Overfamiliarity with a Genre
I have watched a lot of movies over the years; more so than the average viewer. Being a fan I seek out new and obscure content on a daily basis. A day seldom goes by without me watching a movie or at the least a TV show. As I am not a causal viewer, a movie gets my undivided attention. I focus on dialogue, composition, editing and also try to take in the subtle background detail that can often yield some extra level of enjoyment. As a result of my passion, I can often remember minute detail and recollect specifics, long after viewing. I guess this is the nature of fandom. If you like something, you retain it.
I have a particular fondness for horror films and enjoy the universal monster movies from the thirties, through to the halcyon days of Hammer in the fifties and sixties. I was raised on the slasher genre of the eighties and since then have branched out into euro-horror and many other sub genres. I can remember when I saw such classics as Dawn of the Dead, Suspiria and Night of the Demon for the first time and how they made me feel. I'm sure many other horror fans will look back upon their own rite of passage with similar affection.
Sadly there is a downside to having such a veracious appetite for new content. The more one watches horror movies (or any other genre), the more familiar you become with the actual mechanics of scaring the audience. The accumulative knowledge one builds up overtime ends up negating any chance of being taken by surprise or “frightened”. I became acutely aware of this recently when The Conjuring was released. It is a very well-crafted shocker with a great atmosphere that builds at a measured pace. The shocks, jolts and jumps are well conceived and effective, yet they failed to elicit anything more from me other than my admiration for their execution.
I have simply seen too many horror movies and as a result, my brain is constantly analysing them as I view them; deconstructing them on the fly. The moment the protagonist moves towards the open window with the curtains billowing, I know that they’ll subsequently be an epic act of misdirection as a cat or bird causes the audience to jump. Then as the characters turns away from the false alarm, I await for them to walk straight into the arms of the psychopath who was behind them all along. The horror industry is founded upon variations on a theme and I am aware of most of the tropes and memes it draws upon.
As a result I will never be able to experience a horror movie in the same way I did twenty or thirty years ago. Ignorance can indeed be bliss. That’s not to say that I can no longer enjoy the genre I love so much but that I’ve definitely fallen victim to overfamiliarity. As a gamer I have heard a similar lament from other players that they cannot go back and experience certain key games as they did originally. In fact it seems to be a universal refrain among fans that they can’t forget or erase certain experiences so they have the pleasure of reliving them again. With regard to horror films, the nearest we can get to reliving a particular movie experience is to watch them with someone who is new to them. This way we can vicariously enjoy their reactions as the jump and scream, with a degree of avuncular self-satisfaction and even a little envy.