Ron Ormond was a director of cheap exploitation and grindhouse films who converted to Christianity. He then took his director style and made cheap Christian propaganda films full of gore and terror — hence the name “Christploitation.”
Ron Ormond (1910-1981) was born in Baldwin, Louisiana. He started his career in showbiz as a vaudeville-style entertainer hosting performances and doing magic tricks, which is how he met his wife, June.
As a filmmaker and director, Ormond was typically entrenched in psychotronic films and B-Movies. Psychotronic is a term “denoting or relating to a genre of movies, typically with a science fiction, horror, or fantasy theme, that were made on a low budget or poorly received by critics.” These types of productions “can commonly be identified by their use of exploitation elements and their interest in humanity’s lower common demoninators.”
Ormond’s films spanned across several genres, such as B-Movie Westerns, race car films, country music films, and good old fashion horror-exploitation.
Here is an example of his country music film, 40 Acre Feud.
The titles of these movies tell you everything you need to know. Here is a snapshot of IMDB’s page:
Ron Ormond also worked on the topic of hypnosis with author and friend Ormond McGill. Two of their books — Religious Mysteries of the Orient and Into the Strange Unknown — can be prices up to 5,000 dollars! In my humble opinion, no book should be worth that much unless it’s signed by Shakespeare himself. But apparently, they are extremely rare. I searched around for a pdf copy but couldn’t find it. If any of you know where to find one, please let me know.
Here are some his retro movie posters:
Religious Conversion and “Christploitation”
Though he was often known as a ‘sleazemaster,’ Ormond dropped his lewd themes after a couple of freak incidents. The Ormond family was involved in one serious plane crash, and then nearly fell prey to another. With the combination of escaping death twice and Ormond’s personal questioning about spiritual matters (in his books and studies), Ormond took these events as a sign from God and converted to Christianity. This is when Ormond’s films got even crazier than his previous antics of strippers, bestiality, and monsters killing *actual* chickens.
Ormond formed a relationship with a fundamentalist ‘fire and brimstone’ Baptist preached named Estus Pirkle. Pirkle was especially obsessed with two things: the impending threat of communism, and his unique doctrine of Hell.
The first film of the new Ormond and Pirkle duo was If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? (1972). The film has been described as “the most confounding piece of homegrown budget-consciousness surrealism ever filmed.” The film transitions back and forth between a sermon presented by Pirkle and dramatizations filmed by Ormond. However, these dramatizations feature gruesome scenes depicting imagined communist torture techniques, murder, and future horrors of Christian persecution. By combining psychotronic film with religious propaganda and gory fear-mongering, this movie claims that youth culture is destroying the Christian values at the heart of American freedom. This, according to Pirkle, opens America to the threat of a communist takeover, which would be a near-apocalyptic event. The film’s message to non-Christians is that they need to convert to Christianity. To audience members who already believed, the film was meant to inspire them to reflect about whether or not they took their faith seriously, and if they could withstand possible persecution or eschatological horrors. Thus, “Footmen” refers to the threat of communism, and “Horsemen” refers to the biblical imagery of the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse. These two threats are coming to get you.
The second film Ormond made with Pirkle is The Burning Hell. With the same directing format as Footmen, this film features another gory entry into the Christploitation genre. Pirkle’s fire and brimstone fear-mongering is taken to new heights as Ormond’s grindhouse style of directing brings imaginations of Hell onto the screen in bloody display.
Ormond went on to direct other Christian films, such as The Grim Reaper, The Believer’s Heaven, and 39 Stripes. But Footmen and The Burning Hell will always stand as quintessential films in the ever-strange Christploitation genre.
Though one can argue that Christian movies are a modern form of exploitation film (which I will write about another time), Christploitation films proper are rare to come by. That’s probably because Christian typically do not see grindhouse as in accordance with their virtues. However, one enduring example of Ormondian theatricality is the contemporary practice of “Hell Houses” or “Judgment Houses.” These are basically Christian haunted houses. Typically put on during Halloween season, evangelical churches will use their church or a rented building to enact performances of sinners refusing Christ, dying suddenly, and then being condemned to hell. Often, the audience travels as a group into different rooms where each seen is acted out by volunteers. The show usually ends with depictions of heaven and a call to salvation.
If one considers Ormond’s Footmen, Burning Hell, and Believer’s Heaven to be a kind of trilogy, then there is almost a direct parallel between Ormond’s grindhouse gospel and contemporary Hell Houses. Both use fear tactics to promote their message, and both are low-budget productions with the goal of proselytizing.
Here is a video summary of a popular Hell House in case you are interested in more:
I feel obliged to say that I neither support nor condone the Ormond films (and the Hell Houses are just as bad). However, the fact that someone made grindhouse-style Christian movies in the late-70s era of psychotronic films is flabbergasting. Such a state of affairs rarely occurs, but when it does, the results are terribly legendary.
What do you think? Is there any artistic value to these movies beyond exploitation? Have you had any experience with these films? Are the Ormond/Pirkle movies simply propaganda, or is there more depth to them than one might initially think? Also, do you think Hell Houses are similar to Ormond-style entertainment? Let me know in the comments.
In the not-too-distant future, I will do a more thorough review of Ormond’s Christian movies. Please follow this blog so you can stay up to day with more.