The paranoid and conspiracy-driven films of America’s biggest fundamentalist production company.
Regular Reprobate readers may be familiar with Jeremiah Films, the right-wing fundamentalist Christian distributor of documentaries, dramas and hysterical conspiracy theory films. We’ve covered their movies Fear Is The Master and Devil Worship: The Rise of Satanism in the past, and also discussed how, through a casual enquiry made to their UK distributor in the early 1990s, I received an envelope full of Jack Chick publications and a Jeremiah catalogue. But let’s dive deeper into this oddest of film producers and how I first stumbled upon their work.
Jeremiah Films was formed by Florida-based Patrick Matrisciana in 1978 and according to their website – yes, they are still going strong – exist to “promote patriotism, traditional values, and the Biblical worldview of the founding fathers”. These will be the founding fathers that set out to specifically separate church and state, but let’s not split hairs. While seen by many as simply a religious film distributor, the interests of the company have increasingly included right-wing political conspiracy theories and wild accusations.
My first encounter with Jeremiah Films came when a copy of their ‘documentary’ AIDS: What You Haven’t Been Told turned up in one of the many oddball shops selling second-hand junk in Manchester’s Corn Exchange – this was before the IRA bomb gave the owners the excuse to close it down, kick everyone out and eventually re-open as a high-end shopping centre and, later, a food hall. Being a sucker for curious documentaries, I decided that this was worth a punt, figuring it would at least be so outrageously bigoted as to be funny. In fact, the film was simply dull, with 75 minutes of talking heads spouting religious nonsense about how AIDS was God’s judgement on sinful homosexuals; in other words, very much what you had been told by their ilk ad infinitum. Nevertheless, the appearance of this American tape in a UK shop was intriguing, and I was even more fascinated when another tape turned up in the same venue. Fear Is The Master was altogether more interesting – I had actually seen this 1983 production being sold to international secular distributors in Cannes press ads a few years earlier, where it was being pushed very much on the sensationalism angle of Charles Manson and Raj Neesh. I bought this one too, and that’s when I wrote to Penfold Book and Bible House in Bicester, Oxon – the company whose name on a gold label stuck on the tape box was the only clue as to how these PAL copies had come to end up in a British junk shop.
I assumed that there must be more of the same out there, sent out a letter and in September of 1993 received my package of promotional goodies. Jeremiah did indeed have a lot of films, and Penfold was selling them at £19.95 a pop, which seemed a tad expensive – and in fact, was a direct dollar to pound price translation. Christian capitalism, eh? This did not feel like a good risk/reward gamble, and so for some years, the only other Jeremiah release I actually saw was the rather fantastic Gods of the New Age, a twitchy but inadvertently fascinating ‘exposé’ of Eastern mysticism that came to me via the bootleg circuit.
The Jeremiah catalogue of 1993 was a combination of attacks on other religions – Mormons being particularly sinister, it seems – warnings against non-Christian and occult practices and attacks on alternative lifestyles, evolutionary teaching and promiscuity. There is something oddly defensive about the average Jeremiah release, as if the makers are so unsure of the virtue of their own beliefs that they have to belittle and attack others rather than simply make a comparison and allow the viewers to decide for themselves. Given that these were marketed almost exclusively at devout Christians and church groups, you have to wonder why they are so defensive and so worried about what others believe? Part of it might be the desire to save damned souls who have been worshipping God in a slightly different way to Protestants, but much of it simply feels like tribalism and hatred of the Other.
The Jeremiah tour-de-force was the thirteen-part series The Pagan Invasion. ‘Twelve years in the making’, allegedly, it delved deep into what was obviously seen as the biggest threat to Christianity in 1993 – neo-Pagan and New Age philosophy. This series covers everything from meditation to “Hindu forms of black magic and demon worship”, but suspiciously takes in a lot of the traditional Jeremiah bugaboos – Mormons, evolution, Halloween and so on, which makes me suspect that a lot of this is simply recycled content. Still, who wouldn’t want a copy of Doorways to Satan, which promises to expose “the insatiable lust for sex, violence, witchcraft, perversion and occultic mysteries” in Hollywood films, TV and the music industry? Why, it sounds as though it could’ve been torn straight from 21st century quonspiracy theories. You can enjoy (almost) the whole series here.
The company also did a nasty line in pro-life videos, which seemed less an attempt to persuade the wavering and more an odd desire to revel in the suffering that they claimed to be against. The Silent Scream boasts that it features an ultrasound recording of a foetus being aborted with the description of what is shown having the sort of leering graphic detail that you’d expect from a pair of gorehounds describing scenes from Traces of Death. Why pro-lifers have such an obsession with the gory details of abortion is something that always fascinates me – it goes way beyond propaganda and into the deeply suspect.
Interestingly – and very amusingly – it seems likely that Penfold Books were breaking the law in selling these tapes. While a lot of documentary releases were exempt from the need for BBFC classification, there were limits – and studies of Satanism, anti-religious attacks and videos showing “a baby being ripped apart” were almost certainly over the line. What’s more, the collection of religious feature films like The Cross and the Switchblade were definitely not exempt – the Video Recordings Act applied to religious movies just as much as anything else. It’s rather amusing to think of this moralising company being engaged in illegal activity – but of course, there was little chance of the police raiding a Christian bookshop to seize unclassified films.
I discovered Jeremiah Films a few years before they spiralled further down a far-right rabbit hole, seemingly given a push by Bill Clinton. In 1996, the company produced The Clinton Chronicles and Obstruction of Justice: The Mena Connection, both of which linked the then-President to murder and drug trafficking, and there have been more since. There have also been anti-Obama films and documentaries railing against Harry Potter, sex education and “neovampirism, Wicca and the occult”. Production seems to have slowed in recent years, but the company is far from done. If anything, its paranoid conspiracy theories and warnings against the occult and liberal lifestyles have probably got a wider audience than ever as we stumble into a second coming of the Satanic Panic.
Jeremiah Films essentially preach to the converted – it’s hard to imagine anyone who is not already a believer taking this seriously unless they are already some way down the rabbit hole. But their message of hatred towards everyone – even fellow Christians of a slightly different persuasion – feels unhealthy, especially in our fractured society. As hilarious as most of us will find the bulk of their releases, we should remain aware that a significant number of unbalanced people will be furiously nodding along in agreement.
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The Cross and The Switchblade is actually a pretty cool title that I could see being used on a giallo.
It’s one of the most famous religious novels/films. A top slice of godsploitation.
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