Throughout the 1970s, exploitation director Ron Ormond had been busy mostly producing, adapting, directing, editing, and shooting films for Baptist Minister Estus Pirkle. They comprise a trilogy including the religious agitprop Communist scare film ‘Footmen’ in 1971, a bloody kitsch vision of life after death in satan’s realm with the 1974 film ‘The Burning Hell’, and 1977’s ‘The Believer’s Heaven’: a picture of life after death for christians in the afterlife with Jesus. In the midst of this project, Ormond secured enough funds to create a Godsploitation film all his own in 1976’s ‘The Grim Reaper’: a story of the spectre haunting those who have not found their way to god, lurking in the metaphysical shade between worlds to snatch up the souls of the unbelievers as soon as they die to spirit them away to hell.
Not only did Ron Ormond produce, direct, edit, and shoot this picture, he also wrote the scenario and had his close family help him to make the film as well. His wife June Carr (credited as June Ormond on this film, as well as in the films associated with Estus Pirkle) co-produced the film, worked as set designer, and acted as the Witch of Endor who raises the spirit of Samuel from the dead for King Saul in one of the film’s didactic scenes that purports to show that witchcraft is real, is based on invoking the power of satan, and is immoral. the Ormond’s son Tim also worked on the film in multiple capacities. He was a co-producer on the picture, co-editor and co-cinematographer with his father, worked as lighting gaffer and direction, and acted as the character Tim Pierce, whose family in the picture are our primary protagonists.
The film recounts the story of the Pierce family. Tim Pierce, the devout young son who listens to his mother Ruby’s wishes and is a uniting force within the family through the strength of his convictions. His brother Frankie is secular and enjoys racing fast cars out on the dirt track. His death in a gruesome care crash and lack of repentance upon death will be a major source of contention for the family as the local pastor won’t eulogize him during the funeral service as he’s sure the young man went straight to hell. Vern Pierce (played to great effect by Cecil Scaife: the Commie Aggressor in ‘Footmen’ and the Spiritualist Hippy in ‘Burning Hell’), the father, is something of an apostate who would rather watch football on TV than go to church. It is his example that his son Frankie followed and which led him to a secular lifestyle. Vern originally tries to reason with his pastor that his son is probably in purgatory, but is told by the pastor and by his living son Tim that purgatory is a doctrine made up by catholics that cannot be found in the biblical text itself. And of course, it can’t be found therein. So Vern blames himself for the probable eternal damnation of his son Frankie.
Vern and Ruby both fall into the trap of spiritualists who would normally just prey on the emotional vulnerability of parents who had just lost a child. Instead, we find that in Ormond’s theology, satan is very real and very powerful and that the seance Vern attends, where things go haywire was truly populated by demons and evil spirits. He even sees the spectre of death, The Grim Reaper himself, at the seance staring into his eyes from across the table.
Later, the family will drag Vern to a church service where clips from pastors Jack van Impe, E.J. Daniels, Bob Gray, and Jerry Falwell (that biggest of anti-free speech s.o.b.s) will come out of the woodwork to present him with a vision of the hell that he can expect to experience after life if he doesn’t repent. They hound him with the message that his son is probably in hell, that there is no reprieve for him any longer, that spiritualism exists as a conduit to evil forces, and that the Grim Reaper is ready for him if he doesn’t repent and accept Jesus Christ as his savior. So, with pressure mounting from within and without his home, and a guilt complex constructed from a demonstrably false religion bearing down on him, he finally relents, and against his better nature, and his good sense (though the football calls this faculty into question), converts in the films last moments.
Again, in this film, like in ‘The Burning Hell’ before it, Ormond’s vision of hell is full of bloodshed, of dirt and decay. The denizens of that dark place lit only by burning fires scream eternally and are constantly tortured physically and often psychologically by the demons therein (for example, when the demons in Vern’s visions tease him with the hope of meeting his damned son Frankie only to upset his expectations at the last moment). However, unlike in the films written and content controlled by Estus Pirkle, Ormond is able to add in his own personal theological convictions like the belief in demons, in satan, in the power of spiritualism (and thereby apotropaic magics), in ghosts (the damned and tormented spirit of Frankie visits his mother at night calling out for help), and in a literal Grim Reaper who comes to whisk away the damned upon death and bring them to hell. His use of exploitation techniques like excessive gore and a dramatic line (instead of the straightforward preaching that Pirkle would have preferred) show his interest in narrative film and his commercial sensibilities. Finally, as in the past works mentioned in this article, Ormond was very comfortable expressing a sentiment that it is okay to prey on people in times of emotional dis-ease and anxiety and to use their fears or guilt to convert them to christianity: a tactic that may work to fill a void in some people’s lives, but likewise may fail to address the root causes of a person’s anxieties and leave them just as messed up as before. The consequences of this should be obvious.
While I can’t morally or ideologically gel with the films of Ron Ormond, I do get some visceral joy in watching exploitation techniques used uniquely within a genre not usually amenable to them. And Godsploitation films from Ormond can certainly be enjoyable viewing material for secularists, but may be pretty harmful to certain kinds of suggestible people under particular circumstances.
[Next up: The Exiles]
Last week, theboronheist managed to reach more than 1,000 views in one week for the first time. So far in this month, in the past 20 days, as of this moment, it has drawn 100 likes!
Again, there are probably many people who would see this and scoff at how small the numbers are compared to their own traffic, but damnit I’m excited!
Thank you for all your help!
The Digital desert. The artificial BlackWarGreymon has been walking across it defeating natural Digimon all the way leaving behind a trail of destruction of life. Arukenimon and Mummymon, in one last gambit to recall BlackWarGreymon to their side, have summoned up 20 Ultimate-level faux Mammothmon using Spirit Needles on 200 Control Spires. As BlackWarGreymon goes to work defeating them one after another, he thinks to himself: “I still feel an emptiness inside. No matter what I do, nothing seems to fill this void.” He uses his angst and did-ease over his emotional state and channels it into his fighting to destroy the mammoth Digimon with ease. During the battle, Arukenimon and Mummymon tell BlackWarGreymon that his emotions are just apparent emotions and that he has no heart like real Digimon. But he believes that because he was built out of 100 Control Spires instead of just ten like the Ultimates he is facing, that he has stored more residual information from the Digital World and is a more complex being whose feelings probably are real after all.
After he expresses his distaste for Arukenimon and Mummymon and his unwillingness to follow the orders of mere Ultimates like them, they take off in their convertible and head toward their new quarry: the Destiny Stone. They explain that Destiny Stones are mysterious rocks in the Digital World that are rumored to help protect and balance it, and that anyone who destroys one brings chaos into the world. Tentomon has been spying on the pair and reports what he hears back to Izzy, who then alerts Kari and the others about the planned attack. The Digidestined then meet up and head into the Digital World to head off Arukenimon and Mummymon.
As BlackWarGreymon fights the last artificial Mammothmon, he sees a small flower on the ground that is about to be stomped on by his approaching enemy. Like philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche’s breakdown in the public square to protect a horse from the carriage driver whipping him any longer, BlackWarGreymon jumps under foot of the Mammothmon and blocks the attack with his body. He then pushes off the beast and destroys it, thereby protecting the flower, and says to himself, “Why did I care? What difference does it make if there’s one more tiny flower in the world or not?” And he’s right. It really doesn’t really matter what happens to one tiny flower. He destroys the flower in disgust, but his heart, which supposedly isn’t there, aches for the flower that will come to haunt him later in the episode: an innocent plant with no real importance that he smashes for no real reason just like the he destroyed the many Digimon who are ultimately just as unimportant as the flower, but as valid.
At the Destiny Stone, in a crossroads of the Digital World, Arukenimon and Mummymon have just arrived and used a ten Spirit Needles on a cluster of Control Spires to create the Ultimate-level faux Digimon Knightmon. As the chivalrous digital being attacks the stone and tries, rather unsuccessfully, to crack it, Kari and Davis show up on ExVeemon and Nefertimon, followed in time by their friends Yolei, T.K., and Cody. the gang tries to stop Knightmon, but with the help of Arukenimon and Mummymon, three Ultimates proves too much for the team. Luckily, Ken arrives in the nick of time with Stingmon and DNA Digivolves with ExVeemon to create Paildramon. Next, Gatomon and Aquilamon DNA Digivolve into Silphymon. The odds turn in their favor as the DNA Digivolved Ultimates are a much stronger than you average Ultimate. However, in the course of the battle, Knightmon misses Paildramon with a sword swipe and hits the Destiny Stone directly in a way that smashes one of its ceremonial binds. Dark energy begins to emit from the stone and things start looking kind of bleak for the Digidestined.
After BlackWarGreymon defeated the final Mammothmon and smashed the flower himself, he kept traveling through the desert until he came a rock outcropping. There, our little orange pal Agumon called out to him and decided to try and help him find his way. Agumon tries to become BlackWarGreymon’s friend to teach him that fighting isn’t the only purpose to life. Agumon asks him to shake hands and become his friend, but just then the dark energy from the Destiny Stone begins to effect BlackWarGreymon and drives him mad with evil power in an unexplained manner. He rushes to the Destiny Stone, leaving Agumon alone once more in his desert area, and once there, destroys Knightmon and then crushes the Destiny Stone completely thereby letting loose a huge Dark Vortex of evil power from the rock that obscures the sky and looms over the Digidestined mysteriously and inscrutably. The effect as yet unknown.
The Digidestined Cody
1994’s ‘Nobody’s Fool is something of a late tour de force for then-near-septuagenarian Paul Newman. In his youth he played major roles in legendary films like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Hustler, The Sting, The Color of Money, and Cool Hand Luke. But in his later career, none of the films he acted in had the same sort of cultural impact as these earlier works. Nonetheless, we can see from ‘Nobody’s Fool’ that his acting prowess did not diminish into his old age and he was able and willing to give a great dramatic performance.
The film is an adaptation of a Richard Russo novel of the same name and was adapted and directed by Robert Benton (known as screenwriter for Bonnie and Clyde, and director of Kramer vs. Kramer). Set in fictional North Bath, New York, a snowy northern hamlet upstate, and populated by Donald ‘Sully’ Sullivan (Newman), a day laborer and ancient bachelor. Sullivan has been single for more than twenty years since he left his wife and son to move (a little unrealistically) five blocks down the road. Despite his proximity, he had little to do with his son when he was growing up and the two are understandably estranged. Sullivan works for a shrewd contractor, Carl Roebuck (Bruce Willis), who constantly underpays his workers and is often subject to lawsuits for worker compensation claims. He beats these lawsuits every time one comes up because the local attorney, Wirf Wirfley, is incompetent and has seemingly never won a case.
Sullivan rents a room from a very old woman, one Beryl Peoples (Jessica Tandy in her last film role before her death later that year in 1994). Peoples lets him stay there even though Sullivan is something of a degenerate who always pisses off her son Clive. Add in an officer (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who has it in for Sullivan, Carl’s neglected wife Toby (who has the hots the Sullivan), a weasily and emotionally undeveloped childlike friend Rob Squeers, and a visit by Sullivan’s son Peter for Thanksgiving, and you’ve got one weird scenario.
Peter has brought his wife and two sons up for the holidays and intends to stay with his mother initially, not his father. But he and his wife are having problems, end up separating for a time, and she takes one kid and leaves him with the other. Peter bonds with his father and manages to secure a job working alongside him with Carl Roebuck. In the process, ‘Sully’ gets to know his son and his grandson Will. Along the way, he almost steals Carl’s wife, assaults a police officer, steals Carl’s snow blower machine (twice), makes his emotionally underdeveloped friend Rub very jealous of his son Peter, steals Carl’s dog, and comes to terms with his past and the abusive home he grew up in.
The story is a little lacking in terms of narrative complexity dramatically as most of the complexity comes from side plots and gags, which makes the film an unremarkable work and one unlikely to stand the test of time as one of the great films of the 1990’s. However, it is an interesting portrait of the life of one somewhat self-destructive, fun-loving, and complex old man that could have been totally unremarkable if it hadn’t been for the actor playing the role giving it his best shot and introducing pathos and mastery that not just any old actor could have done. I dug it, and if you check it out, I hope you do too.
The scene opens onto a dense, lush virgin forest wherein Digimon are in the bushes and up in the trees hiding from BlackWarGreymon as he passes through. A large Kuwagumon is especially scared by the Mega-level faux-Digimon passing through because he is too big to hide in the bushes and even too large to hide behind a tree trunk. BlackWarGreymon notices the bug Digimon and leaves him alone. It seems he has more important things to do than prey on the weak as past Digimon antagonists have.
The animation style is, like that of the previous episode, largely better animated (with more animation and more complete animation with more frames), though the requisite moments of inner monologue are, as is common, punctuated by stills of characters looking contemplative or worried. Shadows fill the screen and colorization of all background objects is done in a more careful way that gives the forest a visual resonance and beauty unlike any other scenes in Digimon Adventure 02 thus far in the series. Later, these elements will manifest themselves in the paranoid-depressed manner of the tone of Episode 13 when Kari first ventured into the Dark Ocean, and indeed, that is where our protagonists are headed in this episode.
Arukenimon and Mummymon are travelling along in their convertible searching for BlackWarGreymon while the Digidestined hang out in the computer lab of their school back in the Real World. The Digimon, minus the confident (his pals might say conceited) DemiVeemon, are complaining about their relative uselessness in battling Ultimates and Megas. They are all currently unable to DNA Digivolve except for DemiVeemon and Wormmon, but even Paildramon isn’t enough to take on BlackWarGreymon, and adding two more DNA Digivolved Ultimates probably wouldn’t be enough either. As the day wanes and dark shadows line the faces of our protagonists and the objects in the computer lab, the group reflects on how they can possibly beat BlackWarGreymon while Kari explains that she feels sorry for him. He was created as a slave to do Arukenimon’s bidding, he is not a real Digimon in the traditional sense, and he has no real purpose in life: an unsocialized newborn with tremendous power to change the world around him, but with no direction or meaning.
The Digidestined decide to enter the Digital World to try and track him down themselves and find themselves in the same forest BlackWarGreymon traversed just hours prior. Gatomon recognizes the forest as the place where she lost her tail ring in the first episodes of the series while trying to escape from a Dark Ring enslaved Unimon. she decides to go looking for the ring, even though she has gotten along pretty well without it for half of the series’ episodes and is still able to Armor Digivolve nonetheless. Yolei and Kari split from the boys to search the forest when they hear a scream. They run to the noise and find it is Ken on the ground, suffering from an intense headache compliments the voices of the Dark Ocean that have haunting him since his trip to the Dark Whirlpool. Ironically, after this exchange, Ken regains his composure, the three join together in their search for Gatomon’s tail ring, and somehow manage to walk directly through a portal into the Dark Ocean.
Davis, T.K., and Cody have been searching for BlackWarGreymon throughout this time, but eventually notice the disappearance of their friends and go searching for them. Although Yolei, Kari, and Ken can see Davis and T.K. looking for them, they themselves are invisible and imperceptible phantoms in the parallel reality of the Dark Ocean. They don’t even appear on Davis’ D-3 scanner in their current state. As the fog of the Dark Ocean thickens, the three reach a cliff where a shining object is hanging off of a branch below, which Gatomon believes is her tail ring. Yolei haphazardly climbs below to claim the ring and help out her feline friend, but falls in the process. Kari grabs her by the hand, but she too is pulled into the crevasse where they will later awaken to find that gleaming object was merely an old Dark Ring. Ken could have prevented their fall, but at the moment when he was most needed, the Dark Ocean appeared before his eyes overlapping what is in reality an ocean of trees on the ridge below, which caused him to act erratically and brought on his headaches once more.
Hawkmon flies below and attempts to Digivolve into Aquilamon to fly the girls out of the crevasse, but finds he is unable to do so within the Dark Ocean (though he may have been able to Armor Digivolve into Halsemon if he tried, after all he was able to do this when Control Spires blocked his normal Digivolving capacities). As Yolei freaks out about never being able to escape, Kari slaps her in the face and back to her senses. Ken comes back to his own senses with the help of Wormmon and then drops a thick branch below, which the girls use to climb back up to the cliff edge. And once there, Kari hears the waves of the Dark Ocean, then Ken and Kari both see it manifest itself before their eyes once more. Yolei can’t originally see the Dark Ocean but complains and somehow gains the ability through self-loathing or some such thing. She then suggests that the Dark Ocean is manifesting itself because the powers that protect the Digital World are becoming weaker.
Back in the regular Digital World, Arukenimon and Mummymon pick up on the fact that the Digidestined have entered the Dark Ocean through what they call a phase warp. Arukenimon then uses her Spirit Needle ability on ten Control Spires to raise the Ultimate-level Blossomon. The Digimon forces its way through the phase warp and attacks Kari, Ken, and Yolei who are now able to Digivolve their Digimon partners due to the energy entering the Dark Ocean through the rift. Stingmon and Aquilamon try and hold off the plant-Digimon while Kari spazzes out due to the power of the Dark Ocean as it tries to consume her heart. Yolei comes to her side and comforts her, telling Kari that she is “the strongest person I’ve ever known.” Yolei manages to pull Kari out of her funk and initiate a closer relationship than the two have ever had previously.
Their bond has grown strong enough for their Digimon to DNA Digivolve and Gatomon and Aquilamon do just that, becoming the powerful Ultimate Silphymon in the process. Her/His Static Force attack destroys Blossomon and rips open the hole between the Dark Ocean and the Digital World, the Digidestined return to their friends, then the Digidestined collectively return to the Real World. Silphymon has De-Digivolved into Salamon, and for the series’ first time, Pururumon. But the malaise within Kari’s heart is still strong enough to allow the Dark Ocean to continue courting the more base of her natures and Ken is still plagued by the black gear within him. One more Ultimate DNA Digivolved Digimon on the team is certainly a plus, but the group certainly ain’t out of the woods just yet.
The Digidestined Cody
(Check out my previous Takahata blog on My Neighbors the Yamadas if you missed it)
In 1999, Isao Takahata released his first completely computer-animated feature ‘Yamadas’, which was a critical success and despite its production methods looked more like a hand-drawn and painted film than almost anything he had created previously. The film, however, did not recoup its budget in the box office, and this, plus the nature of the animation style as antithetical to his partner Hayao Miyazaki’s cel-based approach, forced him into a position in which Studio Ghibli was not going to give him money for a new project unless the script proved more marketable than the meandering, slice of life story of the Yamadas.
In 2008, he came up with a concept: an adaptation of the Japanese folktale, The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. He secured principal funding through Studio Ghibli and began to assemble his team, which included soundtrack work from Joe Hisaishi: a Ghibli staple who had created the scores of every Miyazaki film since Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, but had hitherto never produced a score for any of Isao Takahata’s previous ten feature films. The production took five years and was set for release in summer 2013 alongside Miyazaki’s film ‘The Wind Rises.’ This would have been the first time the two had co-released a pair of films since 1988’s double bill of ‘My Neighbor Totoro’ and ‘Grave of the Fireflies.’ But Takahata didn’t meet the deadline and Ghibli missed what could have been an amazing opportunity.
Instead, the film’s release was pushed back to fall 2013. As the production took five years and implemented traditional hand-drawn animation with a high degree of quality control at every stage, the budget ballooned to the equivalent of $49.3 million USD, thereby making it the most expensive Japanese film ever made till that time. As Ghibli had already released a film that year (the aforementioned ‘The Wind Rises’) and made more than $130 million in box office on that film, one can guess that their publicity and advertising revenue had been mostly directed toward that film. ‘Kaguya’ languished in theatres grossing only $24.2 million against its near-$50 million budget. Isao Takahata is now in his mid-80s, is known recently for taking years to create his films, and his two most recent films were both box office bombs. ‘Kaguya’ is probably his final film.
‘Kaguya’ is mostly a pretty straightforward retelling of the Tale of Bamboo Cutter. A man is harvesting bamboo shoots in the grove near his home when a light emanates from amidst the grove. A shoot quickly begins to sprout from the ground below and when the man approaches, a doll-sized kami princess is found therein. He takes the girl out of the shoot and she turns into a baby, which he then brings home and begins to raise as his own daughter. The miraculous follows the girl in her development as the bamboo cutter’s wife searches for a wet nurse and finds that she herself has been inexplicably gifted with the production of the milk. Later, the bamboo cutter finds gold and silken kimono inside stalks of bamboo in his grove. He takes these as signs that he should bring the family into the capital to raise and establish the girl as a princess.
As the narrative develops, the girl grows quickly and makes friends with local children in the bamboo grove community before being unceremoniously spirited away to the capital by her surrogate father and mother. Once there, she rebels against the tutelage of Lady Sagami who has been hired to teach the young girl to become a noble young woman. Once the girl becomes trained, Lord Akita is brought in to her presence to gift her with a name. He decides on Kaguya, or ‘radiant light,’ as he is immediately enamored with the majestic presence of the young woman and senses the spark of divinity within her. Later, suitors arrive and try to win Kaguya’s hand, but all the while she does her best to ensure she remains unmarried, even to noblemen and the Mikado (the Emperor) himself.
The film diverges from the folktale toward the end. Kaguya finds in both versions that she is a kami of the village of the moon who resented living a sanitized, perfect, but boring life in the heavens and consequently broke the rules of that world in the hopes of being punished: specifically of being banished to the human world for a lifetime. Once she realizes her destiny, she establishes a spiritual connection with the moon and its denizens who are coming back to claim her and return her to the moon on the 15th of August. Here’s where things differ. In the original story, the beings are kami who take her back to the moon, then the young Emperor of Japan who was so taken with her marches his troops up Mt. Fuji to make an incense sacrifice to her in the hopes that she will remember him and potentially return one day. In Takahata’s film, created nearly a millennium after the story’s creation (in a simpler time when Japanese religion wasn’t quite so syncretic as it is today), the Buddha himself arrives on a cloud with a heavenly entourage to bring back Kaguya to the moon.
The problems with this rendition of the story are manifold. First, in the traditional teachings of Buddhism, Siddhartha claimed that there is no Siddhartha, that the identity is a construction and that upon death one achieves nirvana through extinction. Just as a candle flame burns for a time, we live for a short time. Just as the candle flame is not an essential being, but a constantly changing concept with no self or essence, so are we. And just as the flame ceases to be upon its extinguishing, so too will we be no more upon death. So, there should be no Buddha anymore in some non-existent spiritual plane on the moon.
Second, the beings of the moon were initially Kami, spirits or gods of the Shinto religion that supposedly exist only in Japan. Takahata’s identification of the kami with the Buddha is not novel insofar as Japanese have been making such co-identifications between Shinto deities and the deities or prophets of other religions for hundreds of years, but it is still illicit and nonsensical on an intellectual, logical level. But this is not how religion is practiced in Japan.
The interpolation of Buddha into the story by Takahata for his film presentation of the tale makes for an interesting visual and may have some personal meaning for him as a person. However, adding in an illicit Mahayana concept of an existing spiritual Buddha and using this Indian thinker to replace a traditional Japanese deity seems, on the face of it, absurd at best and pointless or offensive to real Shinto or Buddhist believers at worst. Though the animation is powerful, kinetic, and very Zen in its simplicity and style, the interpolation of the Buddha into a traditional Japanese story is something akin to Asian cultural imperialism imposed not from without but from within, by a Japanese victim of cultural illogic who has internalized the contradictions. Any other reading of the film ideologically is either based on a bad understanding of Shinto or Buddhism, or both.
[Next Up: Ocean Waves]
In this episode, our first real big bad (the first bad ass Mega antagonist that is) of the series makes his appearance and rebels against his own would-be masters after delivering a test of his strengths to our Digimon protagonists. But before any of this happens, viewers will notice an interesting feature of this episode in the series: the animation. Characters and even backgrounds to a lesser extent are drawn with a much greater attention to line and an economy exhibiting animation mastery that has hitherto been absent from the majority of the episodes in the series. When one reads into the episode credits for writer, director, animation director, and key animators, however, we have the usual suspects who have all worked on at least a dozen episodes of Digimon prior to this one. Maybe they decided to experiment on this one. Or shopped out some of the animation away from Toei’s animation departments to a Korean animation group. Information is currently scanty on this matter.
The episode opens with Arukenimon bathing outside in a bathtub perched somewhat perilously above a cliff face. Mummymon approaches and relates the weirdness of the situation, as well as his own desire to take a bath therein as well. Preferably beside Arukenimon. In a turn that will mark much of their relationship, she will spurn his advances in the coming scenes, making him try all the more.
The Digidestined work on destroying more Control Spires, this time with Ken in tow as a member of the team. After a productive afternoon destroying the dark obelisks, T.K. and Kari go off to find some snacks for the rest of the team, much to Davis’ ire who wants to go in T.K.’s place. Yolei approaches him and acknowledges his frustrations, but alerts him to a more pressing matter: Cody and Ken have worked together all day, but haven’t spoken to each other the whole time and seem distant and distrustful of one another. Davis devises a plan to get the to work together to destroy another Control Spire that Flamedramon missed earlier that day. They readily jump into action to do the job, but only Wormmon and Digmon bond in the process. Cody’s distrust of Ken is laid bare in the following moments and Ken understandably decides to leave the group once more due to feeling that he isn’t wanted there.
Back to Arukenimon. As she plots about how to defeat the Digidestined, Mummymon gives her a body massage. She reasons that using one Spirit Needle produced Golemon, Champion-level Digimon. And that using 10 Spirit Needles on 10 Control Spires simultaneously produced Okuwamon, an Ultimate-level Digimon. She decides to track down an untouched area with plenty of Control Spires so that she can experiment and convert 100 Spires simultaneously. She throws Mummymon off of her and into the woods below the nearby cliff face. Mummymon lays bare the sado-masochistic relationship by expressing how his own desire grows with the abuse, then runs back to his mistress’ side to ride off in their car and toward an area where their plan can be completed.
When Arukenimon and Mummymon find such a place, they somehow manage to bring the Control Spires with them and then head in the direction of the Digidestined. Once there, Arukenimon pulls out a clump of her hair and uses the strands as Spirit Needles to transform the Control Spires. ExVeemon, Ankylomon, Aquilamon, Nefertimon, and Pegasusmon muscle up and ready themselves for the ensuing battle and Yolei messages Ken on her D-Terminal to try and get him to join them. As the Spires transform, the Mega-level BlackWarGreymon appears. The energy of his manifestation is enough to defeat the Digidestined’ forward guard and knocks out Pegasusmon and Nefertimon.
Ken responds that he doesn’t want to join them and disrupt their team dynamics. Yolei flies on Aquilamon’s back and meets Ken. She slaps him in the face and brings him back to his senses, urging him to join the others, which he does. Once he arrives, Stingmon DNA Digivolves with ExVeemon into Paildramon who turns out to be just as much of a pushover as the others were at the hand of this new Mega-level adversary. BlackWarGreymon implodes and produces a powerful externalization of power that defeats all surrounding Digimon. He then addresses Arukenimon and Mummymon who have been trying to boss him around and tells them that he won’t be controlled by weaker Digimon and doesn’t take orders from anyone. This faux Digimon flies off to find a worthy opponent who can test his strength and shows himself to be a heroic figure with an internally consistent moral code: self-recognition as an Ubermensch, detestation of herd morality, and a urge to fight for the sake of fighting, for the sake of determining who is truly the strongest Digimon around. In other words, a badass.
The Digidestined Cody
(If you missed it, check out my previous Independent film essay on 1971’s If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?)
On 1971’s ‘Footmen’, Mississippi Baptist Minister Estus Pirkle played a much larger picture than in his 1974 film ‘The Burning Hell.’ Then, the screenplay was based on one of his books, he helped produce the film, and his preaching played a slightly larger role in the film (in regards to the film’s run-time). Now, the director, editor, screenwriter, and distributor of the ‘Footmen’, Ron Ormond, was set to adapt ideas for a story by Pirkle, which gave him more of a creative process in the film’s basis. Ormond also co-produced ‘The Burning Hell’ with his son Tim Ormond and his wife June Ormond (also known as June Carr) who also worked on the film as co-editor and make-up artist, respectively.
As the creative role of Ron Ormond in his religious co-productions with Estus Pirkle expanded from co-auteur-ship to near-sole authorship of the final work, he was able to get his family in on the projects more often. This allowed Ormond to create a core of co-creators as a troupe who would later join him on his own projects. But this man didn’t just appear out of thin air, right? No, of course not. Ormond was born in Baldwin, Mississippi in 1910 as Vittorio Di Naro. Ormond’s career began as a stage magician who worked in local vaudeville clubs. He met his wife June, then a chanteuse and dancer, in one of these clubs in 1935. The two spent the rest of their lives together.
In the forties and fifties, Ron Ormond worked as a producer and director on Westerns. In the late fifties and sixties, he made exploitation films. Then, the late sixties, he was involved in a plane crash he credited with making him more religious. The rest of his days, his work focused on religious themes, though the weirdness of his approach to cinematography and extremely graphic gore he used years before remained intact. Because of these elements, which are atypical of the religious propaganda of the period, Ormond’s career has a small, though devoted cult of critics and fans devoted to it. I may or may not be on the fast track to becoming one of them.
‘The Burning Hell’ is based on Estus Pirkle’s musings on what he believed the bible had to say on the subject of hell and opens onto a scene of christians singing a hymn about hellfire and brimstone. One of three preachers other than Pirkle who feature in the film (Robert G. Lee, Jack Hyles, and Bob Gray) appears onscreen and expresses his belief that a christian theology needs the concept (and supposed reality) of hell as a counterpoint to its view of heaven. Next, we see a recreation of the Israelite’s ahistorical sojourn through the desert away from an imagined captivity in Egypt. Moses’ right hand men rebel against him and call into question Moses’ divinity. Moses gets pissed off and calls upon the anger of god who showers the men and their followers with fire before opening up a pit in the ground. The fires of the pit rise and claim the lives of the people in brutal, gory, bloody fashion.
Pirkle appears onscreen after this moment and asks a critical question: “Does that shock you?” He professes that his purpose is to shock and to use brutal visual tactics to make viewers understand the roughness of hell and why they should become reconciled with god to avoid going there. His use of shock tactics and sensationalism as didactic tools to scare viewers into religiosity mirrors his use of agitprop political propaganda in ‘Footmen’ three years prior to keep viewers vigilant against Cold War fears of Communist takeover of the United States. It mirrors that earlier example not just in its intention to use fear and paranoia to achieve his ends, but in the hypocrisy of the approaches as well.
The main throughline of the film begins when a duo of new age, spiritualist, hippies visits Pirkle’s office to ask him about hell. They are religious in a bastardized manner based less on texts and established forms of religion, but equally bullshit as christianity. They hope that Pirkle will agree with them that god is good and therefore would send no one to hell. Pirkle of course disagrees. The two leave and go on a motorcycle ride that ends in the death of one of the men. His friend rides back into town and joins Pirkle’s church ceremony where he is harangued by visions of hell: of the King of Babylon assaulted by ghouls with piercing screams of pain rising all around him, of Herod being eaten by worms for all eternity, of Satan punishing the hippy youth himself, and of most importantly, of his own friend burning eternally in hell. The young hippy eventually repents and lets Jesus into his life after a pretty sickening show of Pirkle manipulating an emotionally troubled person who has just lost his friend.
The whole exercise is, quite frankly, pretty disgusting. Taken as a didactic tool for other preachers, it tells them to blindside people with the fire and brimstone message in the most visceral, disgusting, and least tasteful manner possible. Pirkle advises preachers to manipulate people when most emotionally weak, or down and out, and make them into christians under duress. Ormond’s approach is grim and gruesome and really only meritorious on those grounds as the acting and staging are pretty amateurish in this film. All the same, it’s just weird enough that if you are not one of those types who are easily impressionable, I recommend checking it out. Preferably with a friend of similar temperament. For laughs.
[Next up: The Grim Reaper]
Ken, Cody, and Davis are stuck on Dokugumon’s web while ExVeemon fights his friends Stingmon and Digmon under thrall of Arukenimon’s insect flute song. Cody’s hands are free, so he sends out emails to Yolei, T.K., and Kari requesting aid whilst the slow-moving Dokugumon approaches along his web at less than a snail’s pace. Yolei is too busy fighting off Flymon to help out. T.K. and Kari are trapped behind some books in the Giga House’s office space and quite a few vicious Snimon are attempting to attack them at the time, so they are likewise incapacitated.
Ken devises a plan that shouldn’t work out logically. There is wooden debris at his feet and his legs are still free from the webbing. So he lifts the debris with his feet and kicks it toward Davis whose feet also just happen to still be free from the sticky webs. Davis then kicks the debris toward an air conditioner unit nearby, hits the correct button by some miracle, and turns on the fan, which not only is already directed toward the web, but has enough force to knock Dokugumon off of his web, destroys the web, and also knocks Cody, Ken, and Davis all free from the web instead of being tangled within it on the way down. The scene strains credulity even more than any other single scene I had seen previously in Digimon.
But I digress. ExVeemon has been busy fighting off Digmon and Stingmon. Too busy in fact to save his Digidestined partner and the others from Dokugumon in the first place. But now that the three are free-falling toward their possible deaths, ExVeemon is somehow able to pull himself away fro the fight, fly down, and the grab them before they plummet to the ground. The feat takes a ton of energy on his part and he consequently de-Digivolves back to Veemon. Dokugumon does not appear again to attack, presumably meaning that the fall was enough to incapacitate a full-strength Champion level Digimon. Though Stingmon can fly down to continue his assault on the Digidestined, Digmon cannot fly and had to fall down the same distance as Dokugumon did, but is somehow just fine and on the floor below running after Ken, Davis, Cody, and Veemon in the next scene. I don’t really get it, but whatever.
Next, Davis and the others find a dresser drawer that they open and climb into to escape from Digmon and Stingmon. While their two unwilling combatants dig and cut away at the drawers to get inside, Cody sends out emails on his D-Terminal once more to Yolei and the others who are now free enough to meet up in the office and fight off all opposing Flymon and Snimon. Cody and Ken brainstorm ways out of their current predicament and remember an old parable in the process: the story of the Moth and the Bat, wherein a moth is being chased by the predatory bat. The bat is following the moth through echolocation, which is based on the emission of high-pitched frequencies from the bat into the air which bounce off of objects and come back to the bat as reports on the relation of objects in space to himself. The moth realizes how the principle works and tries to replicate the frequency of the echolocation, and to great effect, as he confuses the bat and saves himself in the process.
Cody relates this information to Yolei, who as it turns out is a budding sound engineer and works for school club video projects and Matt’s band. She records the sound of Arukenimon’s flute using the recording device attached to the giant computer in the office. She then cuts the audio, modifies and distorts the signal, then loops it ad infinitum, and plays it from the computer’s speakers, which breaks the flute’s initial signal and frees all of the enchanted insect Digimon. The Flymon and Snimon break up their attack against Pegasusmon, Nefertimon, and Shurimon in the office, while Stingmon and Digmon come to their sense. Veemon Digivolves back into ExVeemon (somehow his energy has been restored even though he has eaten nothing) and the six Champion-level Digimon converge on Arukenimon.
Arukenimon then reveals herself, for the first time, in her Digimon form as a spider. She is an Ultimate-level Digimon, but the six Champions are pretty effectively routing her every attack. Then Stingmon and ExVeemon DNA Digivolve into Paildramon and really get to beating her badly. They draw her into the dining room of the Giga House where they pour salt onto her, spray her with bug spray, and electrocute her with wires from the electrical outlets. Then, Paildramon performs the coup de grace and nearly destroys her with his Desperado Blaster attack. Just in the nick of time, before she is destroyed once and for all by Paildramon, another Ultimate-level Digimon appears: Mummymon! He ties up the Champions and momentarily blindsides Paildramon with another attack before grabbing Arukenimon with his bandages and romantically (in his mind) spiriting her away from the scene into his car in which they then ride off into the darkness to fight again another day. Though Arukenimon isn’t pleased that Mummymon didn’t finish off Paildramon when he had the chance.
The Digidestined Cody
The Digidestined are in the Digital World once more destroying Control Spires. The team makes it a challenge to destroy as many as possible before the day is through and head back. All the while, Ken is off by himself doing the same thing they were earlier in the day, though his sojourn lasts long into the night. The Digidestined back in the computer lab sit around asking DemiVeemon what it was like to fuse with Wormmon to which he replies that the experience is like being part of a the mind of a super being without a consciousness of one’s one. Davis relates that he and Ken were synchronized during the DNA Digivolution too and their heartbeats were in lockstep through the entire process. Kari imagines what the other Digimon would look like if fused with ExVeemon including ExVeemon-Angemon, ExVeemon-Gatomon, ExVeemon-Ankylomon, and ExVeemon-Aquilamon combinations.
Back in the Digital World, Arukenimon visits the area where the Digidestined last occupied. She looks out over the ruins of the old Control Spires, furious that so many opportunities to create new evil Digimon have been lost. There is a television in the middle of the desert, which was present during the Digidestined’ trip. She turns it on and plays a tape housed within the TV’s built-in VCR, which shows the Digidestined children calling Arukenimon creepy and gloating about how many Control Spires they destroyed. This incenses her and she decides to send an email to the Digidestined (including Ken) that tells them to meet her at the Giga House to pay their debt to her.
Though this is pretty obviously a trap, they return to the Digital World and head toward the Giga House anyways in the hopes of defeating Arukenimon once and for all asap. Ken and the others arrive to find a 200-foot tall scale house looming over them. Davis, Ken, and Cody enter the house first and find themselves fighting hundreds or thousands of Roachmon, which they fight as ExVeemon, Stingmon, and Ankylomon and then wash down a large sink drain in the house’s vast kitchen. Next, a group of Flymon and Snimon ambush Kari, T.K. and Yolei outside. Aquilamon, Nefertimon, and Pegasusmon try to destroy them but find the numbers of opposing enemies too high and instead flee into the Giga House as well. Back in the kitchen, an army of Rookie-level Kunemon appear and attack Ken, Davis, and Cody, knocking Ken into a dishwasher in the process. Stingmon jumps in to save him, but cannot fly out of the water.
With Ken running low on oxygen, Cody De-Digivolves Ankylomon to Armadillomon and then Armor Digivolves him into Submarimon to save Ken. Cody’s debt to Ken for saving him from Thundermon weeks prior is now paid back in full and the two seem to have become closer in the process as Cody’s suspicions of Ken are slowly dissolving. As T.K. and Kari hide in an office in the Giga House, and Yolei runs from the Flymon and Snimon who have followed her inside, Davis, Ken, and Cody hear a flute playing in a closed room. They enter an air duct and make their way to the attic where Arukenimon is playing the flute that controls insect Digimon. Stingmon and Digmon unwittingly fall into the trap and begin fighting their friend ExVeemon whilst under Arukenimon’s spell.
Arukenimon then breaks the ground from beneath Ken, Davis, and Cody, knocking them onto a giant spider web: home to one Dokugumon, a Champion-level Digimon that would normally be a push-over, but poses a much larger existential threat right now as ExVeemon is incapacitated by the enchanted Stingmon and Digmon. Things don’t look good for the gang, but I know and you know they get out of the predicament. Just how they do so is a point on which I can’t remember and currently don’t have even the foggiest clue.
The Digidestined Cody