Summer of Horror: Session 9, Army of Darkness, They Live

Session 9

Session 9

You know, I get the sense that the creators of Session 9 found that spooky wheelchair seen in the poster above inside the Danvers Mental Asylum and loved its look so much they made it the central visual motif of the entire film, even though it doesn’t factor into the plot at all.

There’s a habit some documentary filmmakers fall prey to – “falling in love with the access” – wherein the thesis of the documentary ends up taking a backseat to raw information they have at their disposal. A similar thing plagues Session 9, as the real-life Danvers State Mental Hospital – a genuinely creepy and notoriously haunted mental asylum – is where much of the film was shot. They even used trinkets and artifacts left in the abandoned building as some of the film’s props, likely including the aforementioned wheelchair.

As a result, it seems as if the goldmine of a shooting location was meant to compensate for what is, at its center, a rather bland and unsatisfying story. Session 9 is the kind of film that spreads its scares out very, very widely, resulting in an agonizingly slow pace that, while rich with character development, just simply is not all that interesting.

The payoff, which you can tell from frame one is going to involve some kind of a twist (as horror films trading in mental illness ALWAYS do), doesn’t completely justify the protracted buildup. But there are some very nice, atmospheric creepy scenes, and they only made me wish the filmmakers had spent a little less time filming in broad daylight. 

Army of Darkness

Army of darkness

 

Yeah, so…. here’s another of those shameful gaps in my film viewing experience. As usual, I blame my parents.

BUT, those of you following me on Facebook already know, Army of Darkness was not… what I expected. I knew it was a straight-up comedy. I knew the horror element was de-emphasized. I knew it was partially a Three Stooges tribute by director Sam Raimi. Despite all that, I still wasn’t completely prepared for just how silly, and how corny this movie is. In fact, the comparison that kept popping into my head was Ernest Scared Stupid. Tonally, this has so much in common with an Ernest movie, I (almost literally) believe you could replace Bruce Campbell with Jim Varney, call it “Ernest Brain Dead”, or “Ernest Goes Medieval”, or “Ernest’s Bad Knight”, and nobody would consider it strange.

Still, this is undoubtedly a cult classic. It’s the source of many of Ash’s most iconic one-liners, as well as the most iconic portrayal of the character itself. But, why did it have to be so silly? Evil Dead 2 had no shortage of slapstick comedy, to be sure. It even had shades of that Three Stooges influence that permeates Army of Darkness. But Evil Dead 2 was so much more anarchic, so much more unrestrained, and so much more innovative than anything seen here.

Sam Raimi perfected his own formula with that film, and while some will argue that the original Evil Dead was too raw, too independent, and too brutal (I don’t agree, by the way), Army of Darkness goes too far in the opposite direction. It’s a movie for children, and I think the cult classic status of this film has everything to owe to it being the one entry in the trilogy that was ever played on TV in the 90’s.

They Live

They live

 

Check off another John Carpenter film from the list! I’m hoping to make him my next “completion” director.

It’s somewhat ridiculous that I’d never seen They Live before this year, but that’s what Summer of Horror is all about. And of the three films I chose to kick off this year’s marathon, this is far and away the most “fun” one.

They Live is a bit of a mishmash of influences. Carpenter had already remade The Thing by this point, but his affection of 1950’s alien paranoia sci-fi rears its head again here. In a deviously simple touch, the point of view scenes through the lenses of the mysterious magical sunglasses the plot is based on are in black and white – the perfect motif through which to display the admittedly ridiculous alien designs.

They Live takes that classic 50’s black and white alien aesthetic and mashes it up with the best of hyper-macho, 1980’s action hero cinema. He even cast a WWF wrestler as the main character for Christ’s sake! And after an unexpectedly slow build up to the reveal of the central plot conceit (the sunglasses), “Rowdy” Roddy Piper is comically quick to go all guns blazing on the unwelcome visitors only he can see.

If this film is famous for one thing though, it’s that iconic fist fight. In Rowdy Roddy’s attempts to convince his construction worker buddy (The Thing’s Keith David) to look through the sunglasses and see what he sees, the two end up in a back alley brawl that simply goes on FOREVER. Truly, nothing can prepare you for how dirty, sloppy, and PROLONGED this fight is. Years later South Park would pay tribute by remaking it, shot-for-shot, for their “Cripple Fight” episode.

One comment

  1. I had read great things about Session 9, but when I tried to watch it, I fell asleep about halfway through.

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