As we here at FEARnet reported a little over a week ago, the latest film co-written, starring, and produced by Eli Roth, Aftershock, has become the talk of the horror genre as a bidding war has broken out with several distribution outlets vying for the film's rights. Chilean director Nicolas Lopez's English-language debut is about the inmates at an insane asylum escaping after an enormous earthquake rocks the institution's surrounding area. It got us thinking about the long-standing tradition of the insane asylum in horror films, so we decided to put together a list of the five we would least want to spend a night in. Which one scares you most?
Session 9 – Danvers State Mental Hospital
Since its release in 2001, Brad Anderson's fantastically creepy Session 9 has become an absolute cult favorite. If you ask anyone about their favorite insane asylum movie chances are good that Session 9 has a place on their list, and for good reason. Filmed in and around one of the creepiest facilities ever created – the real Danvers State Mental Hospital in Danvers, Massachusetts – the film tells the story of an asbestos removal crew tasked with cleaning up an abandoned insane asylum that may, or may not, be very haunted. The tension ratchets up as the crew separates and moves throughout the structure, eventually coming across audio recordings of a former patient's hypnotherapy sessions. It's a slow burn of a film that grows tenser by the minute thanks to some great direction by Brad Anderson (The Machinist, Transsiberian) and excellent performances from David Caruso, Josh Lucas, Peter Mullan, and the rest of the cast. But the real star here is the film's setting. Anderson could not have chosen a better place to film Session 9. In Danvers State Mental Hospital, he got an incredibly spooky building, a history of a place that's already supposed to be haunted, and a truly authentic look. The hospital may have been partially demolished in 2006, but I'd still love to have a few minutes to look around there. I don't, however, have any interest in spending the night in that place.
Hellbound: Hellraiser II – Channard Institute
The 1988 sequel to Clive Barker's classic Hellraiser is widely regarded as the best of the Hellraiser sequels, but that's not saying a lot based on the quality of the last few installments. That said, Hellbound: Hellraiser II holds up pretty well and is, in fact, a fine little horror film. It also features one of the most memorable asylums in horror film history. When Kirsty Cotton (Ashley Laurence) wakes up in the Channard Institute psychiatric hospital, she tells police all the details of her ordeal with Pinhead, Frank, and the Cenobites from the original Hellraiser film. They obviously think she's crazy and she's put in the care of Dr. Phillip Channard (Kenneth Cranham). It turns out that Channard is obsessed with the Cenobites (the guy has a Cenobite Treasure Room in his house) and basically opens the portal to their realm. Kirsty has to run for her life to escape Pinhead and his entourage all throughout the hospital. It's a bloody, labyrinthine, S&M adventure! I don't know about you, but the last hospital I'd want to stay any significant amount of time in is the one where Pinhead, Chatterer, Butterball, and The Female are hanging out.
The Brood – Somafree Institute of Psychoplasmics
How do you explain a David Cronenberg film to someone who hasn't seen it? Well, if it's something from the early part of the genius director's career, you don't. You simply tell them to go see it. So I'm not going to bore you with the details of Cronenberg's masterpiece, The Brood, but I will tell you that it involves dwarf-like, asexual, color-blind, toothless children without belly-buttons running around trying to kill people. If that hasn't already gotten you running to Amazon.com to grab the DVD, I'm not sure why you're reading this site. Starring Oliver Reed and Samantha Eggar, The Brood also features one of the most sinister of asylums – the Somafree Institute of Psychoplasmics. At the institute, psychotherapist Hal Raglan puts his "psychoplasmics" techniques to work with patients' traumatic memories creating physiological changes to their bodies based on the emotions they're evoking. Here's the thing, though, with crazy science: It doesn't always work as planned. Soon, Raglan's star patient Nola starts parthenogenetically birthing those insane dwarf-kids who attack the targets of Nola's anger without her knowledge. Creepy, right? Yeah, just wait until you see the last scene of the film. Somafree Institute is a place with the appearance of late-70's sci-fi but with the aptitude of junk science. It's not necessarily a place you'd want to hang out. Unless, of course, you're in the mood to mysteriously birth killer children while Raglan rattles around in your brain.
The Silence of the Lambs – Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane
Of all the places on this list, I think the very last place I'd want to stay for the night is the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane, especially if that means I have to share a cell with Hannibal Lecter. Hell, I wouldn't even want a cell down the hall from him (or "Multiple" Miggs for that matter). Jonathan Demme's 1991 film The Silence of the Lambs not only became an instant classic by transcending the horror genre (and also elevating its standing in many critics' eyes), but it also went on to win the five major Academy Awards (Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Actor, and Best Actress). Part of the appeal is the masterful handling and portrayal of the film's ultimate antihero, Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), and his odd "quid pro quo" relationship with FBI trainee Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), but a lot of the film's appeal also has to do with the atmosphere created by Demme. The Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane – where Lecter is imprisoned when Starling first arrives to interview him – is not only a dank, dirty, dungeon of an insane asylum, but it also has one of the sleaziest administrators you've ever seen. Filmed in and around Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, The Silence of the Lambs used several buildings to portray the fictional institution. The Old Allegheny County Jail stood in for the interior shots while the Western State School and Hospital worked perfectly for the exteriors. I don't think I'd want to stay a night in any of them. Fictional or not.
A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors – Westin Hills
Genre legend Wes Craven never intended to make a sequel to his classic film A Nightmare on Elm Street. In fact, he never wanted the film to become a franchise at all. New Line Cinema, on the other hand, had other ideas. They went right ahead and made A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy's Revenge (probably the worst film in the entire franchise) in 1985 without Craven's involvement. Luckily for Freddy fans, Craven came back (at least long enough to write a script with Bruce Wagner – it was later re-written by Frank Darabont and Chuck Russell) to help make A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. The film went on to become one of the series' favorite and Craven came back one last time in 1994 to write and direct Wes Craven's New Nightmare (the concept of which Craven originally thought up for his 1987 return to the franchise before New Line nixed the idea). The film takes place primarily in a psychiatric hospital named Westin Hills where Kristen Park ends up after suffering an attack from Freddy, which her mother mistakes for a suicide attempt. She's admitted alongside six other patients who make up the "last of the Elm Street children" and new staff member Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp). Freddy starts attacking the kids in their dreams and killing them in the some of the series' most creative ways. He slashes Phillip's feet and wrists, turns him into a marionette, and sends him falling to his death. Freddy's head and arms come out of the TV and he smashes Jennifer's head directly into it, and he gives Taryn an overdose via needle fingers. Freddy's everywhere in Westin Hills and it makes the place uninhabitable. The hospital reappears in A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child and Freddy vs. Jason, but I still have no interest in staying there. I mean, Amanda Krueger was locked in over the Christmas holidays and looked what happened to her. One hundred maniacs is one hundred more than I want to spend any time with.