Forget Grindhouse. September Dawn is the year’s first honest-to-goodness exploitation flick, utilizing its “inspired by true events” yarn about the 1857 Mountain Meadows massacre for tear-jerking, righteous indignation-stoking melodrama. Christopher Cain’s portrait of the Utah region’s Mormons as insane-in-the-membrane zealots, as well as its depiction of their successful plot to kill (with the help of local Native Americans) 120 immigrants passing through to California, is reportedly based on the official 27-page confession of convicted Mormon John D. Lee. Yet the clunky, heavily skewed means by which this tale is presented is nothing short of egregious, with its Mormon characters demonized with such laughable gusto, and its Christian victims cast in such a holy, noble light, that the project quickly feels less like an attempt at historical truth-telling than like shameless anti-Mormon propaganda. Mastermind and holy prophet Brigham Young (Terence Stamp) spews bloodthirsty Joseph Smith-inspired fire and brimstone, Bishop Jacob Samuelson (Jon Voight) rails on about how the visitors are abominations (one of the women wears a gun!) who are intent on driving the Mormons from their lands, and Samuelson’s son Micah (Taylor Handley) drools like a wild animal as he partakes in the carnage while disguised in Native American garb. This cartoonish demonization persistently seems tied to a religious-political agenda, as well as comes off as an easy way to provide bad guys for the hokey Romeo and Juliet romance between Samuelson’s older boy Jonathan (Trent Ford) and gentile Emily (Tamara Hope), a courtship that amounts to one my-religion-versus-your-religion conversation and a hilarious come-hither look from a river-bathing Emily to her sweet Mormon hunk. The narrative is given specious modern parallels by the highlighted fact that the massacre took place on September 11th, and its schematic good-versus-evil structure is fortified by Cain’s camera setups (low for the wicked Mormons, eye-level for the benevolent immigrants). Also, it’s virtually impossible to take seriously a film whose main contentions can be wholly gleaned from its characters’ facial hair—of which Voight’s bushy arch-villain goatee is surely the cheesiest.
- Black Diamond Pictures
- 110 min
- Christopher Cain
- Carole Whang Schutter, Christopher Cain
- Jon Voight, Trent Ford, Tamara Hope, Jon Gries, Taylor Handley, Lolita Davidovich, Dean Cain, Terence Stamp
- Slant is reaching more readers than ever before, but advertising revenue across the Internet is falling fast, hitting independently owned and operated publications like ours the hardest. We’ve watched many of our fellow media sites fall by the way side in recent years, but we’re determined to stick around.
We’ve never asked our readers for financial support before, and we’re committed to keeping our content free and accessible—meaning no paywalls or subscription fees. If you like what we do, however, please consider becoming a Slant patron.
You can also make a one-time donation via PayPal: