Session 9 (Blu-ray Review)

Session 9

We review the still terrifying 2001 chiller Session 9 on Blu-ray.

“Do it, Gordon…”

There’s a point, in the new documentary on the back-end of Scream Factory’s new Session 9 Blu-ray release, where co-star/co-writer Stephen Gevedon says, “People always put the movie on ‘Top 10 Scariest Movies You’ve Never Seen’ lists. I wish it would just end up on the ‘Top 10 Scariest Movies Ever’ list, period.”

And that’s the thing with Session 9. Even though it was praised upon release in 2001 and has been long spoken about by horror fans in hushed, awe-soaked tones, the movie is still fairly obscure, a “secret handshake” horror film that hides quietly in wait for its audience, much like the Danvers State Mental Hospital itself waits for its victims.

And like the toxic, mind-twisting effects of that real-life, totally oppressive structure in which the film’s action takes place, the damage Session 9 leaves on its audience is permanent.

I saw the film first at home on VHS in 2002 and was so scared that I had to turn it off and wait ’till morning to finish it. That’s not hyperbole. That’s fact. And for over a decade, whenever someone asks me what the scariest movie I’ve ever seen is, I cite Session 9, without hesitation. Watching it again last night after many years, my opinion has not changed.


Brad Anderson’s chilling psychodrama sees the crew of the Hazmat Elimination Co., under the guidance of their boss Gordon (Peter Mullan), descend upon the long-dormant, monolithic Danvers hospital to do the unenviable job of carving out the poisonous asbestos. Obviously under pressure from the financial and psychological pressures of his new wife and baby, the stressed-out Gordon promises he and his men can clean the building in a week, something his team (which include a pre-CSI:Miami David Caruso and American Psycho‘s Josh Lucas) balks at.

Eventually they relent and the team start their task. But when the hospital’s tortured history is slowly revealed, its influence begins to seep from the walls like the asbestos, lodging in their skin and their psyches. As morale unravels so does Gordon’s already fragile state of mind. None of it ends well and all of it is terrifying.

Anderson truly is a master of the genre, an architect of atmosphere whose long takes, slow zooms and obsession with the building’s natural decay create an aura of unease from frame one. He’s aided by a much-imitated, atonal score by the band Climax Golden Twins, a series of backwards loops, noise and minimalist piano strikes that makes you feel as though something is wrong at all times.

And the last 15 minutes? Almost unbearably tense. Session 9 is truly a slow burning, sad and unforgettable nightmare caught on film, an ideal remedy for the endless homogenized, watered-down “jump scare” horror junk that belches out around us, seemingly daily.


Scream Factory port over a few features from previous Session 9 releases, including an Anderson commentary, some interesting but perfunctory deleted scenes and a vintage on-set making-of spot (which is fantastic and gives a real look at just how intense Caruso was at this point). The new stuff they’ve commissioned is fantastic. First, there’s “Return to Danvers” in which virtually all the notable cast speak on the movie and its legacy. Well, Caruso doesn’t come back. I have this feeling he’s, um, not an easy cat to navigate…

The other great new supplement is Sean Clark’s Session 9-centric episode of “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds” in which, as usual, Clark returns to the scene of the shoot. In this case, the Danvers has become a high-end condo and Clark cannot venture in. Luckily he trots out absolutely stunning footage he and his buddies shot in the building just after the movie was released, raiding the diseased, haunted halls and comparing scenes to the things they see. It’s a marvelous segment.

The special features certainly help one gain a further appreciation of the film, but even if Scream Factory gave us the shot-on-video movie bare bones, it would be fine. Because perhaps Session 9 SHOULD stand alone, draped in mystery and menace.


And waiting…



Marvel and DC