THE BELIEVER'S HEAVEN (1977; www.bynwr.com).
Director Ron Ormond's early career consisted of Southern-fried schlock such as GIRL FROM TOBACCO ROAD and FORTY ACRE FEUD, but following a 1967 incident when his single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza -- containing Ron, wife June and teenaged son Tim -- crash-landed in a Tennessee cow pasture, the filmmaker shifted to Christploitation like THE BURNING HELL and IF FOOTMEN TIRE YOU WHAT WILL HORSES DO?, featuring the anti-Commie, fire-and-brimstone ravings of Locust Grove, Mississippi's Reverend Estus W, Pirkle. THE BELIEVER'S HEAVEN was the final collaboration between Ormond and this crotchety religious nut-job, and though it never attains FOOTMEN's mind-roasting insanity, there are more than enough kitsch elements to keep you amazed and bemused. The film is essentially one long, dreary sermon from Pirkle, broken up by assorted episodes -- idiotic fantasy visions of Heaven and Hell, guest preachers droning on and on, crappy songs (including a tune celebrating the upcoming Rapture), and several dime-store Biblical recreations. For those later segments, Ormond hauled Pirkle and his congregation on a three-continent tour of the Holy Lands, with the group donning costumes and Ormond shooting scenes at the ruins of Babylon in southern Iraq, Egypt's Mr. Sinai, the Greek Isle of Patmos, then onto Hawaii for sequences set in Heaven... Right off the bat, Pirkle emphatically prophesizes the fiery "Last Days" of our planet -- but Estus isn't personally worried, because he'll safely be up in Heaven while all of the sinners are writhing. And if you think Pirkle's baby-blue suit is hideous, wait until you get a look at his sorry-ass congregation, including fidgety young boys in high-water plaid slacks, teenage girls sporting ugly homemade dresses, and adults who all look vaguely like Ralph Steadman caricatures. As Pirkle continues spouting his Old Testament hooey, chintzy dramatic renditions unfold on the screen. We see how Abraham (with Ormond's son Tim playing his skeptical brother Nahor) gave up his riches to become a poor, sheep-herding nomad and ends up a greeter at Heaven's sparky entrance, as well as Jacob's angelic protection, Elijah sucked up to Heaven and John's island exile. This penny-ante Biblical cosplay is awash in community theatre level costumes, wigs, facial hair, and old-age make-up, plus no one displays even one iota of acting talent. Worst of all, Heaven looks boring as fuck -- just a grinning gaggle of (all-white, of course) men, woman and children in baggy white sheets hanging out together... Pirkle wistfully reminisces about his impoverished childhood and spouts a torrent of beatific baloney, which his bobble-headed parishioners seem to lap up (and it's no wonder, since he promises each one of these gullible yokels their own spacious mansion in Heaven). At the end, we also get an honest-to-goodness glimpse of what Hell is like, with sweaty, dirty, disheveled athiests wandering aimlessly about and openly regretting that they'd rejected Jesus. But wait! Because the film's horrifyingly-uncomfortable highlight is a gospel performance by "Little" Evelyn Talbert -- an Akron, Ohio singer with brittle-bone disease -- accompanied by a chorus of young burn victims. Yow! Hard to believe, Ormond manages to pack all of this holier-than-thou horseshit into only one hour.
© 2020 by Steven Puchalski.