July 31, 2020

MIDSOMMAR and the Peen Scene


Starring Florence Pugh, Jack Reynor, William Jackson Harper, Vilhelm Blomgren, Ellora Torchia, Archie Madekwe, Will Poulter. Directed by Ari Aster. (148 min)

Essay by D.M. ANDERSON💀

Did you know Walmart sells vibrators?

Not that I'm in the market for one, but I spotted them in the Health & Wellness section while shopping with the wife one day. Quite a selection, too...the Satisfier Pro 2, the CalExotics 5-Speed Butterfly Kiss, the multi-speed Power Swirl and that family favorite, the Vibroman 3-Piece Couples Sex Kit. Real ammo may not be available at Walmart anymore, but it still has all your vibrating bullet needs (in assorted colors, no less).

They were locked in a display case along with condoms, lubricants and various other playtime products, which pretty-much guarantees Walmart will never be my destination for date-night enhancement. Personally, I'd be embarrassed as fuck seeking-out a pimple-face teenager in a blue smock so they could unlock the case and grab me a 4-Speed Jack Rabbit.

But maybe that's just me. As much as I love sex in all its shapes and forms – with the kids and occasional back scratches to prove it – I've always been irrationally self-conscious declaring it publicly. How irrational? As a teenager, I was more devastated that Mom found a dog-eared Penthouse magazine stashed in my sock drawer than the half-empty Jack Daniels bottle laying next to it.

Even as a responsible adult, I've always been uncomfortable buying condoms, sexy underwear or dirty Valentine's Day cards, for no other reason than I'd be sharing part of my private life with the stranger behind the counter.

Would you buy a dildo from this man?
That carnal discomfort extends to my viewing habits. Not that they include porn, but I frequently review DVDs for various studios and PR groups, some of which have featured scenes of uninhibited fornicating. The sex scenes themselves don't bother me. I'm neither aroused nor offended by them, but mortified my wife or kids might waltz into the room at the precise moment some sweat-drenched couple are reaching the apex of their athletic tryst. “What the hell are you watching?”

Explicit sex scenes are inconsequential to a movie's plot 90% of the time, as is graphic violence. But I get it...that stuff is merely frosting on the cake and I'll admit there are many horror films I enjoy because they are gratuitously bloody. Conversely, I've never seen one that was substantially better because of its boob count. Perhaps that's because recreational sex is a regular part of human existence, while someone's head being ripped open by a reverse bear trap decidedly isn't, therefore more interesting...from an escapism point of view, anyway.

Wow, reading that last sentence back to myself, I'm realizing how fucking creepy it sounds.

My youngest daughter, Lucy, is also a big horror fan, largely because of me. Ever since introducing her to the original Poltergeist years ago, I've shared a lot of great classic horror films with her. However, there are some I haven't and probably never will...not because of their violence, but the copious amounts of sex tossed-in for mallrats who are mostly too young to experience it for themselves. Because of my own hang-ups, I'm more comfortable with Lucy watching people getting disemboweled by zombies than horny hotties going at it between killings.

At first, it was because of her age, when she was still too young to wrap her head around the concept of sex. One night when she was nine or ten, Lucy spotted a couple of raccoons fucking on the roof of our shed. Ever the coward, I reassured her they were just wrestling. Needless to say, it was my wife who was eventually elected to give both of our girls “The Talk.”

That's one your mother knows, kid.
Anyway, Lucy is now 16 with discriminate tastes in horror. She's no fan of jump scares or slasher movies because most of them are pretty brainless. Like her old man, she likes the slow burners which methodically build dread and linger in your mind long after the end-credits. Still, there are some I won't share with her, even though she's since-learned where babies come from. In fact, Lucy makes more juvenile dick jokes than anyone else in the family. But sorry, Mr. Goldblum, your post-coital performance in The Fly is a little too enthusiastic for me to be comfortable watching it with my daughter.

So that one's out, as are Videodrome, Hostel, An American Werewolf in London, Phantasm, Rosemary's Baby and a batch of other classics which take a time-out to explore the joy of sex.

But sometimes I'm caught off-guard, like when we're both watching something for the first time. Lucy and I really enjoyed Hereditary, a deliberately-paced, atmospheric piece of supernatural horror directed by Ari Aster (his first feature film). While critically acclaimed, it sparked countless love-it-or-loathe-it debates among horror lovers, but we were impressed enough with its tone and originality to look forward to Aster's next move...

...which turned out to be Midsommar, a whacked-out, drug-fueled, epic-length slab of folk horror with an aesthetic similar to The Wicker Man. In this one, a group of American college students visit a Swedish commune, the HÃ¥rga, to research and participate in a festival that's held every 90 years. But the HÃ¥rga turn out to be a dangerous cult that not-only consumes a variety of hallucinogens on a regular basis, they conduct bizarre rituals, some highly sexual, others shockingly brutal.

For example, there's a harrowing moment when two elderly members who have just turned 72 - the maximum age allowed in the HÃ¥rga – happily leap from a cliff and splatter onto the rocks below. One actually survives the jump, so the others gather around to finish the job with a hammer. The scene is disturbingly graphic and lengthy. I've seen a lot of nasty death scenes over the years, but this one was absolutely ass-puckering, an assessment Lucy agreed with.

Another successful Trump rally.
Still, I was more comfortable with that scene than a later one when a male protagonist is drugged and coerced into ritualistic sex with a teenage cult member. As he rambles toward the temple with his dong hanging out, Lucy jokingly cried out, “Peeeen!” (she's still 12 years old in some ways, just like Dad). Then he goes in and commences burying-the-sausage, surrounded by a dozen naked cultists who howl and dance as they watch.

"Cover your eyes for a sec, Lucy,” I said with an nervous laugh. Equally put-off by naughty bits in-action, she happily complied. Though I thought the scene would be over quickly – as they usually are in horror movies - it went on and on for what felt like ten minutes. Lucy occasionally peeked up prematurely, catching a horrifying eyeful. But ironically, because of the ritualistic nature of the cult, this particular sex scene is actually essential to the plot, if only to emphasize the non-sensual purpose of the act. It might also be the most intentionally unerotic sex scene of all time.

Still, what the hell is wrong with me? Bodies exploding like watermelons - not-to-mention a poor bastard stuffed into a bear carcass before being burned alive - are perfectly fine, but prolonged procreation makes me uneasy with Lucy in the room? I mean, it ain't like I'm sharing porn with my kids. But again, maybe it's because sex is part of reality and horror violence generally isn't. The unreasonably self-conscious part of me was also mortified at the idea that Lucy was suddenly reminded she's here because her own parents did the nasty (minus the naked dancers, of course). "You 'n Mom are perverts, Dad."

At any rate, Midsommar is another dark, disturbing slow-burner from Ari Aster, all the more impressive when you consider it never relies on the usual horror tropes. No jump-scares, sudden cats, teenagers behaving stupidly, indestructible killers or supernatural entities. Hell, a majority of it even takes place in the beautiful spring sunshine. Bold, bleak and bizarre, Lucy and I ultimately enjoyed it (though a lot of spoon-fed horror fans did not).

And the movie's frankness didn't make Lucy explode or anything. In fact, she reverted to her 12-year-old self when telling her older sister, Natalie, about it, snickering like Beavis & Butthead over the plethora of pee-pees. Natalie later watched it online with her friends and they shared a lot of hearty laughs over that same sex scene. Ultimately, I think my kids are less uptight about that stuff than I am, at least around people their own age.

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