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 Red Scare 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, 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. See it here. 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.
- 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 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?" Obviously, he means to refer to people living under communist governments, and not to people espousing communism.
- 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.
- 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 just assumed that all the victims were Christians. 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.'" Christian conspiracy theorists have long attributed various versions of this quote to then CPUSA leader Gus Hall, but it seems to have no basis in fact.note
- 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 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 German invasion during World War 2. 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?
- Author Tract: The whole film is literally a preacher preaching at us.
- 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.
- 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. Oops.
- 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 once, and rather offhandedly at that.
- Easy Evangelism: Judy. Although, to be fair, it does take the whole film and a fictional child beheading to get her to repent.
- The Fundamentalist: Our "hero", Reverend Pirkle
- 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. However, why a bunch of characters who are supposed to be Soviets (considering their bad 'Russian'/'Dracula' accents) are focused on a Cuban guy rather than, you know, a Russian, is anyone's guess. Shouldn't those kids be praying to Brezhnev for candy?
- 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.
- 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.
- Missing Steps Plan: The Reverend is a mite vague on exactly how good Christians abstaining from pre-martial 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 dont think our positive morals will hold them at bay. Theyre not going to turn their pony army back across the sea just because we dont 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 waiver 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.
- Putting on the Reich: The communist soldiers have Nazi-style armbands, with the hammer and sickle in place of the swastika.
- Scare 'em Straight: The whole point.
- 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. Plus, these idiots 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 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 hand-wringing 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.
- This Loser Is You: Judy.
- Unfortunate Names: Reverend Estus Pirkle?! Yes, that was really his name.
- 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".