The recent riots in the Middle East have proven exactly how effective religious propaganda can be, for all the wrong reasons. Designed to convert souls to a particular faith, these films often serve as more effective counter-arguments against them. In this feature, we’ll share 10 of the weirdest and worst religious propaganda films ever made from all over the world.
"Innocence of Muslims"
Let’s start out with the elephant in the room. "Innocence of Muslims" is the film that sparked widespread protests in the Middle East and elsewhere for its portrayal of Mohammed as a violent criminal, and Muslims as rapists and child molesters. Amazingly enough, the actors and crew on the film weren’t even aware they were making religious propaganda. The script was titled “Desert Warrior,” and the Mohammed character was named George. After the film was completed, huge swaths of dialogue were re-dubbed to include slurs against Islam. The responsible parties claim that their goal was to incite Muslims to convert, but all signs point to the movie as an indefensible act of slander and provocation.
"A Victim of the Mormons"
Religious propaganda isn’t a new thing. Almost from the first days of motion pictures, people were using the medium to push their agendas. "A Victim of the Mormons" dates back to 1911, and kicked off a wave of anti-Mormon films. Directed by Danish filmmaker August Blom, the silent film tells the story of a wicked Mormon priest who hypnotizes an innocent Danish girl and kidnaps her to Utah. Her family gives chase, but the evil polygamist knocks the girl out and locks her in the basement. Thankfully, it all works out in the end, but it was a remarkably sleazy and insulting film that spawned dozens more like it.
"Last Ounce of Courage"
A common theme in religious propaganda films is the subject of church vs. state. Many religions believe that governments are out to get them. This is certainly plausible in some countries, but it’s a stretch to argue that the United States is discriminating against Christians. And yet, that’s the premise of 2012 film "Last Ounce of Courage," which stars Marshall Teague as rebellious biker Bob Revere. When the small town he lives in loses touch with Jesus, Revere goes wild, illegally erecting statues of angels in the town square and clashing with the evil leader of an ACLU-like organization played by Fred “The Hammer” Williamson. People actually believe this stuff.
There aren’t any Jewish propaganda films, because the Torah prohibits Jews from proselytizing. That hasn’t stopped other religions from creating anti-Jewish films, though, and one of the most notorious is "Saturday’s Hunter," an Iranian feature that was released in 2011. The movie’s plot is totally nutty. Rabbi Hanan, an Orthodox caricature in skullcap and curls, raises his grandson Benjamin to become a “war machine to destroy all nations.” The boy grows up to slaughter tons of Arabs in his grandfather’s image. Although many religious leaders condemned the film, it was aired on Iranian television and the director has promised to make more.
"If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?"
The '70s were a golden era for Christian propaganda films, in no small part due to the tireless labor of Ron Ormond. Formerly a director of exploitation movies, Ormond survived a plane crash in 1968 and devoted his life to the Lord, helming a number of Jesus flicks. The most absurd is "If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do?" starring preacher Estus Pirkle. Pirkle, a staunch anti-Communist, spins a horrific yarn of evil Russkies invading the States, torturing innocent Christians with some gruesome special effects. It’s so gleefully over-the-top that it transcends propaganda and just becomes awesome entertainment.
"A Distant Thunder"
The events of the Book of Revelations are some of the most fruitful material for Christian propaganda films. There's a lot of crazy-ass stuff happening after the Rapture and the end of the world. One of the most intense is "A Distant Thunder," a 1978 film which takes place after faithful Christians have been sucked up to heaven. Left behind to deal with the new Satanic world order is a young woman named Patty, who resists taking the “mark of the beast” that the evil government mandates, and suffers for it. It’s so nutty that it’s hard to watch at times.
Perhaps the most controversial religious movie ever made, "Submission" kicked off a firestorm of controversy in Europe and America. Directed by provocateur Theo Van Gogh, the 11-minute short portrays a woman nude except for a veil and a transparent version of the chador robe. On her body is painted verses from the Koran regarding how Muslim men should treat their wives, and voice-over narration shares stories of abused women from Muslim cultures. You can argue the merits of Van Gogh’s message all you want, but he can’t, as he was killed by extremists in Amsterdam for the movie.
"Christmas With a Capital C"
And now for something completely different. 2010’s straight-to-video "Christmas With a Capital C" is another entry in the “persecuted Christians” sub-genre of religious propaganda films, but it has a storyline so totally absurd that it becomes unintentional comedy. Set in the fictional town of Trapper Falls, Alaska, everything is hunky-dory until a mean-spirited big-city atheist returns to town. This dude sets about trying to take God out of the holiday season until a humble family finds out the real reason behind his hatred of Jesus. This is the kind of thing your old relatives on Facebook think is actually happening.
This might be cheating, as "Harmless" is still in development, but it’s so weird that we had to put it on the list. Taking inspiration from secular horror movies like "Paranormal Activity," "Harmless" tells the story of a normal American family that’s torn apart by the introduction of an evil force into their house. That evil force? A cardboard box full of porn movies. Yes indeed, we’re talking about a haunted container of smutty films. The creators tried to raise money on Kickstarter to fund it, but now they’re looking for other sources to get the film made. We seriously hope they do.
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"Trapped by the Mormons"
Let’s close this list with something a little more tongue-in-cheek. 1922’s "Trapped By The Mormons" is one of a wave of anti-Latter Day Saints films released as the group was gaining popularity in the U.S. In 2005, director Ian Allen decided to remake the flick for a 21st-century audience, and is it ever a hoot. Isoldi Keane is the most charismatic recruiter the Church has ever seen, and he travels to England to purloin virginal women and bring them back to Salt Lake City to be his (multiple) brides. It’s a hilarious flick, no matter what you think of Mormonism, and thankfully wasn’t made to be taken seriously.