriol a relief and Ormond still packs enough freakiod surrealism into his feature to choke a goat.

Praise God for Ron Ormond!

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Colin Edwards

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