In his own twisted way, director Christopher Cain is some kind of hero. While he could have secured lasting infamy (and a perverse affection) had he made the apocalyptically bad camp classic I had expected, it is enough that he push through — in the middle of a presidential campaign, no less — a one-sided, unfair, wholly manipulative blast of propaganda aimed at derailing Mitt Romney, the lone Mormon in the race, though not its only asshole. September Dawn, a film recounting the September 11, 1857, slaughter of 120 settlers near Mountain Meadows, Utah, tries desperately to be history, a love story, and even a Cain and Abel parable, but there’s no escaping its utter hostility against the Mormon people. Sure, we’d all object with sanctimonious gloom had such a mean-spirited attack been leveled against Muslims, blacks, Hispanics, or any other protected group, but Mormons? Hell, they worship God and Jesus Christ, and they’re still too weird for mainstream Christianity. And for good reason. Founded by a certified lunatic, maintained by murderous misogynists and racists, and passed down through the generations with gusto and robotically toothy grins, the Church of Latter-Day Saints is a virtual smorgasbord of embarrassment: door-to-door salesman peddling their savior like Amway, magic underwear, eerily calling each other “Elder,” and of course, historical revisionism that asks us to believe in magic glasses, seer stones, massive golden plates, and a Jesus who strolled amongst the Indians, doing god knows what. More than that, though, is a typically cultish paranoia and persecution complex that leads to the events portrayed in this film. And the “controversy” be damned: I choose to believe the whole blasted thing was ordered, promoted, and salivated over by Brigham Young himself.
The film’s most debated element is this portrayal of Young (Terence Stamp), who remains a man of large appetites (at least two dozen wives to his credit), and one also responsible for sending his people to murder the Arkansas settlers, for fear they were sent to attack the church. In these early days of the cult’s existence, it is highly improbable that something as serious as a full-blown mass execution would have been carried out sans approval from the group’s leader, so even without a smoking gun or dramatic diary entry, it is safe to say that at the very least, a lot of winking and nodding went on throughout the Beehive State. Among the dead were women and children (most of whom were shot in the back or had their throats slit), which makes it one of the most gruesome acts of violence ever committed on American soil. And yet, not only do we have a university named after Mr. Young, but millions of people who continue to speak his name in hushed tones. Brigham’s reputation is still relatively spotless in the area, though his veneration is akin to naming a public library in Oklahoma City after Timothy McVeigh. But as their entire religion is built on a massive fraud, it stands to reason that they would also cover up a horrific crime, even to the point where they now control the landmark and its public presentation (why it isn’t a national historic site defies belief). Instead of recognition and repentance, they have installed a truly offensive marker, which all but states that “people died here” without any real cause. That they were butchered in the name of religious zealotry is never declared or admitted. This film, then, is a much-needed, if slightly laughable, corrective.
Sure, September Dawn can never be fully embraced, as it believes its “real” Christian victims are pious, wholesome, and loving, even if they do appear to be so when compared to the snarling, humorless Mormons. Whereas the settlers are earthy, generous, and fair, the Mormons, as personified by Bishop Jacob Samuelson (Jon Voight), frown, lie, and talk about their genitalia with near-fanatical glee. It’s all about getting back to the homestead with the harem for these people, and Jacob says little to his sons that doesn’t revolve around adding more fuck toys to the collection. And in a crazy, drug-fueled flashback, we see that Mormons did a whole bunch of killing before 1857, much of which centered on removing nutsacks with a knife and tacking them to front doors. One such “set,” when shown in close-up, provided one of the heartiest laughs of the afternoon, if only because the slab was so obviously a thick, hairless piece of rubber. These early, rowdy days of the church are proof positive that Mormonism is nothing but a silly cult, as its first and most revealing characteristic is the simultaneous repression of, and obsession over, weird-ass sexual activities. Despite their public image as a collection of squeaky-clean gentlemen, I imagine a Mormon bedroom is a den of horrors, unfamiliar to even the most jaded of pornographers. After all, are we to believe that Brigham Young, or the strapping hunk that was Joseph Smith (played here by Dean Cain), remained content with the sad old missionary position? Curiously, the snow white Christians who met their bloody fate on that Utah meadow likely didn’t have sex at all, or at least didn’t let it drive them into a frenzy.
Sex is on the mind of at least one of the “Gentiles” (so-called by the Mormons, despite being non-Jews, because, well, they’re insane), one Emily Hudson (Tamara Hope), a fair-haired beauty who falls in love with Jonathan (Trent Ford), who just happens to be the bishop’s unmarried son. The connection consists of little more than a pocketful of come-hither glances and the odor of the forbidden, and we know it will end in tragedy because the girl is just too pure to be in this world. It should surprise no one that the bishop is the one who kills her in the end, though it appears less because she is part of the settlers than the fact that she wants his son’s cock and not his own. Before that final scene, though, they kiss a few times, talk about destiny and love at first sight, and generally bore us to tears. Jonathan is the only good Mormon of the bunch, as evidenced by his being the only handsome one in the vicinity, and because he nearly strangles his father to death in the barn before being chained up as a traitor. Alas, the love affair just takes up time before the final bloodbath, which is the only real reason we’re here. We need to see bullets entering hearts, bodies toppling over one another, and tear-stained faces being snuffed out like so many candles. With such brutality on screen, and every death being accompanied by an angelic choir, there really is no other choice but to hate the fucking Mormons, and, to a small degree, transfer that loathing to Gov. Romney, who would surely act in a similar fashion if given the reigns. In short, Romney would be a Latter Day Hitler, and the Gentiles among us had better run for cover if he’s elected.
Among the anti-Mormon tongue wagging, there are some truly awful beards afoot, including Stamp’s, which threatens to pop off his face at any moment. There’s also Lolita Davidovich as a woman the Mormons really despise, as she wears pants and carries a gun. Needless to say, she is the first one killed; butchered while bathing in the river and sent downstream to be found by the young lovers. And while Voight is puffy and foolish, he’s not quite the ham-fisted masterpiece I expected, despite the reviews that promised such fireworks. He even offers one of the film’s great lines: “Never trust anyone from Missouri.” And how, mister. The other great bit of dialogue — “Thank God! It’s the Mormons!” — comes seconds before John D. Lee (Uncle Rico) and his warriors come waving a white flag, all with the intent of disarming the settlers and killing the lot of them. It bears repeating that Lee was the only man executed for the crimes of that day, though justice didn’t come until decades later. It’s also a fun tidbit that Lee was killed by firing squad on the exact spot of the massacre, though the absence of Young or any of the other church leaders should force an invasion of Utah to retrieve the bones of those bastards, which would then be desecrated in the appropriate manner. Unfortunately, the movie won’t be popular enough to set such events in motion, nor will it be seen by enough angry activists to extract an official comeuppance. Sure, it would be like asking the wretched Christopher Columbus: The Discovery to open a dialogue about Native American extermination, but if we can’t inspire a little bigotry now and then, what good is the cinema?