Abandoned insane asylums are a favorite of horror films. The long winding hallways and vast, multiple empty rooms leave you with a sense of dread with each turn of the corner. You can easily get overwhelmed with the building and its vast history of death and suffering as its hallways seem to span for miles with no end in sight. The reason why so many horror or psychological thrillers take place in old insane asylums is because they were once used as a dumping ground for relatives that were too hard to care for or ones you simply didn’t wish to care for. Mental health at the beginning of the 19th and 20th century was still vastly unknown and asylums, also known as work houses, state homes and many other innocent sounding names, were filled with people both mentally ill and perfectly healthy. Husbands whose wives were finding independence and refused to listen to them were often admitted to the asylum under the guise of hysteria. Down syndrome, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, all of these mental conditions were still being learned by medical staff and were called by vastly different things. Innocent things could get you put into an asylum like reading too much, then others like widowship and loss of a child could also get you thrown in as well. Many of these asylums were overcrowded and vastly understaffed so death and mistreatment were rampant. Many of the buildings used as asylums were in desperate need of repair but lacked funds from multiple sources. Come winter, the patients would suffer and many of them died from freezing to death. Other patients died from the experimental surgeries and treatments. Before the development of antibiotics used to help with tuberculosis, the doctors would go in and perform a procedure called the pneumothorax technique which was the procedure of collapsing one lung in hopes that it would heal. With so much suffering and death it’s no wonder horror movie directors flock to old asylums.
Session 9 is one of those movies that draws on a place’s dark past. Session 9 takes place at Danvers State Hospital several years before it was demolished. The movie stars David Caruso (in one of his first horror movie appearances), Peter Mullan, Stephen Gevedon, Josh Lucas, and Brendon Sexton III. Session 9 is one of those movies that if you watch it once it sticks with you, instead of going for the overdone hack ‘n’ slash type of horror we mostly see filmed in old asylums. It’s pure psychological horror that uses its environment well. The interesting thing to note of this film is they didn’t have to doctor up the part of the hospital they were filming in. Many of the various devices used were already there in the hospital. They just moved it from one part of the hospital to another. The film revolves around a small asbestos cleanup crew hired to get Danvers ready for construction. The boss of the group, Gordon, makes a big bid to the owner that they can get the place cleaned up in fifteen days. Through dialogue we discover that Gordon is under tremendous stress from being in a financial bind, possibly having to sell his company and being a new father. The rest of the crew is Mike, a law school drop out with a large knowledge of the asylum, Hank and Phil both who have issues with each other stemming from a girlfriend, and Jeff, Gordon’s nephew who suffers from nyctophobia.
They start their work as normal, setting up and showing the new guy how to work the equipment when the power shuts off from the generator. Mike, after discovering that Jeff has nyctophobia, goes to fix the generator. That’s when he finds the tapes of Mary Hobbes’s hypnotherapy sessions and starts to find out what happened during an incident on Christmas so many years before.
The movie starts to take a dark turn at this point, we see how much of a mental strain Gordon is under and it doesn’t take long for Gordon’s mind to unravel. The asylum and the group start turning dark, with paranoia setting in for Gordon. He begins to hear a deep voice telling him to ‘do it.’ What this is we are left wondering until much later. The darkness of the asylum, the same darkness that lurks around the corners just outside out vision, is slowly taking over Gordon.
I love how subtle it becomes with how the mood has shifted and we only start to see it a few minutes later. This movie is one of those movies that, as said before, stays with you. I watched this movie once, just once, and afterwards was left with a feeling of sickening feeling of dread. I was at first confused about the ending and was left wondering about it for a few days until I went back to it and watched it a few more times. I had so many feelings about what actually happened but they all eventually ended in dark theories of the movie, ones I won’t share so I don’t spoil the movie. Many movies based in old abandoned asylums don’t use the building to their full potential. They lighten some of the dark hallways and try to make the building more horrific than what is needed. Many times, these buildings don’t need it. Their hallways already have their own level of terror just by themselves. That was one thing about Session 9 that I absolutely loved was they didn’t doctor anything, they may have brought furniture in from other parts of Danvers but even with that they were using Danvers and nothing else.
With Halloween right around the corner and people scrambling to find a good horror movie to curl up with, this is a film that breaks the traditional chains of asylum horror. It’s a film that you go in expecting it to be like others but in the end are left feeling that familiar sense of dread set in. Session 9 is unlike other horror movies because it shows you a terrible side of an innocent individual that was amplified by very unknown forces until it was too late.