October 9th -- Haunted Structures

Session 9 (2002)
Directed by Brad Anderson

There’s a surprisingly small number of films that use haunted mansions, hospitals, and other gothic-shaped structures nowadays. Why filmmakers don’t tap into these naturally frightening structures is beyond me; one recent flick that does is Session 9, a psycho-paranormal thriller from director Brad Anderson. He focuses on this incredible bat-shaped hospital that requires an asbestos-sweep crew for cleansing, which is heavily ironic considering the fact that much more needs to be purged from this horrible place than that. Of course, as we twist and wind around every corner of this structure, images of peeling paint and dilapidated session chambers rely on their own natural properties to evoke quite a chilling atmosphere.

Led by eerie character actor David Caruso, Session 9 slyly introduces the audience to a host of blue-collar cleaners driven by testosterone, money, and for-the-moment satisfaction. Their personalities are surprisingly distinct, creating a strange dynamic that neither makes them out to be appealing or villainous. Much like average humans, there’s bits and pieces from both sides of the spectrum in these guys hired to flush this hotbed of horrible memories of its filth. Once one of them disappears in the corridors of the asylum, it becomes a downward spiral of bizarre whodunit mindplay. When its chaos begins to intertwine with the sound of eerie tapes that illustrate one of the patient’s horrific schizophrenia, Session 9 becomes a balancing act between wondering whether it’s the haunted structure’s fault for swallowing up one of the cleaners or whether it’s something orchestrated by these regular guys – or a combination of both.

The Haunting (1963)
Directed by Robert Wise

Isn’t it great how crappy remakes can further accentuate classics, especially in the horror genre? There are few gaps in quality as far wide as the difference between the ’99 computer-generated eyesore and the classic 1963 version of The Haunting -- one sports a singular popcorn element that makes it digestible, while the other provides so many accuracies revolving around the genre that it’s hard to pick just one. Setup is simple: four people, one of which is a professor, spend a prolonged period of time in the dreaded Hill House, a labyrinthine mansion that seems engineered for the sheer purpose of losing people in its echoic corridors. Considering the lineage of the owner, that might not be too far from the truth.

Few black-and-white horror films display the kind of architecturally-gripping cinematography that The Haunting displays, which is really saying something. Winding around the corners of this place behind Eleanor, a batty ball of nerves with a troubling past, helps to craft the infinite-seeming expanses of the mansion. A lot of the maddening atmosphere is created by Eleanor’s internal dialogue, a stream of consciousness from our perspective character’s brain that rattles the cage quite a bit in between the scenes where slight paranormal activity arises. But it’s when all’s still, immobile, and rife for hearing every ounce of sound surrounding the room that Robert Wise’s paranormal psyche-out ramps up. The scares are spread out, thumping and spiking a lot like a heart beat; once again, possibly more accurate than not considering the house itself might just be alive.


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