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Last update: 16|05|05

Session 9

When Brad Anderson and Stephen Gevedon visited the Danvers State Asylum (in what sounds like an unofficial urban exploration jaunt) they found more than a decaying old hospital – they found the inspiration for a story. And so Session 9 was born, with Anderson and Gevedon feeding off the haunted buildings, and concocting a tale of madness, possession, deceit and horror.

The story revolves around a team of asbestos removal contractors, working against the clock to clear the buildings in a week. Pressured boss Gordon (Peter Mullan) has promised the impossible, bidding to complete in a week, overruling his devious colleague Phil (Davis Caruso). With college drop out Mike (Stephen Gevedon), gambler Hank (Josh Lucas) and Gordon’s wet-behind-the-ears nephew Jeff (the bravely mulleted Brendan Sexton III), the team seem unlikely to complete the task from the offset.

In fact, they seem unlikely to start anything but a fight. Gordon is overstressed, shoring up a failing business and trying to raise a new baby; Hank has stolen Phil’s girlfriend; Mike is more interested a box of reel to reel tapes he discovers in an office, and Jeff is unable to focus on the job at hand (whilst also being scared of the dark – a real help when removing asbestos from steam tunnels.)

Gordon becomes distracted (and possessed) by a malevolent force as soon as he enters the hospital and Mike becomes obsessed with the tapes; an interrogation of a multiple personality patient called Mary Hobbes, who killed her family one Christmas Eve. It is these nine ‘Session’ tapes that give the film its name, and draw it to its bloody climax.

As a horror, the film has few and far moments, with the main suspense being carried by the warring characters themselves. With the script being effectively rewritten during the editing, subplot being culled and the movie’s conclusion being substantially changed, it’s no wonder that the final scenes are disappointing and unsatisfying.

But, for the urban explorer, or asylum fan, this film delivers. The main Kirkbride building is shown off in full glory, from the subterranean tunnel networks, through to the cells, hydrotherapy, main hall and finally the roof itself. Those who follow the US websites which cover this building will recognise many of the exterior and interior views.

The DVD is a must. The original alternate ending and deleted scenes allow the original film to be pieced together – a mite more satisfying but a little more confusing. “The Haunted Place” featurette finds crew, cast and enthusiasts talking about the hospital and buildings itself. Mullan is particularly open, pushing his opinions in his Glaswegian drawl, and relating two incidents during filming that he found disturbing. The no-nonsense Caruso also reported seeing something pass by his window – not mentioned on the DVD, but accounts for his assertions that the location left a mark on him.

Session 9 falls short of its intents, neither reaching the psychological mind games of The Haunting (the 1963 version), the descent into madness of The Shining nor the downright terror of The Blair Witch Project. But despite the holes in the script, and the disappointing conclusion, the actors deliver solidly (Mullan and Caruso in particular), and the hospital is shot magnificently in its derelict glory.

Despite its faults, it’s definitely one to seek out.

The Asylum

Not to be confused with anything starring Peter Cushing, our The Asylum was a 2000 budget film starring Ingrid Pitt, her daughter Steffanie Pitt, Patrick Mower and Robin Askwith. Yes, that Robin Askwith. Him of all those 1970s soft core films.

If the casting is not enough to strike terror, then the plot surely is. Suffering from nightmares in which she throws herself from a water tower, Jenny (Steffanie Pitt) quizzes her father Dr Adams (Patrick Mower) about her childhood, particularly when they lived at the lunatic asylum. As daddy was Victorian Dad incarnate, Jenny had no option but to return to the creepy old asylum to discover its secrets, along with William (Nick Waring), geek and potential suitor for young Jenny until he’s horribly butchered.

I apologise for giving a little of the plot away, but as soon as William appears, you simply want him dead. No arguments.

Other former patients are attracted to the old asylum, along with a mercifully quick subplot involving some estate agents, and then the killing starts.

Not that any urban explorer would care about that. Views of the asylum are fleetingly quick, and most of the sets are plunged in darkness, so it’s near on impossible to determine where this film was set. Considering the filmmakers had the entire asylum at their disposal, they managed to avoid shooting practically any of it.

In exactly the opposite to the vastly superior Session 9, our host asylum, Netherne, is hardly featured at all. Blink and you miss it shots of Admin, the curved corridors, the Chapel and the Main Hall will only annoy seasoned asylum watchers. Unintentional laughs are provided when the crusty old caretaker tends to the ‘boilers’ which turn out to be a small woodburner in the subway system of the asylum.

It’s all very silly, but we’re not watching it for the plot. We’re watching it for the asylum. Which you hardly see any of.

And Robin Askwiths' eyes don’t turn yellow as seen on the front cover. And he keeps his trousers on. Be thankful for small mercies.