Movie: The Sacred Symbol (1984)

One more film…just one more film…

Watching the many movies on the Ormond Family box set has been a fascinating journey, while often being a bit of a slog—especially in the religious half of the set.  If I hadn’t been taking notes during each movie, I would never have been able to remember what happens in each.  Collectively, they blur into one mess of sermonizing, violence and community theater reenactments of scenes from the Bible.

And yet, the framing device used in 1984’s The Sacred Symbol distinguishes it some from the earlier pictures.  A woman wants to go a church revival, but her husband drags her to a weird gathering in some rich guy’s house.  Alas, it is not an Eyes Wide Shut party.

No, this is some sort of gathering of intellectuals, with a featured speaker invited to each meeting.  An odd assortment is in attendance for the evening’s entertainment.  In addition to the usual middle-to-upper age Caucasians, there’s a couple of African men and an Indian couple.  Oh, and Ormond family matriarch June, as a “doctor” who I imagine has credentials as flimsy as all the various “doctors” we have seen in prior films who are nothing more than preachers.

Like all educational lectures, the evening starts with a magician doing tricks of a level appropriate for a child’s birthday party.  After that nonsense, we get to the featured speaker for the night.  It’s John Calvert, formerly of It’s About the Second Coming.  At least this guy brings some air of professionalism to the proceedings.

He shows his audience, and us, many films about various cultures around Africa and Asia.  These clips have little to no obvious relationship to one another, a fact those gathered for his lectures repeatedly comment upon.  As I was watching these clips, it started dawning on me with increasing terror that I have seen this stock footage before. 

There’s the footage of African natives in some sort of stadium from The Untamed Mistress.  There’s the flagellants from Please Don’t Touch Me, and that guy who rolls around in broken glass from the same.  So, we have somehow come full circle with this, the last movie on this Ormond family box set: footage has been recycled for the last film from the first two movies on the collection.  This blew my mind.

This is one bizarre gathering of alleged scholars.  For a meeting that shouldn’t be of a religious nature, the attendees are quick to condemn the practices displayed in the films Calvert shows as not being in keeping with Christian values.  “Doctor” June Ormond accuses the people of one of the cultures shown as being in cahoots with Satan.  Some other guys observes, “at least these people are trying to atone for their sins in their own way.”  You know, I once attended a lecture by Stephen Jay Gould, and it’s funny how he never once said anything remotely like that during his presentation. That’s the difference between real scholars and these bozos.

So how is this all supposed to tie together?  The answer is in the form of an artifact Calvert displays at the conclusion.  It is an ancient rock, with an engraving on it of one of those “Jesus fish” you sometimes see on the back of people’s cars—just this one has Greek writing on it, instead.

There had been a scene at the start of the feature, where we saw some guy making that carving.  He and some other Christians were stoned to death by some people who, presumably, believe they are without sin, as they fiercely compete to be one to throw the first stone.  The leader of the group wears red and says, “Ummm…Christians…” in a manner which only somebody wearing a handlebar mustache should do.  He also looks and sounds more than a bit like Terry Gilliam in Monty Python’s “Spanish Inquisition” sketch.

Anywho, seeing this rock apparently ties everything together for those at the lecture.  I wish somebody would have shared that revelation with us.

I’m worried my description so far may have given the impression this is a somewhat competent endeavor.  Never fear—this is still as grossly incompetent as any other film by somebody with the last name Ormond.  One thing they never quite seemed to figure out is how to synch mouth movements when doing ADR, or maybe they just never cared to get it right.

The most jaw-dropping moment in this feature is near the end, when we see Calvert supposedly flies a small plane while blindfolded.  This seems like an incredibly half-assed demonstration of faith, as he’s risking more lives than his own.  I wonder if the FAA was aware of this stunt.  If they weren’t, then I wonder if there were any repercussions.

Having seen The Sacred Symbol, I am finally done with the Ormond Family box set.  It has been a looong journey, and I’m not sure which half was more of a trial: the exploitation films or the religious ones.  Though the use of footage from the first couple of flicks in the set, this one curiously brings things full circle, as if this is some kind of Ormond-verse.  I’m just glad like I stuck it through to the end; otherwise, I would feel like Calvert when he makes this baffling statement: “My journey would not have been inconclusive.”

Dir: Tim Ormond

Starring a great many people I am happy I will never have to spend any more time with again

Watched as part of the Powerhouse/Indicator blu-ray box set From Hollywood to Heaven: The Lost and Saved Films of the Ormond Family