3/26/10

Visiting Hours (1982): Health Care Can Be Murder

For this week’s horror selection, I wanted to look at a film that I remember well from video stores in the early ‘80’s. Well, I should say I remember the box art. While I was on my way to grabbing one of Abbott and Costello’s finer selections, I recall seeing the box with the picture of a building with lights on it in the shape of a skull. The cover always stuck in my mind, but for years, I couldn’t remember the title. It wasn’t until I was researching William Shatner that I finally came across it. The movie is called Visiting Hours, and in a minor role, it does in fact contain a dose of the Shat. However, it wasn’t the former starship captain or the nostalgic memory of cover art that made me want to see this film. Instead, it was the synopsis of this under the radar slasher that made me want to give it a watch.


After doggedly defending a battered woman on trial for killing her husband, TV journalist Deborah Balin (Lee Grant) is savagely attacked in her home by an assailant wearing only makeup and her jewelry. Thinking he’s killed her, the attacker takes a photo to remember the moment by and leaves Deborah to die. Clinging to life, she’s taken to the local hospital, but when the killer finds out that she’s survived, he intends to finish the job. The maniac goes to the hospital disguised as a flower deliveryman, but when he’s unable to find her, he murders some of the other patients, stalks Debroah’s Nurse Shelia (Linda Purl), and lashes out at anyone that stands in his way.

While I used a series of pronouns to describe the film’s baddie, it really wasn’t necessary. Without giving the killer a name or context, Visiting Hours does just sound like your basic slasher in a hospital type film and to an extent it is. Where it differs is how it treats and portrays both Deborah and the killer, part time TV station janitor and full time misogynist Colt Hawker played by Michael Ironside. Wrapped in the trappings of a serial killer slasher comes an interesting character study of a weak willed man who finds strength in killing and a tough as nails lady who has to finally bow to weakness. It also bucks the trend by populating the film with middle-aged actors (with a few exceptions) rather than having the killer strike out at candy stripers for instance.

Ironside gives a chilling performance as the deeply troubled man driven to murder because of his deep-seated resentment toward his mother. It seems mommy had the gall to stand up to her abusive husband, and now Colt is taking it out on any and all strong, independently minded women. Ironside, looking like the very kind of hulking brute that you might imagine, plays the monster in plain sight to perfection. In the early moments of the film, he lurks in the recesses of the frame in a very John Carpenter’s Halloween type fashion, but as the film progresses, his character becomes front and center as the flick winds up for the inevitable showdown. Ironside would go on to become a recognizable face for many children of the ‘80’s because of his turn as Ham Tyler in V before appearing in films like Highlander II, Starship Troopers, and providing the voice of the villainous Darkseid all of DC comic’s animated shows.

Lee Grant was really the big name in this film, and I’m sure looking at the script it seemed like Deborah’s performance would be the pivotal point of the film. However, like so many lead actors before her, Grant’s time in the spotlight would be greatly overshadowed by Ironside’s creepy bad guy. Deborah also becomes somewhat uninteresting once she is attacked and becomes full of self-doubt. She starts this film as this journalistic attack dog, but when she’s sidelined for a moment, she comes apart at the seams. So while the performance was good, the character arc should have been much more dynamic. Since there are few background players in this film, let me take a moment here to mention a couple. First off Linda Perl did an excellent job as the nurse that gets caught between the killer and his intended victim. It drove me crazy trying to figure out where I knew here from until I saw that she now plays Pam's mom on The Office. William Shatner in his supporting role. As Deborah’s TV producer, He shows up once in a while, wearing a powder blue suit, and gives Deborah friendly advice about taking her recovery slow or how there’s no one out to kill her. He never has enough screen time to make an impression, but since this is Shatner month, he did bear mentioning.

The real problem with this film is, strangely, what I also liked about it. The pairing of the mature thriller with the teen slasher works on some levels, but it fails in in the pacing. Due to the large amount of time given to uncovering Colt’s back-story and many overly talky scenes that were intended to build tension, Visiting Hours tends to drag around far more than it should. It finally comes to a close at one hour and forty-five minutes. There is at least 15 to 20 minutes that could have been trimmed from this flick to bring the pace up and keep the action interesting. If it had been a leaner picture, then the premise would have worked so much better.

Visiting Hours definitely is a second or third tier slasher. It has its moments, mostly thanks to Ironside’s creeptastic performance, but on the whole, it just can’t get enough going in the thriller or horror department to add up. If you’re a huge slasher fan, then this is one you probably will want to see, but if you’re like me and just have memories of some great cover art, then perhaps those memories are best left in the past. (Although I would still totally want to own the movie poster. It’s no doubt the best thing about the film.) That’s all for today. I invite you all to join me back here Sunday for a last dose of William Shatner to close out You Don’t Know Shat! Month. I have something pretty special in store.

Bugg Rating  

10 comments:

  1. jimmie t. murakamiMarch 27, 2010 at 1:20 AM

    Lightning Bug, did you know that Bill Shatner starred in arguably the most offensive film ever made, Roger Cormans 1961 abomination "THE INTRUDER".

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  2. I found this movie to be dull and sucky. Ironside was ok in his hammy-psycho role, but the story set-up bored me consistently and there was that one scene with Shatner noisily lapping up pudding & hogging screen time while visiting the woman in the hospital. That scene pretty much put me off the whole movie.

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  3. jummie- I know of the film, but have never seen it. It sounds pretty raw, and I'm sure one of these years You Don't Know Shat will have to cover it.

    @J Astro- The noisy pudding eating just made me laugh. By the time that came around I needed a laugh. It is a little slow and can be dull, but like I say Ironside really saved this one for me.

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  4. by the way this isn't THE jimmie t. murakami the animator/director? If it is then you have no idea how much I love the Snowman and Battle Beyond the Stars.

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  5. I love this movie. Ironside is freakin' brilliant.

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  6. This was the very first R-rated movie I sneaked a viewing of late one night after my family got cable in the early '80s. I remember it being rather so-so sucky even then.

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  7. jimmie t. murakamiMarch 27, 2010 at 4:42 PM

    Lightning Bug, it is indeed me, its great to know you still enjoy watching "Battle Beyond The Stars", my fondest memories of making that movie are that i got to work with gorgeous birds like Sybill Danning, Darlanne Fluegal, and of course the breathtaking Marta Kristen from "Lost In Space" they were such stunning chicks. I`m now 77 and in semi-retirement but its still nice to know that you recall me and some of the movies that i made, once again thanks for the recognition i really appreciate it.

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  8. This is actually one of my favorite Michael Ironside roles, I enjoyed him in the pic even if it was all around average otherwise

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  9. Lightning Bug,

    I saw that you had a photo of Max Steiner in one of your posts from August of 2009, and I was wondering if I could ask permission to publish that photo on an online magazine we're currently putting together.

    May I have your email address so I can give you further details?

    Thanks, and I'd appreciate your speedy reply.

    Drea Duerme

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  10. I have never seen this movie, but what is it about those 1980s video covers that makes me smile? They're so awesome!

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