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September 16, 2010

Altered Views: Session 9 / The Eye of Danvers: A history of Danvers State Hospital

by Hollis Jay

I happen to love all movies in which an inanimate object becomes the central character of a story. Having written and/or been in the process of re-writing such a story, I know that this is not an easy feat. But, one of my favorite movies, Session Nine pulls this effect off seamlessly and without strain. The asylum becomes the central character, and one listens for its’ dialogue in every scene and one watches it’s movements as they circle and entwine its’ victims.

Buy Session 9 on DVD

To begin with, Session Nine was filmed on location at Danvers State Hospital. Not only did this hospital perform the first pre-frontal lobotomy, but it is also rumored to be haunted. In fact, if you own Session Nine there are not only a few scenes where one has to question the shadows that appear on the walls but there is also a section on the DVD where the cast talks about their strange experiences at the hospital while filming. This is one of the things that makes the location all too creepy and actually scary as your watching the film.

The cast is an unusual mix. I always kid around that this is where Carol Kritzer (the Casting Director for “CSI“) and Nan Dutton (the Casting Director for “CSI: Miami”) went to find their actors because David Caruso and Paul Guilfoyle both happen to be in this film. Plus, the voices of Lonnie Farmer, Jurian Hughes, and Shelia Stasack are used. All three have very distinctive voices, and really hold their own when creating their characters. Each actor has a definitive area of expertise, and thereby uses this realm to highlight their role.

We begin with The Hazmat Elimination Company and their inspection of the property for asbestos removal and for reopening. This team is led by Gordon Fleming(Peter Mullan) with Phil(David Caruso). It is as if while the cleaning crew is eliminating the asbestos from the hospital that they are also begin to clean out the debris from their minds, but in a negative manner. For all of this debris of anger, uncertainty, and lies have held their minds together. Now that it was being removed, one had to ask: what is it being replaced with and by whom? Does Mary Hobbes and the Doctor have such a substantial role in this hospital that they can convert the minds of others? Or is it Simon that has full and complete control of the hospital and all of those who enter? One has to also wonder if the stress of their job plays a part in the breakdown of the entire crew or is it just the stress that Gordon is experiencing as a new father.

But, the true star of the film is the hospital. Every clip plays out like a still photograph, and becomes scarier and scarier as we go along. This is not a slasher flick, but it is a smart horror movie that makes you think and gives one pause to enter the darkness later. The hospital chooses its’ victims wisely, as we are left to wonder if the murders that occur were performed by some sinister force or by the mental instability of a troubled man. There are also some dynamite scenes in which the inanimate objects in the hospital take on roles all their own. These pieces evoke feelings from us, and thereby give us the sense of dread that makes us continue to watch and wonder what really happened here.

I would also like to suggest the Session Nine soundtrack, which is haunting and unnerving all at once. I almost have to say that the soundtrack is scarier than the movie. In being the true geek that I am, I have watched the movie and listened to the soundtrack all at once. Not bad for a night at the movies. There are no words or lyrics or voices of any sort in the soundtrack. There are only unusual noises, like the scratching of nails on a chalkboard and the proverbial whispers of the unconscious. The soundtrack also makes for perfect Halloween music, but not the silly type in any way shape or form. For these melodies are complex and quite creepy.

The other thing that I would like to suggest is The Eye of Danvers: A History of Danvers State Hospital by Michael Ramseur. Michael is a great guy and we have emailed each other often in regards to our interest in Danvers. Michael uses drawings and completes them with historical fact, giving way to the sheer sadness of the hospital and its’ patients. The drawings are reminiscent of the movie in how they elongated and play with their surroundings.

Buy The Eye of Danvers: A History of Danvers State Hospital

Another interesting fact about Danvers is that after the movie most of it was torn down. Rumor has it that only the shell of the administration building was kept, and that the grounds were used for apartment buildings. Rumor also has it that the company that now owns the land was so hasty in building their apartment buildings that they did not remove a majority of the graves of the patients and instead constructed over them. One has to wonder if all of the stories about Danvers State Hospital being haunted are true. If so, then I am not sure if I would be living in one of their high priced duplexes. Makes you wonder why one of the numerous reality television shows about ghosts haven’t visited this landmark and investigated its’ authenticity.

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