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I can only assume Ron Ormond made these religious films at the end of his career to atone for all the horrid B-flicks he inflicted upon moviegoers in the '50s. That is understandable. "The Burning Hell" was exhibited mainly in southern Protestant churches, Sunday schools and Christian schools - who then plastered every storefront in town with placards advertising the film ("20,000 Degrees Fahrenheit - and Not a Drop of Water!" One wonders how they came up with that measurement). It was in a "Christian school" that I was subjected to this cinematic Hades, in glorious 16mm. The reaction from our 11th grade class was anything but reverent. There was much for us to titter and chuckle over as we were shushed by the Bob Jones-alumni faculty. The Southern-accented Moses with the fake beard ("Y'all let mah people go") - the pasty-white desert dwellers - - the idiot teen bouncing around on the seat of his motorcycle before crashing it, literally losing his head, and plunging into HAYull - and the silly Satan whose face was painted like the Partridge Family's bus (the tricycle-riding Tom Waits in the "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" video was a more plausible devil) - we couldn't take this seriously at all, despite the teachers acting like this catchpenny film was as much Holy Writ as the leather-bound Bibles they clutched. I'm not about to enter into a theological discussion - I will only say that with the amateur histrionics, Estus Pirkle's incessant preaching, and Ormond's inept-as-ever direction, those who view this film may well enter heaven, for they've already been through "The Burning Hell."
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
The Burning Hell (1974), a glimpse of a sinner's own personal
apocalypse, was the Ormonds' second and most widely-seen Christian
feature for Baptist firebrand Estus W. Pirkle. Boasting a cast of
hundreds (as with their first feature If Footmen Tire You What Will
Horses Do?, Pirkle's family and deep-pocketed congregation) and
international locales, The Burning Hell is an intense, over-the-top
The Burning Hell's credits flash over an all-girl Baptist choir singing a joyful "Hell Awaits You" as Estus W. Pirkle stands looking thoughtful, perched precariously on the rocky slopes of Mount Sinai in Israel. Moses suddenly appears, complete with huge department store Santa beard and eyebrows, to face a crowd of renegade Israelites and calls upon God to opens up the Mount to swallow them up. Without warning the camera shakes and a smoking hole appears; helpless sinners and even entire tents fly into the gaping mouth of Hell. Pirkle turns his horn-rimmed gaze on the camera and spits out, "Does that shock yew?" This is but a glimpse of the horrors to come, courtesy of the fertile imaginations of the Ormond Organization, for those of us who do not believe in a literal Burning Hell.
Cut to two ragtag Jesus Freaks, Tim (a more mature Tim Ormond, now sporting a beard and leather jacket) and the aging delinquent Ken (Chuck Howard). They call on Estus and, amidst a chorus of "yeahs" and "groovies", force their hip modernistic reading of the Bible onto him, not realizing he is a preacher. When square daddy-o Estus lays a bum trip on them by pulling out the trusty King James and quoting the scriptures, particularly the part about a literal Hell, they shrug and Ken announces, "Hmm... well, that's heavy!" Estus invites them to his sermon on Hell. Ken becomes quite angry and says if he goes to Hell, his friends will all be waiting for him. "You do your thing, I'll do mine," he says before jumping on his motorbike. "I've got me some livin' to do."
By now Estus has joined his congregation, a similar looking crowd to the Footmen peanut gallery, staring open-mouthed as Estus rattles off his dubiously sourced statistics: 6000 people die each hour, and HALF of them head towards Hell. "At this moment", he says, "someone is heading to a burning Hell." Meanwhile Ken and Tim power along carefree on their motorbikes. Ken hits the throttle and speeds along ahead, then hits a patch of rocky road - literally and figuratively. Tim comes across the broken bike and, lying next to the wreckage, Ken's severed head.
The distraught Tim limps into Pirkle's church mid-sermon, just as Estus assails the shell-shocked congregation with more "facts" about Hell. "There will be no TV programs to watch or movies to go see. There will be no cookouts to enjoy or sunsets to watch together... All will be one long night of sorrow, remorse and regret for ever and forever!" The concept of "forever" is hinted at on a chart with a one and three hundred zeroes after it. Even after these many years, Estus asks, "What time is it? Well let me say this - after this much time has been consumed, there will still not be one speck of hope for a sinner to ever escape Hell!" Tim relates the story of the accident, and wants to know if Ken has even a slight chance of going to Heaven. Without missing a heartbeat, Estus shoots back, "Chances are he's burning in the flames of Hell right now." Cut to Ken, now roasting slowly in the Bottomless Pit. Around him are screaming, contorted faces covered in sump oil and silly putty and pipe-cleaner hats, and the ever-present flames superimposed on the action.
There's scant relief from the relentless downward spiral into the pit with the odd bloodless tale from the Bible, all filmed in the Holy Land with a staggering array of fake beards and headdresses. But fear not - whenever the pace lags for a moment, the Ormonds head straight back to the good IL' eternal torment, "where the worm dieth not and the flame is not quenched". And in case you don't believe there will be worms - they're right there in the Bible AND, in true Ormond style, front row center on the screen. Close-up after hideous close-up of squirming maggots on contorted faces. "Think of the terrible odors!" Estus point out. "The continual itchiness!" For the grand finale set in Hell (or "Hay-yull"), the Ormonds outdo themselves with a nightmarish menagerie of creatures, including the "locusts" described in Revelation: a surreal creation with the body of a horse, gold breastplate, teeth like a lion, hands of a woman, a crown of gold and a scorpion tail lashing at sinners. Even the Devil shows up dressed like the Riddler, an incessantly tittering fop who taunts a wide-eyed Tim Ormond with the promise of everlasting anguish. The crazed soot-covered killer of John the Baptist spies Tim from across the flames, and in a Southern honk cries out, "He's still alive! He's still alive! But this time I'll kill him!" In agonizing detail, the killer spears Tim through the stomach while the Devil's tittering grows unbearable.
In a flash, Tim wakes in Church clutching his stomach, and is so shaken by the nightmarish ordeal that he immediately goes forward to the altar. He admits to wanting to receive the spirit of Christ out of fear. "That's OK", says Estus gently, "You're looking at a man who in 1940 got scared to die and go to Hell." He fixes the camera with same unwavering stare as in If Footmen Tire You..., and continues: "I came to Jesus and he saved me. He would do the same for you if he'll let you. He wants to save you."
If you're familiar with the Jesus flicks of the notorious Ron Ormond,
you'll probably know what to expect with "The Burning Hell". Its
offensively misguided and moronic and becomes very entertaining to
watch because of this. Estus W. Pirkle may have appeared as a
holier-than-thou messiah to Ormond, but to most he'll come across as
being very self-righteous and stuck up. His preaching style simply
consists of "I'm right, you're wrong". If the film is any accurate,
I'll be going to hell, because I find myself agreeing with many of the
contrary arguments in it.
The film is very poorly made as well. Ormond never learned anything about film-making it seems, and it shows. However, he loads on plenty of hilarious exploitation elements leftover from his drive-in days such as plenty of pointless violence. Also, the acting is full of little camp goodies, especially the portrayals of Nathaniel and (in the films most positively bizarre moment) Satan. The lead actor Tim Ormond is possibly the dullest individual ever caught on camera. The reenactments of biblical times are uproarious, because all the Isrealites seem oddly Anglo-Saxon with southern accents to boot. The high point of the film are the sequences set in Hell, which are great pieces of bargain basement surrealism along the lines of "Glen or Glenda". While it doesn't reach the insane heights of "If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do", "The Burning Hell" is still quite mind-boggling in its own right. (6/10)
I just had to watch and review this movie after seeing the first
Ormond/Pirkle flick "If Footmen Tire You What Will Horses Do?" which
warned us that the evil commies would take over the United States
unless we as a nation had a major Christian revival. That one was bad
enough but this one was just plain tedious.
"The Burning Hell" follows the same tedious formula that "Footmen" followed, with an hour-long sermon by Estus W. Pirkle with cutaway scenes to illustrate what he's talking about. At least with "Footmen," the cutaway shots with the evil commies were entertaining in that they were hilariously over the top in a not-meant-to-be-funny way. The cutaway scenes in this movie were still funny in the same way, only not as funny as "Footmen." What you get are a bunch of scenes of Middle Easterners in biblical times with Southern American accents and a bunch of shots of people in Hell with flames in front of their faces. That's pretty much it.
Of course one thing that's pretty funny is that when one of the characters has a fatal accident on his motorcycle, instead of going to notify the police his friend returns to the church and sits through an hour long sermon. Nor does anyone at the church think it necessary to get help. Not funny, not cool: When the guy, obviously upset and distraught after witnessing the death of his friend asks Rev. Pirkle if his friend is in Hell, instead of offering words of comfort Pirkle says, "Yes, I'm afraid so." What an A-hole. Then he uses the man's emotional state to win another convert for Jesus. Nice.
Only watch this if you like sitting through hour-long sermons at fundamentalist Christian churches, because that's basically what this whole movie is. It's not entertaining, not really even in a so-bad-it's-funny way. It's just an hour of Estus Pirkle saying that Hell exists because the bible says so. As proof he cuts to a couple of other preachers who also say that Hell exists because the bible says so. Pirkle also makes a bunch of claims which shows that he's reading his own ideas into bible stories, such as saying that the bible doesn't say how Cain killed Abel (true, it doesn't) but then goes on to claim that he strangled him with his bare hands. Other embellishments are giving a name to the rich man and claiming that he knew so many other important people in Jerusalem at that time. He then later states that the rich man is still suffering in Hell to this day. Uh, excuse me Rev. Pirkle, but the story of Lazarus and the rich man was just a parable that Jesus told. You know what a parable is, don't you? A made up story with a moral? When he talked about the sheep and goats, he didn't literally mean that there would be sheep in Heaven.
I understand that this movie was probably made to preach to the choir in that it was likely made to show to church groups in order to keep the flock from straying, so anyone who's not already a fundamentalist Christian will feel some brain cells dying. I'm not kidding, right now I can't remember where my car keys are. I do like watching and making fun of bad movies, but this one was just terrible. I have a feeling that if there really is a Hell, this is the only movie which is playing 24/7.
Movies don't get much worse than this. Even though I agree somewhat with the point it means to make (there is a real hell, it is horrible, and those who don't trust in Jesus Christ will go there forever), I wouldn't recommend this movie to anyone for any reason. It is inexcusably bad art. It made the rounds in conservative evangelical circles in the late 1970s doing little more than turning hard people into harder ones. Worse yet, two of the featured preachers, Hyles and Gray, were later discovered to have lived secret lives of sexual degeneracy. Both have now passed away and may well know all too well the truth of their words to which they themselves would not listen. If movies could go to hell, this one would spend eternity in its deepest pits.
The Burning Hell is another evangelical laughfest courtesy of Rev.
Estus Pirkle and the Ormand family. Having warned the movie going
public of communism in their previous outing, they now set out to
illustrate the dangers of hell and damnation. Once again mixing badly
acted vignettes with scenes of Rev. Pirkle preaching to his
congregation, The Burning Hell is just as much of a camp classic as If
Footmen Tire You, What Will Horsemen Do.
The film depicts damnation by means of biblical stories and a case study of two liberal Christian bikers, one of whom dies in an accident. Between depictions of people burning in hell, Pirkle expounds on horrible it is to burn in hell, focusing on such edifying themes as the temperature in hell, the presence of worms, and which biblical figures we can expect to meet in hell. Rather than filling us with fear of the Lord, however, the film ultimately produces questions such as "Why does Moses have a southern accent?" and "Who would want to worship something as sadistic as the god Pirkle depicts?"
The depictions of hell are ham-handed and at times downright bizarre. Satan, for example, comes across as a psychedelic version of the Riddler, while the dialogue of the damned is just stilted. A prison guard who thinks everyone is John the Baptist is a particular highlight. An ending which suggests it may all have been a dream lends a particularly corny aspect to the film. Another highlight is the scene where Rev. Pirkle, using a board with numbers on it, confuses a million with a billion.
Even if I were to agree with the theology, this would still be a
dreadful film. The acting sucks, the story is stupid, it only commands
attention because of the horrific idea at its core.
That idea is the eternal torment of those who do not adhere the shibboleths of a specific religion. "Eternal torment" here is portrayed by literalistic imagery drawn from the Christian Bible, complete with fire, sulfur, worms, and of course endless pain.
Many evangelical Christians have suspended, not only disbelief, but also intelligence, in endorsing this terrible movie.
F__k this evil movie to hell!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I saw this movie when I was around 6 years old. I was taken to see it or shall I say dropped off at a small southern baptist church in east Texas. Well as you can see I have NEVER forgotten this movie. Why would I have searched for it now. I was with my sister who is 2 years older than me. This movie scared me and my sister really bad. We have talked about it many times. I know it impacted us in some way. I'm just not sure about children so young seeing a movie like this. I do remember the graphic worms and psychedelic devil man. We are both Christians as we have been all our life. I think at our age we where too young to view this movie as anything but a horror movie.
A great movie in spite of it being made in the 1970's, but an effective message, Makes one think of our eternal fate which hangs in the balance with what we do about Christ Jesus, to accept him is eternal life but to reject him is eternal damnation in Hell forever and ever and not one speck of hope of getting out of such an awful place, it's been said ' God would not put anyone in hell', I would agree since that's why he sent his only begotten son to die for our sins 'John 3:16 (AKJV)', so if we go there its our own fault, I'm glad I made Jesus Christ the lord of my life and I pray everyone else does before its to late. With Christ a person has everything to gain and nothing to lose, but without Christ a person has everything to lose and nothing to gain.
I saw this movie as a child some 30 years ago and it has left an indelible image on my mind. From that day I have committed my life to Christ and I have never regretted that decision. My desire is to find a way to show young persons this movie in my Country Guyana, South America. If this movie can be made available on DVD I am absolutely certain that it will stem the tide of disaster and destruction as it relates to our Leaders of Tomorrow! The movie was shown at a free Christian concert which had approximately 2000 persons in attendance. By the end of the movie many persons were moved to tears. This is an awesome evangelical tool and should be utilized urgently.
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