31 Days of Our Favorite Horror Movies

session 9 title

by Jay

Day 1: Session 9

(2001, dir. Brad Anderson)

Session 9  is a movie that Mike and I have talked about previously, in episode 5, “Shamon!: A Soda Watershed Moment” when we attended an all night horror movie film festival. The festival was held as a part of the Alamo Drafthouse’s Rolling Roadshow, where they show movies, usually original 35mm prints, of all genres. This event happened to have been a genre-themed event, the escaped mental patients from an asylum trope, or something along those lines. This event was held on the grounds of a former state school for the mentally challenged, the Travis State School, outside of Austin, proper.

Of the handful of movies we watched, including the world premiere (at least that’s what they told us) of a movie by an up-and-coming horror director named Eli Roth, Cabin Fever, Session 9 stood out among the bunch as the creepiest. This movie had an interesting look to it, almost dream like. There was an odd “uber-reality” to it, mainly because it looked as if it had been shot on another format than 35mm – and it had. This film was shot on an early HD, 24 fps platform that really gave it an eeriness, not that it added clarity to the picture, but because it added some odd sort of distortion to the movie post-conversion to 35mm. If I’m not mistaken, a lot of early HD films were converted to 35mm to meet the needs of then-modern movie theaters. Now it seems as if every theater has converted to HD digital projection. Not this event – they projected nothing but film stock that night, and this movie gained some texture in the conversion process.

I don’t want to rehash the entirety of the plot, but one major point that is the reason for shutting down the Danvers State Hospital is the Satanic Ritual Abuse (SRA) moral panic of the 80s. When this detail was revealed during an innocuous outdoor lunch scene, immediately I wanted to see where that story was headed. The tiniest of details regarding composition helped to heighten that one specific scene, especially a close up of a spider in its web. Then there is the casual discussion of frontal lobotomies and its effects on patients. I was sold on this movie from that point forward. Honestly, I was intrigued from the opening moments of the film when a tour of the Danvers grounds is taken by the lead characters, Hank and Phil; but that reveal of the SRA panic drew me in and held me captive.

I recall the SRA panic when I was growing up, mainly because shitmonger talk show hosts like Geraldo Rivera had shows devoted to Satan worshipping. These types of shows also propelled yet-to-be-proven theories about people who were kidnapped, molested, and in some cases reportedly murdered, or sacrificed, en masse, via a highly coordinated network of occultists, most of whom were highly respected members of society like policemen, teachers, politicians, and even clergy. All of this was “revealed” through hypnosis, practices which were later debunked and the claims proven to be implanted and false memories. Still, these types of scare tactics by Geraldo and his ilk caused my mom to throw away my vinyl copy of Metallica’s Ride the Lightning and cassette copy of Guns N Roses’s Appetite for Destruction. 

This movie had me with this specific plot point, but there are so many great subtleties throughout that I love. The performances by all of the work crew, for one. David Caruso was rather stoic and creepy throughout this movie, but he made that work to the movie’s benefit. Peter Mullan – holy shit, I never knew this guy existed prior to this movie. But every time that dude is in something, I make it a point to at least check it out. Josh Lucas also impressed me as I was also unfamiliar with his work, and oddly, around the time that I had seen this movie, in late 2002, he was making a name for himself in some romantic comedy with Reese Witherspoon.  But the real star of this movie is the now defunct site of the Danvers State Hospital, which coupled with the creepiest and most unsettling sound design I’ve heard in a long time, makes this movie stick out in my mind.

Bear in mind that just because I posted this pick on the first day, and whatever I post on the last day, does not mean that any of these are in order of my preference. These are just movies that I am inspired by when I think of them. Session 9 really sticks out in my memory, not only because of the way that I was introduced to it, but because of the storytelling that unfolds onscreen, augmented by the talented cast and mesmerizing practical location of an actual, historic mental hospital. If you haven’t yet checked this movie out, I recommend giving it a shot. If you’re not into it by the 20 minute mark, then I recommend shutting it off because you’ll likely not get into it after that point.

Tomorrow’s post – George A. Romero and Stephen King’s Creepshow

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