The opening of 1976’s The Grim Reaper opens with a scene of the kind of deep humanity and understanding I have come to expect from the religious films of the Ormond family. It expresses a sentiment I would have expected from the church I grew up in. In a moment of awe-inspiring compassion, a preacher refuses to a deliver a eulogy at the funeral for a young man because, as he explains to the parents of the deceased, their son is currently burning for all eternity in the fires of Hell. Aww, there’s that Christian spirit of compassion as I came to know it.
The preacher will eventually deign to speak before the assembled mourners, though only to use the corpse on display before them as a warning for the torments of Hell which await them if they die without accepting Christ into their lives. Thus this comes to follow the same structure as the other religious films on the From Hollywood to Heaven blu-ray box set: a sermon interspersed with odd moments of dramatization.
Also similar to the other films, there will be not one, but multiple preachers. All these guys have “Dr.” preceding their name, and I want to see their credentials. Any doctorate from a Bible college will be disregarded. Among these guest preachers is Jerry Falwell, and he definitely never went on to engage in any questionable behavior. *cough* Another of this bunch has an annoying affinity for alliteration: “These peddlers of poison propagating air.” Who is the guy, The Riddler?
The central storyline (once again, generously applying that term) concerns a family where the eldest son is a racecar driver who dies shortly after an accident. Immediately before he expires, his younger brother asks him if he will accept Jesus into his life. The dying boy says, “I…will…if…dad…does…” Their dad waffles and, because of his failure to succumb to peer pressure, his eldest will burn in Hell forever.
His younger son is played by Tim Ormond, the son of the director. I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to reach into the screen and punch this smug, sanctimonious asshole in the face. He and the matriarch of the family in this film are so nagging and whiny that the father and eldest probably didn’t want to convert just so they wouldn’t have to be with these jerks through to the end of time.
One topic covered here that is unique to the Ormond religious pictures is the supernatural. Needless to say, they’re against it; which I find funny, as the type of faith required to believe in the spirit world does not seem any different to me from that necessary to believe in the god of these people.
This element is brought into the plot when the mother tries to go to a spiritualist to contact her son. The séance is as ridiculous as one would imagine it to be, complete with a hilarious, nearly subliminal image of a demon’s face over that of the guy conducting the séance. The décor of the various mystics the father and mother visit are also preposterous. The dad sums up my feelings when he says of one location, “I’ve never seen anything like that room.” Me, neither, but that’s because I was thinking of how ridiculous a mental image these bozos must have of those unlike themselves.
The Grim Reaper is another glimpse into the batshit world of fundamentalist Christianity, as viewed through the Ormond lens. It isn’t the worst or weirdest of this series of films—just another slice of a sad, bitter mentality I am glad I do not possess.
Dir: Ron Ormond
Starring Tim Ormond and many self-proclaimed “doctors”
Watched as part of the Powerhouse/Indicator From Hollywood to Heaven: The Lost and Saved Films of the Ormond Family blu-ray box set