Of all the holidays celebrated worldwide, no single day is loved by the Substream staff more than Halloween. With October’s arrival, the time has finally come to begin rolling out a slew of special features we have prepared in celebration of our favorite day.
31 Days Of Halloween is a recurring column that will run throughout the month of October. The goal of this series is to supply every Substream reader with a daily horror (or Halloween-themed) movie recommendation that is guaranteed to amplify your All Hallows’ Eve festivities. We’ll be watching every film the day it’s featured, and we hope you will follow along at home. Reader, beware, you’re in for a… spooky good time!
Day 10: Session 9 (2001)
When I was younger, I became obsessed with abandoned buildings. (I still am, really). The first one to catch my eye, the architectural beauty that sparked this lifelong interest, was none other than Danvers Insane Asylum in Danvers, MA. One of the many Kirkbride buildings, designed in a way that was meant to keep patients safe, secure, and well taken care of, Danvers soon became just like the rest of the asylums of the time—a well-intentioned snake pit that spawned horrifying practices that could be described as abusive as best and downright torture at worst.
The deinstitutionalization process began in the 60s, and by the mid-80s most of the wings had been shut down, with all patients moved out by 1989. There it sat, perfectly preserved inside and out, but slowly rotting away on the inside. Still, urban explorers who dared wander in would find the asylum similar to its operating state. Old equipment, lobotomy setups (the pre-frontal lobotomy was perfected at Danvers), family photos and magazine clippings still stuck to the walls of patient’s rooms, even patient files still remained within the walls of the asylum.
This is where Session 9 director/writer Brad Anderson really shines. He takes an already amazing story that’s just waiting to be told and transforms it into one of the creepiest, historically compelling movies I’ve ever seen. It’s that combination of educating you on the history of a very real, very mysterious, very relevant former asylum, and portraying a fictional story that leaves you glued to the screen that makes Session 9 praiseworthy.
Filmed on location and released in 2001, the film follows contractors Gordon, Phil, Mike, Hank, and Jeff, as they’re hired to eliminate asbestos so the city can turn the building into town offices. Each character has their own set of troubles, the two most prevalent being that Gordon has a new baby and his marriage is falling apart, while Hank stole Phil’s girlfriend and likes to remind him every chance he gets. So yeah, there’s a bit of tension. Oh, and they’ve agreed to do this 2-3 week job in a week’s time, so there’s added pressure there. It’s kind of the perfect storm for a major breakdown.
Luckily, it doesn’t take long for things to get spooky.
While poking around in the basement, one of the contractors uncovers a former patient’s therapy session audio tapes and becomes near obsessed with listening to them. The patient, Mary Hobbes, has multiple personalities and is at Danvers for having killed her entire family at age 14. The thing is, she doesn’t remember. Her way of coping is through these personalities, and slowly we’re introduced to each one: The Princess (representing innocence); Billy (representing protection); and eventually Simon, who delivers the best closing line of the movie (but I won’t spoil it for you).
I have to tell you, this right here is the clincher for me. Hearing Mary walk her doctor through the details of this horrific night, switching with ease between personalities, complete with transformative changes in her voice, is one of the eeriest parts of this film, and it parallels perfectly with the rising tensions between the crew.
Speaking of the crew, things aren’t going all that well upstairs either. Tensions between Hank and Phil are rising at an alarming rate, and before long Hank goes missing, and Phil is looking pretty guilty. To be honest, Hank is kind of a loser so it’s not a huge loss—until they find him wandering the building with an ice pick through his eye.
This is where things really start to pick up. Slowly but surely we begin to see everyone’s lives unravel, and before long we’re racing towards an ending that is as shocking as it is disturbing. To be honest, this is a film that’s hard to describe in the detail it deserves, because while there’s not a lot of shocking plot twists and turns, it’s the use of the tools it does have—an abandoned insane asylum, a bunch of creepy therapy tapes, a lobotomized crew member—that it uses so incredibly well.
Session 9 is one of those rare films that doesn’t focus on gore or cheap scare-tactics to engage the viewer and keep them on the edge of their seat. Instead, it uses psychological tactics to get inside your head and seriously CREEP YOU OUT. It really gets in your psyche and under your skin, and refuses to leave. I don’t know about you, but that’s my kind of Halloween movie.