My Least Favorite Meme (and the “Best Movies” Listicle that will Hopefully get You to Read this Article)
Did you know that Facebook has a “I don’t want to see this” button?
It’s true. Using it blocks a specific post from your timeline, but doesn’t unfollow or silence the person who shared it. After the third of my friends posted the meme you see to your right, I started clicking that button. Liberally.
I no longer wanted to look at this iceberg and its lazy, sweeping generalization about my two favorite mediums.
I’m not above unfollowing people—there’s only so many cutesy ecards and “Share this if you remember…” posts a man can take—but I didn’t want to unfollow the people posting the iceberg. For the most part they were friends, intelligent people who I enjoyed.
So why do I dislike this iceberg so much? Well, because it perpetuates bad thinking. It’s condescending to both film and book fans.
For book people, I imagine, sharing this meme gets them a nice little dopamine drip of “look at what a smarty pants I am” for minimal effort. Heck, even for people who like movies but are one of the “the book is always better” crowd, sharing this image is evidence that they aren’t half as good at “reading” films as they are traditionally literate.
And I kinda get the sentiment behind the iceberg. And I’m not arguing that it’s always wrong. I taught high school English, I’m a big proponent of getting kids (well, everyone) to read more. But I’m also a big advocate of getting kids (well, everyone) to be savvy consumers of all media, and the iceberg analogy devalues one art form in order to praise another. I’m not cool with that.
And before you say: “I think you’re reading too much into the iceberg, man. It’s just a meme.” That’s exactly the point, mofo! The iceberg itself is asking us to pursue depth in our choice of media, and by that criteria, as media: the iceberg is bullshit. You’ve got to think about the things you like and be able to articulate why you like them! Also, in analysis, there is no “reading too much into it” as long as we work from the text.
So why am I telling/yelling you this? Why is this post even on the Cemetary Dance website? Is this going to be a regular column where this jagoff I never heard of comes to a website celebrating literature and talks up movies?
To answer your last question first: yes. Hopefully. If I don’t get fired for veering off topic in my very first post (thanks for having me, guys!). And as for the “jagoff I never heard of” part: it’s cool, I’m Adam. Nice to meet you.
And I’m telling you my opinion on the iceberg—and doing it on the Cemetary Dance website—because this postulated divide between film fandom and fiction fandom is even more intense within the horror crowd.*
All you need to do to see what I’m talking about is compare fan events. Look at something like HorrorHound Weekend and the World Horror Convention side by side.
HorrorHound has a slight book presence (Samhain Publishing is a sponsor and has a table, and they do good business), but for the most part, you could set one of the titans of the written word behind a guest table and Norman Reedus’s line would still be twenty times as long. People aren’t there for books. And I’m not saying these attendees don’t read (or even passing judgment that that would be a bad thing). A lot of them do, this just isn’t where they go to find their next book.
The insularity of literary folks is just as pronounced at WHC, where just last month I ran into an indie filmmaker I liked a lot who was walking around, nobody knowing who he was.
And I get it: people are just into different things. There isn’t enough time in everyone’s day to go around being a fan/supporter of everything. You pick a pastime, a medium you like and you stick with it.
But I’m here to tell you (“there’s something else”): you’re missing out. And that’s what this column, which I’m hoping runs for many months, years maybe (thanks for having me guys, for real), will be about.
So if you shared the iceberg, back when it was making the social media rounds. Or if your first reaction upon seeing the iceberg was an indignant: “What is this guy talking about? I agree with that iceberg!” Then let me tell you that I politely disagree.
As texts, films can be just as nuanced, impactful and—yes—scary as the best novels and short stories the genre has to offer. And, I would go further and say: people who are fans and conscientious consumers of both mediums get more out of their fandom.
Throughout this series I hope to dive into films I love with a critical eye (and the eye of a reader and writer of horror fiction). I say “films I love” because I don’t want this to be a reviews column, I don’t want to waste my one post a month discussing something I don’t recommend. Or at least I don’t want to talk about an uninteresting film, there’s too much good (and deep) stuff out there for that.
Yes. Plenty of horror films are garbage. Plenty of regular-ass films are garbage. Plenty of new movies are garbage. Plenty of old movies are garbage (this is a distinction that must be made, because I’ve had the argument posed to me that modern horror is the problem, and I disagree, but we’ll get to that).
But, and I know this may shock you, but plenty of books are garbage too.
As many are quick to point out when decrying the state of horror cinema, it is now easier than ever to make a film. They claim there’s been a spike in amateurism flooding the market.
But something about that last statement probably rings familiar to you, dear reader, if you’re at all savvy to what’s going on in publishing. Technology has also made it easier to write and distribute a book. And don’t pretend like you don’t have a stack of your Uncle Joe’s self-published Tom Clancy pastiches around.
But this technological democratization isn’t a bad thing! We’re getting films and lit from groups who’ve never before had a voice in either field. Sure we have to sift through a lot of shot-on-an-iphone slasher flicks and Createspace dinosaur porn to get it, but that’s a small price to pay, I would argue.
And one more thing, while I’m presenting a mission statement: I’ll probably focus on contemporary movies, at least at first. I want to try and fight the misconception that cinematic horror is in some kind of disrepair. It’s not, there’s good stuff coming out (and lost gems being re-issued) all the time.
In fact, as I promised in the headline, here’s a “starter set.” These are five movies from the past five years that have iceberg depth for miles and miles. This isn’t a “best horror movies of 2010-2015” list, it’s just movies I like. Most of them are movies I’ve already thought/wrote about at length. I’d love to hear some of your favorites from the last half-decade.
Honeymoon (2014): Maybe it was timing that kept Honeymoon from getting the notoriety I feel it deserves. It was released around the same time as Starry Eyes and The Babadook, with early It Follows buzz thrown in to dampen its chances of getting noticed. All three of those are wonderful films that I would put on this list. But they’re so recent and already garnered so much attention. Or maybe people just don’t like Honeymoon as much as I do. Fair enough, but if you want to talk thematic depth, Mr. Iceberg: yeesh, this movie’s got it. Fear of commitment? Fear of intimacy? Body horror? Leigh Janiack’s debut feature checks off a lot of phobia-boxes that don’t often get checked off together. Or at all. And it does so with a small cast (the two leads are the only actors onscreen for 95% of the movie) and minimal budget, I’m assuming.
Martha Marcy May Marlene (2011): The inclusion of Sean Durkin’s film may have a few people chiming in with the old “That’s not horror!” argument. With a metered pace, almost no bloodshed, and strong central performances, many gorehounds (I’m one of you, brothers and sisters) might label this an art film. Yeah, maybe the cult has more in common with the Source Family than they do with the satanic cult in Race with the Devil, but they’re plenty dread-inducing when they want to be. Movies about dealing with recovering from trauma and societal disconnect are rarely this good and almost never in our genre.
Dream Home (2010): Ho-Cheung Pang’s Dream Home is a film that’s grown on me since my initial viewing. It has pacing issues, but some of the images are so brutal, the central conceit so good, that it’s lingered in my mind for half a decade now. The central conceit: that Hong Kong’s real estate market is cut throat enough that our protagonist (?) has to cut actual throats to get the apartment she wants. Not didactic in the sense that it’s boring, but thematically dense and culturally relevant enough that it gives viewers (even for those who know very little about Hong Kong’s recent history, there’s a pre-credits scroll that sets the scene) a window into a new society. A culture that starts out seemingly alien, at least to my unworldly eyes, and then, sadly, grows more relatable as the blood is spilt. You’ll never look at Space Bags the same way again.
Sightseers (2012): Ben Wheatley (along with his stable of constant collaborators) is one of my favorite living filmmakers, if not the absolute top of the pile. Wheatley’s third theatrical feature, Sightseers is a comedy so dark and bloody, it tips over into horror-comedy without any attempt at real scares, it enters genre through dint of (very funny) brutality alone. And it manages to be funny while dealing with some very heavy-sounding material: new relationships, loneliness, and (armed) class warfare.
I was going to lead off this list with Wheatley’s Kill List (2011) but I don’t want to do a capsule review of that movie. I’ll leave it for some rainy day long-form explication. It’s a little intimidating because it’s been on my “I’ll write about this later” shelf for four years. I feel like I could write a freaking book about Kill List, but maybe I’m only capable of saying how much I love it.
You’re Next (2011): Adam Wingard and Simon Barrett’s film is the only movie on this list to get a wide release, stateside at least, and I’m betting a lot of you are familiar with it. But I’m including it here because, for me, You’re Next is a better genre deconstruction than the much-lauded Cabin in the Woods. I mean no disrespect to Cabin, which is a film I enjoy immensely. But I think what You’re Next ends up doing is funnier and smarter and it does its thing without ever technically “breaking” the sub-genre it’s exploring (the slasher).
What I love about this movie is that I first saw it at a free promotional screening (the kind of things radio stations give out passes to), and that illustrated for me how You’re Next is able to play to two distinct crowds simultaneously. You don’t have to be a horror fan to fully enjoy the film at its most basic level. There are no distracting “inside baseball” references to alienate the section of the audience that doesn’t subscribe to Fangoria.
And yet, I attended this screening with a handful of horror writers and journalists. We all came in with the film’s buzz ringing in our ears (it was on the shelf for awhile, after its initial festival run) and we were seeing a different movie from all the normals around us, I guarantee. There’s the unlikely (and explosive) final girl, the gentle subversion of home-invasion tropes (from Straw Dogs to The Strangers), and a twist (that many seem to dislike) that involves an embracing of the slasher’s roots in the whodunit format. For me, this is a movie as a versatile, movable text. If you look at it one way, it’s a fun slasher movie, but if you squint and stand off to the side it becomes a movie about movies. That two of the first victims are played by a real-life horror movie directors (one of them, clearly, a non-actor), can’t be coincidence, can it?
Enough rambling. See you next month!
*From what I’ve seen, personally. I don’t want to be like the iceberg and make sweeping generalizations without qualifying that they are, indeed, generalizations.
Adam Cesare is a New Yorker who lives in Philadelphia. He studied English and film at Boston University. His books include Mercy House, Video Night, The Summer Job, and Tribesmen. He has an oft-neglected website and tweets as @Adam_Cesare.