Hidden Netflix Gems – Session 9

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

Most films classified within the horror genre are not so much truly scary as they are fun in a sort of morbid way, at least to true horror fans. A real horror fan is too jaded to actually jump when the killer jumps out of the shadows, and certainly most monster movies are more eye candy to the true fan than they are actually frightening. The one thing most of the scariest films ever made have in common is a strong atmosphere of claustrophobia, a sense of no escape from a terrifying situation. Whether it’s in outer space (Alien), a remote arctic wilderness (The Thing), or an isolated building haunted by the past (The Shining), the feeling of being either physically or psychologically trapped is essential to real terror.

Brad Anderson‘s Session 9 has this atmosphere in spades, which is one reason it is probably the scariest film of the past decade. Though its characters can and do leave the location of the horror, a defunct mental hospital from which they have been contracted to remove asbestos, once they have set foot in it the horror never really leaves them. Gordon Fleming (Peter Mullan) is the owner of the company, a man troubled by a failing marriage and seemingly a lack of proper sleep. The rest of his team has their problems as well, all integral to the horror that befalls them. Mike (Stephen Gevedon, the film’s co-writer) is a law school dropout who has some prior knowledge of the asylum, which gradually begins to seem like an unhealthy obsession. Phil (David Caruso) and Hank (Josh Lucas) have an uncomfortable shared history, in that Phil’s former girlfriend is now with Hank, and Gordon’s nephew, Jeff (Brendan Sexton III), has a severe case of nyctophobia, or fear of the dark.

The rising terror of this film is wonderfully slow-burning, as all great haunted house stories should be, but this is ultimately more than just a haunted house story. As Mike begins to obsessively listen to the session tapes of former patient Mary Hobbes, from which the film gets its title, the others begin to gradually sense that something is wrong in this place and that all of their lives may be in danger. It is almost as though the playing of the tapes has summoned an ancient evil that has been lying dormant in the hospital, though the true revelation is far more intelligent and less cheesy than that might sound. Session 9 never takes the easy or expected way out, instead opting to sink its claws deep into the viewer’s brain for a more deeply haunting experience. The film’s final moments especially will really stick with you, and may even give you your own case of nyctophobia for days afterward.

  

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Hidden Netflix Gems – House

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

This is a film for hardcore fans of things like Tales from the Crypt, Stephen King novels, and the more horror-heavy pages of the classic Heavy Metal magazine. In fact, in many ways it is very much like a feature-length Tales from the Crypt episode, one that is especially heavy on the comic relief. Produced by Friday the 13th director Sean S. Cunningham and directed by Steve Miner, who helmed the first two sequels to that film, this is decidedly campy, deliciously cheesy and immensely satisfying B-movie fun.

Not to be confused with the 1977 Japanese cult movie of the same name, the 1986 film House (aka Ding Dong, You’re Dead, its original video release subtitle) stars William Katt as best-selling horror novelist Roger Cobb, a Vietnam vet who has been struggling with writing about his experiences in the war. One of his problems is that no one else seems particularly interested in this story, preferring he write another horror story instead, but more importantly, he is also dealing with the fact that his wife, popular TV actress Sandy Sinclair (Kay Lenz), has recently left him. Even more recently, his beloved Aunt Elizabeth (Susan French), committed suicide by hanging herself in her creepy old Victorian mansion, where Roger and Sandy’s young son Jimmy (played alternately by twins Erik and Mark Silver) disappeared some time ago. Roger inherits the house and decides to try and finish his new book there, in solitude, while also dealing with the demons of his past.

Of course, he doesn’t exactly find the solitude he’s looking for, due to a bumbling but well-intentioned neighbor named Harold Gorton (George Wendt), who provides much of the films comedy, and a series of strange monsters that seem to come from another dimension within the house, who provide the rest. Saying the monsters are more funny than scary is not a criticism of the film, however, as this is clearly intentional most of the time. Though the effects will look dated to viewers in the modern CGI era, they are quite well-done; they are not the nightmare creations of other films of the time like John Carpenter’s The Thing or David Cronenberg’s The Fly, but they stand up nicely alongside more silly films like Ghostbusters or Gremlins.

As it turns out, Roger’s preoccupation with his Vietnam memories is especially relevant to the literal demons he faces in the strange old house, and though the film takes some rather dead-end narrative turns along the way, its central story is pure pulp horror in the most classic sense. House is not a good horror film to watch if you want something genuinely frightening, but if you’re in the mood for tongue-in-cheek fun that only takes itself seriously enough to deliver a few cheap scares, it’s well worth a look.

  

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Hidden Netflix Gems – Tucker and Dale vs Evil

Hidden Netflix Gems is a new feature designed to help readers answer that burning question, “What should I watch tonight?” It will be updated every Saturday before the sun goes down.

I am notorious for my willingness to watch pretty much any movie, so it is always a joy to find one that wildly exceeds my expectations. This is often not a great movie, by any means, but one that flew under the critical radar for the most part, and provided some unexpected pleasure, a film that I can enjoy recommending to friends in the knowledge that they have probably not encountered it. Eli Craig’s debut feature Tucker and Dale vs Evil is one of those films, especially for horror fans. Though it is relatively slight and far from perfect, this is an enormously fun and clever riff on the slasher genre, a film that will undoubtedly be especially enjoyed by fans of the recent horror deconstruction masterpiece The Cabin in the Woods, or the mostly overlooked 2006 mockumentary, Behind the Mask: The Rise of Leslie Vernon (also available on Netflix).

Tucker (Alan Tudyk) and Dale (Tyler Labine) are two well-meaning but poorly educated good ol’ boys who have recently purchased a rundown cabin in the woods as a vacation home. En route to their paradise of relaxation and fishing, they encounter a group of mostly obnoxious college kids who are creeped out by them based on Dale’s innocent but ungainly attempt to talk to the prettiest girl among them, Allison (Katrina Bowden). Chad (Jesse Moss) in particular shows extraordinary prejudice against the two well-meaning bumpkins, and it becomes clear that he is the character who would be the hero in a more conventional horror film. Instead, he is presented as a vicious, bloodthirsty maniac – the very type of person he believes Tucker and Dale to be.

After Chad attempts to put the moves on Allison at his family’s cabin, adjacent to Tucker and Dale’s, she leaves to take a walk by herself down by the lake, only to slip and fall in, hitting her head. Tucker and Dale, of course, save her from drowning, but are perceived by the other college students to be kidnapping her. This is just the beginning of a series of unfortunate accidents and misunderstandings that leads Chad and the others to think the two good-natured hillbillies are psycho killers. Though it ultimately takes a less interesting route (and I may be giving this bloody but relatively light comedy too much credit), at a certain point the film seems to be making the surprisingly intelligent case that, often, those obsessed with finding and destroying evil are, in fact, the truly evil ones. It undercuts this philosophical thesis with a lot of silliness and a somewhat problematic ending, but this movie is nonetheless a lot of fun, and a far better film than the title led me to believe.

  

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My Soul to Take

Wes Craven has had his share of ups and downs over the years (for every “A Nightmare on Elm Street,” there’s a “Shocker”), but when he fails, he fails hard, as is painfully evident with his latest film, “My Soul to Take.” Though it’s admirable of Craven to try and reinvigorate the slasher genre by introducing a horror villain for a new generation, the Riverton Ripper – a serial killer who reemerges 16 years after his mysterious disappearance to stalk a group of local kids who were born on the same day – simply doesn’t compare to icons like Freddy Krueger or Ghostface. It doesn’t help that Craven keeps him hidden for most of the film, because not only is there no suspense to the story, but the twist ending that he’s trying to protect is built around a single lie that falls apart as soon as the killer’s identity is revealed. The Ripper also isn’t very scary, and when he does come out to kill, it’s done in perhaps the most nonchalant, uninspired ways possible. Then again, the victims aren’t really deserving of any better, as they’re little more than cardboard cutouts of what I can only imagine Craven believes to be an accurate representation of modern day teenagers. This is low-grade horror at its worst, and unless you’re looking for some cheap laughs by skewering the movie “MST3K”-style, you’d be well advised to keep your distance.

Click to buy “My Soul to Take”

  

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Mr. Hanrahan edits #2: “The 100 Greatest Horror Movie Quotes of All Time”

Once again, I could do with more pre-1960 selections, but the guy knows his stuff.

  

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