Retro Review: The Unquiet Dead Haunt SESSION 9

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[All images courtesy Shout! Factory]

Session 9 Blu Ray Case. Image courtesy Shout! Factory

Session 9
Written by Brad Anderson and Steven Gevedon
Directed by Brad Anderson
Copyright 2001

“Where do you live Simon?

“I live in the weak and the wounded, Doc.”

Science fiction author Theodore Sturgeon once postulated (as recently discussed on SciFi4Me’s H2O podcast), that “90% of everything is crap.” Director Ridley Scott recently added his own depressing corollary, nose-diving that percentage of good to crap movies to a  measley 3% good to 97% stupid.

While I wouldn’t put the percentage of stupid horror movies at Scott’s 97%, I have to admit that I view the genre through a very understanding lens. As a fan, I’ll even add a variation on Sturgeon’s Law and Scott’s addendum. I can usually find something in a horror movie that makes me not regret that hour and a half of my life I’ll never get back, even if the movie whole is pretty unappetizing.

Maybe one good scene, an interesting idea, or a new actor getting their start as Dumb Teenager #2 will make the viewing worth the investment of time and/or money. In the world of horror movies, as with any genres, you can safely say that most aren’t great, some are truly terrible, a (very) few shine.

Today’s Retro Review is one of those rarities. Session 9 is a horror gem, darkly sparkling and enduring. It is the rare kind of movie that you wish you could go back in time and re-experience that first viewing. Fifteen years after it disappeared from theatres and became a cult favorite, this haunted house classic is finally on Blu-ray, thanks to Scream Factory.

But why should anyone besides horror diehards care, much less spend their money for a copy of a decades old movie?

Let’s start with the story and setting.

The endless, unquiet corridors of Danvers State Insane Asylum.
The endless, empty (?) corridors of Danvers State Insane Asylum.

The Ghosts of Danvers

Session 9 begins with a deal. Gordon Fleming (Peter Mullan) owns a small hazardous materials removal company and swears to a skeptical Bill (Peter Guilfoyle) that his company will remove every speck of asbestos from the abandoned Danvers State Asylum buildings in one week.

The crew Gordon assembles to accomplish this Herculean task doesn’t inspire confidence either. Law school dropout Mike (co-writer Steven Gevedon), unlucky in love pothead Phil (David Caruso) and the brash and boastful Hank (Josh Lucas) are joined by Gordon’s nephew Jeff.

Director and co-writer Brad Anderson contrasts human smallness (literal and figurative) with the massive, seemingly eternal presence of Danvers from the start, contrasting Gordon’s empty boast to win a desperately needed job beneath the massive asylum façade.

The crew begins their work amid peeling paint, ruined halls — and their own demons. Or perhaps something — or someone — who’s been waiting for them to arrive?

As a viewer, I know things are not going to end well. But Session 9 takes the bare bones of a B-movie horror story — desperate characters in a dangerous setting, set upon by unseen forces — and puts them together masterfully. Session 9 builds to a quietly horrific ending that shocks, makes sense, and worms its way into your mind.

Too few days and too few men on his asbestos removal crew will soon be the last of Gordon Fleming's (Peter Mullan) problems.
Too few days and too few men on his asbestos removal crew will soon be the last of Gordon Fleming’s (Peter Mullan) problems.

Spoiler Alert — Session 9 also uses my FAVORITE mystery/horror trope of all time. But for your viewing enjoyment, please don’t follow the link until after you watch Session 9 for the first time.

Blu-ray Features

The Session 9 Blu-ray carries over several features from the original DVD release, most notably an entertaining commentary from director Brad Anderson and actor/co-writer Stephen Gevedon. An interesting new feature for this Blu-ray is “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds”. This feature, from the magazine HorrorHound, visits actual locations from classic horror films; I can’t wait to see their tour of Danvers and other Session 9 locations.

In the end, if you like horror movies set in abandoned mental institutions, see Session 9.

If you like masterfully made movies in any genre, check out Session 9.

As for me, I can’t wait to trade in my DVD copy for a shiny new Blu-ray.

For more information on the movie, visit Shout! Factory’s website.

Check out more of our horror news and reviews in Horror4Me, as well as fab Retro Reviews of more genre classics.

 

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