Welcome to a new series where, every week, PopHorror picks a horror movie and tries to find a risky or unexpected double feature. We write up our reasons then take it to social media. Let’s find out if our pick is a great night at the theater or a disappointing double bill! Will It Work? This week, we’re looking for a soulmate for Ari Aster’s Midsommar (read our review here).
The First Film – Midsommar
Ari Aster’s sweeping, idyllic look at grief and relationships took horror audiences by storm earlier this month. With its traumatic subject matter, beautiful cinematography, and knockout performances, Midsommar has more shared DNA with arthouse films than typical genre fare, but horror, it undeniably is. Following a couple and their friends as they travel to a Swedish pagan celebration, the film has set the standard for gripping, dread-inducing cinema.
Picking a perfect double feature for it, however, proves an unexpected challenge. Midsommar bows its May Queen crown to enough predecessors that the opportunities for a double bill are endless. Do we lean on its rich tradition of folk horror and pick a Wicker Man (1973 – read our retro review here) or The Ritual (2018 – read our review here)? Do we explore women and their journey to own their own violence and choose Hostel 2 (2005 – read our retro review here) or Carrie (1976 – read our retro review here)? There’s enough magic in Midsommar to summon enough thematic travelers to its little Swedish commune to find an answer anywhere.
Which brings us to the question: Where do we find a strange bedfellow that still has chemistry?
Answer: Deep in the Heart of Dixie
The Second Film – Two Thousand Maniacs
With all of Midsommar’s long, aerated sadness and painfully paced reality, audiences need a double feature’s second half to act as a palate cleanser. So let’s watch the funhouse mirror with the same plot. Let’s see some hapless wanderers come apart in the teeth of a culture they don’t understand. Let’s watch Herschell Gordon Lewis’ redneck-sploitation classic, Two Thousand Maniacs! (read our retro review here)
Six Yankee tourists take a detour from their road trip into an anachronistic Southern town. Soon, they learn the town is about to celebrate a festival called the Blood Centennial. This festival involves torturing and killing our heroes for the duration of this corn-syrup soaked, mean-spirited gorefest. Unleashed on the world in 1964, Two Thousand Maniacs! is a staggering display of dated gore effects and snickering, twanging cruelty.
Lewis is every bit the anti-Aster, always more interested in making a buck than any artistry. The dance between Midsommar and Two Thousand Maniacs! proves the magic of the horror genre, where two different craftsmen with two different agendas can create, essentially, the same story. A group of people winds up at a festival of a culture they don’t understand and pays the penalty.
More interestingly, both films traffic in a unique flavor of horror: dread. We know what’s going to happen to our protagonists almost immediately after the opening credits, and the rest of the film becomes a series of panicked questions. We’re left to wonder when, how, and what will be left of them.
Lastly, both films dabble in strange magic and tradition. Midsommar’s pagan rituals and hallucinogenic drug sequences create more ambiguity than Two Thousand Maniacs!’s literal ghosts and Brigadoon-esque disappearing town. Interestingly, one of Midsommar’s underpinning themes addresses the disturbing trend of white supremacy and racial purity growing in Sweden, the consequences of which Aster teases with the community’s fetishization of its disfigured, product-of-incest prophet. Two Thousand Maniacs! attacks the subject matter of American racism more explicitly, asserting that the vengeful ghosts of Confederate values still have a bloody, real impact on the unwary.
After watching the crushing perfection of Ari Aster’s Swedish cinematic effort, you need the frantic empty calories of Herschell Gordon Lewis to achieve equilibrium. The two films smash, stab, and burn their way through magic, racism, and regressive group-think with their respective skill-sets and make for an undeniably entertaining night at the theater.
So, what do you think: Midsommar and Two Thousand Maniacs… will it work?