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Gay, tattooed, and with a penchant for four-letter words, Ian Allen might seem an odd spokesperson for Mormons. Add the fact that he’s the longtime artistic director for D.C.’s Cherry Red Productions, the Gwar of local theater companies, and you’d never guess that the 31-year-old Allen grew up in a quiet suburb of Salt Lake City, the son of Mormon parents descended from pioneer stock.
Naturally, the first thing people ask him when they find out that he’s from Utah is whether he’s Mormon. Allen left the church when he was 18, but he’s dismayed that people often consider his answer an invitation to start bashing the religion.
“It’s a correct assumption that I’m not Mormon, but it’s an incorrect assumption that all Mormons are freaks,” says Allen. “Nobody ever says, ‘Oh my God, your parents are Jews? How fucking disgusting.’”
Having already written two plays about Mormons, 1997’s Natural Duck and 2000’s Baked Baby, with another, tentatively titled Blood Atonement, forthcoming, Allen clearly has Mormons on the brain—just not in the way people might expect. His latest project is a feature-length remake of H.B. Parkinson’s 1922 Mormon-exploitation film Trapped by the Mormons.
“I really want people to know about Mormons,” says Allen. “It’s bizarre to me that all people know about Mormons these days is that they don’t drink coffee and [that they] wear funny underwear.”
The original Trapped was just one of many films made during the early years of the 20th century that portrayed the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as an abomination. Devoid of any real violence, it was considered a horror film solely because of its story, in which a Mormon “recruiter” named Isoldi Keane uses mesmeric powers to lure a young woman, Nora, to the church.
“People took these movies deadly serious,” explains Allen. “Hypnotism and polygamy are strange now, but back then they were downright disgusting. All people could think about was how evil and perverted Mormons were.”
Allen, who recently set up shop in Brooklyn, had known about the original film—often called the Reefer Madness of anti-Mormon films—for ages but didn’t see it until about five years ago. He instantly knew he wanted to do something with it and originally contemplated adapting it as a silent play. In 2004, when Cherry Red began looking for a film project, Allen’s idea morphed into a movie.
Filmed over four weekends last October, the project stays relatively faithful to the original. There are, of course, typical Allen touches: D.C. drag king Johnny Kat plays Isoldi, giving the character an intriguing, sexy queerness; lascivious Mormon elders debate “eating Nora’s twat,” as Allen describes it; newly baptized girls transform into flesh-chomping zombies.
Much of the humor in Allen’s remake stems from the hysteria with which the original depicted Mormons. In one scene, for example, Nora’s mother encounters two Mormon elders in her home and screams in horror, “There’s a Mormon!”
In Allen’s opinion, such reactions are what attracted him to remaking the film. “The movie satirizes that willful ignorance of people who…say Mormons are crazy, or weird, or dangerous,” he says. “It’s good to laugh a little about that sort of paranoia.”
Allen’s adaptation focuses not on the hero saving the day but on the temptation of a young woman and her subsequent return to the safety of her family. “On a higher level, it’s a personal story…about sexual freedom and personal freedom,” offers Allen. “But nobody’ll get that. They’ll just see Mormons eating people.”