Give Ian Allen credit for daring to be different. Whereas most filmmakers are happy to remake 1970s kitsch, Allen has remade 1920s kitsch. And in black-and-white and as a silent movie, too!
The kitsch in question is “Trapped by the Mormons,” a notorious 1922 exploitation film which equated those sons o’ fun in Utah with white slaving demons. I never saw that movie, but the new film supposedly stays quite faithful to the original’s intolerant slam against the Latter-Day Saints. And to make matters better (or worse, if you are a Mormon), there is some very un-Mormon gender bending going on here.
“Trapped by the Mormons” takes place in Manchester, England in the 1920s. That city is home to very intelligent people (including members of my family – shout out to Imogen, Kate and Alice), but this film focuses on a dum-dum secretary named Nora (played by Emily Riehl-Bedford) who falls prey to the eye-rolling charms of Mormon missionary Isoldi Keane (played by cross-dressing drag king Johnny Kat). So what’s the missionary position here? Simple: get Nora to convert to Mormonism and become the sex slave of the wild bunch back in Salt Lake City. Nora even gets her lady co-workers to join the fun – but she doesn’t realize until it is too late that the Mormons are really vampires who turn converts into homicidal zombies. Thankfully, Nora has a macho sailor boyfriend who enlists the help of a fat detective to save the day.
Say what? Yeah, this one is a real loony endeavor (I cannot imagine what the played-straight is like). “Trapped by the Mormons” clearly plays things tongue-in-cheek, with melodramatic 1920s-style emoting complete with arched eyebrows, hands clutching the chest, and eyeballs ready to pop from the sockets in shock. It is a very, very funny movie.
It also serves as a reminder that no intelligent person can embrace prejudice. The 1922 film was meant to be a condemnation of the Mormon’s success is spreading their message far and wide. Slandering a faith (whether it is Mormonism in the 1920s or, say, Islam today) has no place in a mature and responsible society. “Trapped by the Mormons” will generate laughs for its camp value, but it score points in reminding us that there’s nothing funny about religious hatred.