Directed by: Brad Anderson
Run time: 100 minutes
The Lowdown: Released just a month before the chilling, real-life terror of September 11, Brad Anderson’s masterpiece takes a pretty standard set-up – a group of workers accept a job to clean-up an abandoned psychiatric institution and bad things start happening – and creates one of the most chilling films about mental illness ever lensed.
Session 9’s scares are lo-fi, meaning there’s no paranormal entity, per se, haunting and killing the crew. Anderson’s film, instead, focuses on the scariest entity of all – the human condition. But what elevates the movie above and beyond so many subsequent imitators is the attention it pays to other aspects of moviemaking that often get overlooked or underused.
Specifically, sound design. Session 9 is arguably the scariest sounding film ever made, and that’s thanks in large part to its absence of a traditional score. Anderson instead opts for natural sound and ambient noise, which allows the Danvers State Hospital to literally come alive. The second most chilling aspect of Session 9 is the audio snippets of patient-physician interview that sprinkle throughout, often played through a recorder in the hospital’s dank, dark basement. The third is the stark, singular voice that haunts Gordan Fleming (a remarkable Peter Mullan) as he directs his clean-up crew while slowly spiraling into madness.
A lot – I mean, a lot – of horror movies have tried and failed to replicate the atmosphere and mood that Anderson was able to capture for his fifth, and still best, feature film.
If you’re a longtime fan, seeing Session 9 in glorious high-definition is a particular treat. Kudos to Shout! Factory for recognizing the need to deliver a superior version of a timeless classic.
The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – No.
Nudity – No.
Gore – Minimal.
Drug use – Yes.
Bad Guys/Killers – Our own minds.
Buy/Rent – Buy it.
11 Minutes (MPI, 83 minutes, Unrated, DVD): Where “Session 9” did everything right in 2001 by presenting a carefully-nuanced chiller that slowly builds to a devastating climax, writer-director Jerzy Skolmowski’s 2015 thriller, 11 Minutes, suffers from its creator’s unbridled ambition. Skolmowski, admirably, is trying to tell a very simple story that focuses on a singular 11-minute stretch wherein multiple lives interact in devastating ways without knowledge of the guiding hand of cruel fate that is driving each of them to a specific moment in time.
That’s right, Skolmowski takes 83 minutes to tell an 11-minute story, which wouldn’t be so bad or feel so interminable if he had taken as much care to craft interesting characters that demanded an emotional investment of viewers.
By the time the big climax – the realization of the full 11-minute sequence – finally hits, you just don’t feel the necessary involvement for it to fully resonate.
Hotel Hell (MVD, 84 minutes, Unrated, DVD): If only this 2014 horror anthology about a hotel haunted by a clown and a serial killer’s spirit had been just 11 minutes long. Alas, the three mini-movies contained in this poorly-planned exercise drag.
Psychopaths: Backwoods Babes on the Run (MVD, 180 minutes, Unrated, DVD): This two-disc set featuring two low-budget exploitation flicks from 2012 – Skull Forest, a survival thriller, and Devil’s Farm, a horror film about Satanists – promises sexy, scantily-clad women delivering karmic justice with gratuitous blood and boobs thrown in for good measure. To be honest, I never made it to Devil’s Farm. I actually only made it about halfway through Skull Forest, a well-intentioned but technically inferior redo of “The Most Dangerous Game.”
The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension: Collector’s Edition (Shout! Factory, 103 minutes, PG, Blu-Ray): The greatest decade in filmmaking delivered its fair share of iconic blockbusters and beloved cult classics. In fact, 1984 is considered by many to be the single greatest year for movie releases ever in the history of cinema.
One thing’s for sure, few movies released that year, or decade, even, are infused with more brazen chutzpah and zero-ucks given than 1984’s The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension.
Let’s face it – Peter Weller is just the definition of badass cool. From “Robocop” to “Naked Lunch,” Weller just made it look easy. Hell, I even loved him as the bad guy, druggie boyfriend in “First Born,” which was technically my first introduction to his indomitable acting style.
But his turn as Buckaroo Banzai, a guitar-playing, thrill-seeking genius scientist (the original uber-cool nerd) touched a nerve with many rabid fans. They effing love the character of Buckaroo.
I’m here to say, I don’t get it. I don’t feel it. And watching this really nicely-put-together collector’s edition – one of the first releases in the new Shout Selects series from Shout! Factory – only reaffirmed my surprising apathy when it comes to this specific cult classic.
I should love it. I should worship at its alter. After all, it’s got an amazing, kick-ass cast: In addition to Weller, there’s John Lithgow, Clancy Brown, Jeff Goldblum, Christopher Lloyd and Ellen Barkin, just to name five of its well-known, beloved genre stars.
It was directed by W.D. Richter, the guy who wrote the best alien invasion movie of all time, 1978’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”; one of the most romantic and erotic vampire movies of all time, 1979’s “Dracula”; and one of the best pure cult classics of all time, 1986’s “Big Trouble in Little China.”
I would argue that in my personal opinion, BTiLC represents exactly the type of movie that Buckaroo Banzai wanted to be, but missed the mark.
I also would argue that Richter is much better putting pen to paper than he is physically directing actors and crafting together a cohesive film.
And maybe that’s the key to why I have remained free from Buckaroo Banzai’s spell all these years. There’s no flow, no consistency, no continuity. To me, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension just lurches along from ridiculous occurrence to more-ridiculous occurrence without bothering to clue confused viewers into what’s happening. It just expects you to get on-board with its alternate world-building approach that imagines a United States where scientists are regarded as rock stars (and literally are rock stars), receive confidential calls from the POTUS and speak in non-linear non-sequiturs with a healthy dollop of scientific gobbledygook.
Regardless, fans are gonna eat this one up.
Microwave Massacre (Arrow, 76 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): Speaking of eating, just as I never boarded the Buckaroo Banzai train, I also never understood the fascination and fandom reserved for this ridiculous 1983 low-budget ode to cannibalism. Starring comedian Jackie Vernon and directed by Wayne Berwick (who would go on to write episodes of Diagnosis: Murder and Father Dowling Mysteries), Microwave Massacre is just stupid silly. I might be down with the crass, low-hanging-fruit sight gags and juvenile humor if it was stupid fun silly like 1984’s “Night Patrol.” It's not. However, in a bid for fairness, and to leave at least one checkmark in the positive column, Microwave Massacre does feature the largest, most intimidating microwave oven to ever grace the screen.
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