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Film / If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?

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The loudspeaker spoke up and said, Christianity is stupid. Christianity is stupid. Communism is good. Communism is good. Give up. Give up.

One beautiful morning, a young sexually-active woman named Judy stops by her local church, where the fire-and-brimstone preacher is delivering a sermon about the coming horrors of communism.

That's the Framing Device for If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?, a 1971 fundamentalist Christian Red Scare propaganda film produced by Reverend Estus W. Pirkle, who also appears As Himself in the role of Judy's preacher. Reverend Pirkle is here to warn us that America must abandon its sinful ways and turn back to God, or else it will be taken over by communists. The film's director is Ron Ormond, a man who could not be stranger bedfellows with Reverend Pirkle. Previously the creator of Exploitation Films like Mesa of Lost Women and The Monster and the Stripper (and before that, westerns like Outlaw Women), Ormond became a born-again Christian after surviving a plane crash.

Thus, comes the unholy matrimony of fundamentalist preacher and Ed Wood-style filmmaker. Throughout the resulting one-hour... experience, we're treated to Imagine Spots which illustrate the horrors of 1970s American society, tell of Judy's various misdeeds, and hysterically warn of what America will be like under communist rule.

During the 1970s and 1980s, this film was circulated amongst the more fundamentalist churches in the United States — and not just in the Deep South. Today, it's something of a Cult Classic for different reasons. Followed by two spiritual (literally) sequels, 1974's The Burning Hell and 1977's The Believer's Heaven, where Estus Pirkle preached on what awaits Christians in Hell and Heaven. Both of these films differentiated by featuring guest speakers, and Biblical re-enactments, though violent scenarios remained in them, particularly the former's depiction of Hell. Digital restorations of all three movies are available to stream on Nicolas Winding Refn's streaming website byNWR.


  • Artistic License – Biology: Apparently, the result of having a pencil shoving in your ear is that it will come out the other ear, you'll spew out a little vomit, but otherwise be fine.
  • Artistic License – Education: One dramatization of a scenario outlined in Pirkle's sermon shows a sex education teacher not only teaching his students about how to give pleasure, but outright encouraging them to have premarital sex. In reality, sex ed teaches about sexual issues such as consent and safe sex, along with taking a pragmatic "if you can't be good, at least be careful" attitude towards sex between teenagers.
  • Artistic License – History: Hoo, boy.
    • "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?" To be fair, he might be meaning to refer to people living under communist governments, and not to people believing in or espousing communism. But even if he is, it could have been phrased more clearly.
    • Reverend Pirkle claims that it took only a week for the communists to take over China. Who knows where he got that figure from, but it's total nonsense. The Chinese Civil War which eventually resulted in Communist military victory (under Mao Zedong) lasted from 1916 to 1950, with some time on the proverbial back-burner/low heat for the Second Sino-Japanese War. Even the final phase of the war, which saw the Kuomintang and the CCP battle it out as the last ones standing, lasted three-and-a-half years.
    • Reverend Pirkle says that three million Christians have been killed in North Korea, twenty million Christians have been killed in the Soviet Union, and fifty million Christians have been killed in Red China. If that seems like an oddly large number of Christians to be living in China, it's because Pirkle took the complete death toll of the Maoist regime and, apparently unaware that one of Mao Zedong's more ill-advised policies caused a famine that would have killed Christian and non-Christian alike, just assumed that all the victims were Christians and murdered for being such. The numbers from North Korea and the Soviet Union seem to be based on the same "reasoning" (though in the latter, at least more victims actually were targeted for their religion).
    • "One of the top communists in America today said, 'I dream of the hour when the last Congressman is strangled to death on the guts of the last preacher and since the Christians love to sing about the blood, let's give them a little of it. Let's cut the throats of their children and let them drown in their own blood on the altar. Then we'll see if they enjoy singing these hymns or not.'" Far-right conspiracy theorists have long attributed various versions of this quote to then CPUSA leader Gus Hall, but there's no evidence he ever said anything of the sort.note  invoked
    • Pirkle claims that communists are worse than Hitler because the Nazis supposedly killed people mercifully whereas communists torture. Obviously, the notion that the Nazis never used torture is a fantasy on par with Holocaust denial. And yes, the Soviets certainly used torture too, but the point is that that alone is not something which made them different from the Nazis.
    • A subtle one is how the USSR is portrayed as some sort of atheist hellhole, yet participation in the Orthodox church started to pick up again after the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II. While the church was controlled by the Soviet government and the post of Metropolitan of Moscow was vacant for some years beyond 1917, Christianity has been central to Russian identity for so long that even communism could not dislodge it.
  • As the Good Book Says...: The title paraphrases Jeremiah 12:5:
    If you have run with footmen and they have tired you out, then how can you compete with horses?
    • Thanks to the phrasing of the film's title, it ends up as Never Trust a Title due to the lack of an answer the question attempts to pose among its anti-communist propaganda.
  • Author Tract: The whole film is literally a preacher preaching at us.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: As one would expect from the premise, the Dirty Communists in Pirkle's sermon not only have taken over America, but have their way every single time. No one dares even try to stop them, not even in a Heroic Sacrifice way; and are little more than dirty cowards content in letting them rape women, enslave children, and kill anyone they please for no reason and borderline idiotic for continuing to practice Christianity in public areas where the Communists can easily slaughter them by the dozens.
  • Bad Liar: Tommy denying that he is a Christian. He outlines his plan to only pretend to deny his faith while Communist soldiers are standing right next to him.note 
  • Broken Aesop:
    • The film decries the violence on television, despite having some rather graphic scenes depicting communist horrors. The blood is very obviously fake, but it's still more violent than anything you would see on U.S. television during the 1970s.
    • On a milder note, miniskirts are one of the many things singled out by Rev. Pirkle as corrupting American morals and leaving us ripe for Communist invasion, even though many of the women playing "persecuted" extras (i.e. predominantly members of his flock) can be seen wearing them.
  • Cassandra Truth: Pirkle says communists torture people in a deliberately over-the-top manner in order to ensure that the victims' stories won't be believed.
  • The Coup: This is how the communists will take over the United States. It will happen "within fifteen minutes after zero hour", improving from the supposed week it took them to take over China.
  • Day of the Jackboot: Reverend Pirkle actually provides a deadline for his nightmare vision. Unless Americans turn back to God in a hurry, the communists will take over the U.S. within the next twenty-four months.
  • Death of a Child: In fact, the worst scenes involve children... from the boy getting his eardrums punctured (then barfing up a storm), the kids forced to drop their dad on a pitchfork, and the kid who gets his head lopped off. Then, of course, the kids seen among the gunned-down dead.
  • Dirty Communists: As far as the film is concerned, a "communist" is someone who goes around torturing and murdering Christians for no reason. Capitalism is only brought up in one scene, and rather offhandedly at that.
  • Dull Surprise: Much of the acting is... well, let's call it restrained.
    • The only exception is Judy near the end, who stands up and shrieks a genuinely horrified "NO!" when Perkle finished the "beheaded kid" story (which is odd since nobody in the Church is in danger and a bunch of horrific stuff was described before). Thus, anything approaching decent acting is applied to the most inappropriate moments. Pirkle himself also tends to flip between sounding bored and overly passionate throughout the film.
  • Ear Ache: One boy gets a pencil shoved in his ear by a communist.
  • Easy Evangelism: Judy. Although, to be fair, it does take the whole film and a fictional child beheading to get her to repent. She also had an elderly sickly Mom who constantly preached to and guilt-tripped her, then died, presumably of a "broken heart".
  • The Fundamentalist: Our "hero", Reverend Pirkle, who believes that the American people's supposed lack of proper faith will lead to a brutal communist takeover.
  • God Test: Communist brainwashers use this to teach children that Jesus can't miraculously provide them with candy, but "our glorious leader Fidel Castro" can. This at least is something really done in communist states. note 
  • Gorn: People are graphically shot, a boy gets pencils shoved in his eardrums, a child's head is chopped off, bloody corpses are strewn about...seriously, this movie has more blood and gore then some horror films did at the time.
  • Good Old Ways: Reverend Pirkle sings the praises of early twentieth-century schooling, and especially the old McGuffey Readers.
  • Hollywood Atheist: The communists, naturally. Torturing and killing Christians seems to be their sole activity.
  • Hysterical Woman: Pretty much every single woman who has any kind of contact with a communist. Note that there don't seem to be any female communists.
  • If You're So Evil, Eat This Kitten!: After lying about not being a Christian, our idiot friend Tommy is ordered to prove himself by shooting his own mother.
  • Illegal Religion: When the communists take over, practicing Christianity becomes punishable by death. Though many communist regimes really did ban Christianity, it was an extension of a more general anti-religious sentiment, not a specific hatred of the Christian religion. For example, the Soviet Union was also known to persecute Jews, Muslims and Buddhists, among others.
  • Invincible Villain: By virtue of no one even trying to fight back and Pirkle portraying Americans as helpless against the invasion, the communists are painted as such in his sermon.
  • Irony:
    • Unintended, but at one point Pirkle is warning that the Communists will force you to sit on wooden benches and listen to loudspeakers spewing propaganda (see the page quote above) and is saying this to a congregation sitting on wooden pews as he preaches.
    • He goes on about how horrible all the violence on TV and in movies is yet describes a boatload of torture, executions, rape, etc.
  • Missing Steps Plan: The Reverend is a mite vague on exactly how good Christians abstaining from premarital sex, dancing, and miniskirts is supposed to prevent the Red Menace from invading the U.S. unopposed. Mocked by the inimitable Seanbaby in his review from The Wave:
    ...I don’t think our positive morals will hold them at bay. They’re not going to turn their pony army back across the sea just because we don’t let our kids dance. "Comrade! Turn back the pony invasion fleet! The Christians are not dancing! I repeatski! Not dancing!"
  • Monochrome Casting: Despite being obviously filmed in the South, the film doesn't contain a single black person.
  • Moral Guardian: Reverend Pirkle ("Dancing is just as wrong as it's always been!").
  • New Media Are Evil: Reverend Pirkle is definitely not a fan of television. He tells us that "Since the advent of TV, the crime rate in some areas has increased one thousand percent." Needless to say, he provides no evidence that television is the cause of the rise in crime. Correlation does not imply causation, Mr. Pirkle. Incidentally, the U.S. crime rate later fell in The '90s and this was not accompanied by television going away (it saw the rise of the Internet, too-another form of new media that some loathed).
  • Obviously Evil: Communists are hammy sadists who hate Jesus for no reason and wear Red Army uniforms at all times.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: This is especially apparent with the main Commissar. He's played by a very Deep South kind of guy trying to talk like an invading Soviet and failing miserably, with an accent that seems to waver between "Count Dracula" & "Foghorn Leghorn". The other "Communists" aren't that much better, either.
  • Propaganda Machine: The communists set up loudspeakers that preach Christianity is stupid, communism is good incessantly, calling for any who would resist to give up. This is pretty unconvincing, admittedly.
  • Public Domain Feature Films: The copyrights for this movie and its sequels lapsed around the early 2000's.
  • Putting on the Reich: The communist soldiers have Nazi-style armbands, with the hammer and sickle in place of the swastika.
  • Rape Is a Special Kind of Evil: Among the many acts of Kick the Dog the invading Communists commit, the Commissar enters a couple's house, kills the husband and rapes the wife.
  • Scare 'Em Straight: The whole point. In spite of this, Pirkle never directly informs anyone how the Communists would feasibly invade America the way they do in his sermon.
  • Schizo Tech: Throughout the film, communist soldiers ride around on horses. Presumably, this is to drive home the "footmen and horses" metaphor, but there doesn't seem to be any internal logic behind it. The Reds evidently have a very tight Christian-murdering budget, since most of their motor vehicle needs seem to be handled by a beat-up Ford truck, and they're carrying American M-16s and M3 Grease Guns instead of anything of actual Soviet make. Plus, these idiots somehow manage to take over a country with a huge military budget and gun-loving populace. Unless there's implied beefed-up Soviet forces off-camera (and assumed to exist) the whole scenario is stupid and impossible.
  • The Short War:
    • Reverend Pirkle (inaccurately) states that it took the communists only a week to take over China.
    • The communist takeover of America takes place over the course of as little as fifteen minutes.
  • The Soulsaver: How we're supposed to see Reverend Pirkle.
  • Stupid Good: Okay, some goons have taken over your country and are killing religious folks like yourself in various horrifying ways. Do you have your services in a basement, an isolated barn or abandoned warehouse? HECK, NO! You have services in the open outdoors or in actual churches, where the "commies" can see you!
  • Think of the Children!: Much of the handwringing comes from communism's supposed effects on the next generation, such as teaching them to reject Christ and informing them at a young age about the body's erogenous zones. And the worst scenes of violence in the film involve children.
  • Vodka Drunkenski: A drunken communist soldier is shown drinking vodka, because obviously all communists drink vodka, whether they're Russian or not.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: A boy gets his eardrums punctured with sticks, cue seeing the boy throw up on camera for several seconds.
  • We Interrupt This Program:
    Reporter: We interrupt this program to bring you news bulletins from Washington, D.C.. All the wires have sent us the account. The President of the United States has been killed [strange pause] in the White House, along with the Secretary of State and the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Other bulletins, coming from around the country, say that the governors of several states have been killed; the Governor of California, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana... and of New York. There are other bulletins that tell us... that people are being herded into the street of the large cities and machine-gunned down like cattle! Ladies and gentlemen... this... is the communist takeover of the United States! This is the end of democracy as you and I know it!
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: What has been described as a "Communist accent". A deep blend of German, Russian, and Cuban, with it shifting not only from scene to scene, but within the same lines. In the case of the Commissar (the guy in the Trope Page photo above with the kid... whom he soon beheads ...), add a bit of "Deep South".


Video Example(s):


I'm not a Christian

Tommy denies being a Christian, but the evil communists demand that he prove it.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (3 votes)

Example of:

Main / IfYoureSoEvilEatThisKitten

Media sources: