The early 20th century saw an explosion of anti-Mormon propaganda—some 30 anti-LDS films were produced between 1905 and 1936, mostly in Great Britain. As part of its Mormonsploitation festival, the Pioneer will be showing two staples of the genre, A Mormon Maid (1917) and Trapped by the Mormons (1922), a new silent remake of which anchors the series.
While positioned firmly as camp, the new Trapped by the Mormons is a surprisingly faithful rendering—at least until the flesh-eating zombies show up. Stenographer Nora (Emily Riehl-Bedford)
becomes infatuated with Mormon recruiter Isoldi (played in an inspired bit of casting by downtown drag king Johnny Kat) and soon finds herself imprisoned in a halfway house, about to be shipped off to Utah. Many intertitles are copied word-for-word, and first-time filmmaker Ian Allen accepts the black-and-white cinematography and limited mobility of early-’20s cinema as ground rules. Even the over-the-top final act merely makes explicit the vampirism latent in the original, with a turn to the supernatural preceding a series of gruesome deaths, and a much grimmer conclusion.
The earlier version contextualizes Britain’s fear of the LDS within the greater anxiety of the encounter with modernity; a key scene where Isoldi takes Nora out to a London nightclub somewhat counter-intuitively (at least to contemporary audiences) links Mormonism to the decadence of the city. The new film makes this connection between polygamous Mormonism and licentious sexuality even clearer—offering a glimpse of a cavorting naked couple in the club scene, as well as a hornier Nora; this must be the first movie in which an LDS pamphlet is used as a masturbation aid.
The new Trapped plays daily during Mormonsploitation week. The series also features a pair of New York Dolls documentaries—Bob Gruen’s vintage-shot All Dolled Up and Greg Whiteley’s recent New York Doll—as well as a collection of shorts, John Ford’s 1950 pioneer western Wagon Master, and most bizarrely, last year’s terrific sci-fi indie Primer, which is not a Mormon movie in any sense, but should be seen anyway.