Judge Patrick Bromley only has good dreams.
So frightening you'll never recover.
Two underrated hospital-themed horror films from the '80s get an HD upgrade thanks to the wonderful work being done at Scream Factory.
Facts of the Case
Bad Dreams opens in 1975, as a cult led by Franklin Harris (Richard Lynch, Invasion U.S.A.) commits mass suicide by fire. The only survivor is Cynthia (Jennifer Rubin, Permanent Record), who, 13 years later, is committed to an institution where the patients (among them EG Daily of Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and Dean Cameron of Summer School) keep committing suicide, presumably under the influence of Harris' ghost. Her only hope is a good doctor (Bruce Abbott of Re-Animator) willing to listen and help before she becomes the next victim.
Also set in a hospital, Visiting Hours sees feminist icon Deborah Ballin (Lee Grant, Shampoo) is attacked by serial killer Colt Hawker (Michael Ironside, Starship Troopers), who hates strong women after seeing his mother disfigure his father as a child. Deborah is hospitalized, so Hawker begins to stalk her to finish the job; there he overhears a nurse (Linda Purl, The Office) discussing how much she admires Deborah, so Hawker turns his attention toward the nurse. As he continues to stalk and murder women, Deborah tries to convince hospital staff and her own boss (William Shatner, Kingdom of the Spiders) that she and other women are still in danger.
As a dickish 11-year-old in 1988, I dismissed Andrew Fleming's Bad Dreams as a wannabe A Nightmare on Elm Street. Maybe it was because I spotted the attempt to create new horror icons in the films of the time (I'm looking at you, Shocker) and assumed Richard Lynch's Franklin Harris was yet another example of that trend. More likely it was the fact that the movie had the word "dreams" in the title and its villain was a guy who was badly burned and came back (sort of) to torment a young woman.
Revisiting the movie as an adult, I'm much more appreciative of what Fleming accomplishes, balancing real-life horrors (Jonestown cults) with psychological thriller elements and a huge dose of '80s-style gore. At an incredibly brisk 80 minutes, Bad Dreams is over before it has a chance to overstay its welcome, and Fleming—whose only other horror credit is The Craft—is clearly having a good time making a horror movie. He knows how to space out the set pieces and build them for maximum impact; the bloodiest scene may not come last, but that's only because the one that follows is the one that rocks us even more. And because it's Andrew Fleming, it always has a sense of humor about itself.
In her first starring role since playing a supporting part in A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors one year earlier (a movie that bears more than a few similarities to this one), Jennifer Rubin makes for a great bruised heroine—the girl to whom no one will listen, the girl who isn't even sure she should be trusting herself. Richard Lynch is creepy without even trying, making him a truly effective villain—he's not on camera much, but Lynch's presence is such that he remains burned into our brains even when he don't see him on screen. Dean Cameron does his usual sarcastic '80s shtick effectively and gets one of the most cringe-inducing moments in a horror film that decade. It's one of the scenes for which Bad Dreams is best known, and it's still hard to watch 25 years later.
If there is one major flaw in Bad Dreams, it is a criminal underuse of EG Daily. Even her (SPOILER) death is boring compared to the others. It's not a deal breaker.
The 1982 Canadian effort Visiting Hours is a much different beast, forgoing excess and viscera for a movie that's as much a drama as it is a horror film. Playing almost like an early critique of the slasher genre, screenwriter Brian Taggert and director Jean-Claude Lord create a film that pits an incredibly damaged killer with major female issues against several strong, powerful women. Horror films were already notorious for making women their victims, and Visiting Hours addresses that head on by explicitly making women the target because they are women, then turning the tables on the monster by making those same formidable women the only ones who can stop him. The movie is slow at times and overlong, but has enough interesting ideas, good performances and suspenseful set pieces to compensate for the rough patches.
The gender aspect of Visiting Hours is often overshadowed in conversations about the film, usually by the Michael Ironside performance. It's understandable. One year after playing the enjoyable evil Daryl Revok in David Cronenberg's Scanners, Ironside went the opposite direction with Visiting Hours' excellently-named Colt Hawker—a serial killer who is psychologically damaged almost to the point of earning our pity. His is a very human monster, one created not by a mad scientist, not by a curse or a supernatural rise from the grave but by childhood trauma. Hawker is a monster for sure, but he is a monster tortured by his own issues and compulsions. It's a performance I've never seen Ironside give, and a real standout in the entirety of the horror genre.
Of the two films, I prefer Bad Dreams if only because it delivers more of what many of us '80s horror fans want. That's not to say that Visiting Hours isn't a special movie; in many ways, it's the more thoughtful and sophisticated feature on the double bill. But it's also slower and far less violent and too often is unfairly labeled as "boring." Overly long? Sure. But hardly boring. Any movie in which Michael Ironside delivers this performance should never be called boring.
Scream Factory's double feature Blu-ray of Bad Dreams and Visiting Hours is basically just an upgrade of the 2011 double feature DVD put out by Shout! Factory (the parent company of Scream Factory), but a few new bonus features have been added. Both films receive full HD 1080p transfers that are satisfactory but far from perfect; both suffer from multiple instances of softness and some inconsistent levels of details. Most of the time, the movies look good, but some digital artifacts do appear from time to time. Generally, though, colors look good and even the issues present aren't severe enough to distract from the enjoyment of the films. Bad Dreams has a lossless 5.1 surround mix (it's labeled that both movies have a mono mix on the Blu-ray case, but that's inaccurate) that's mostly just passable. Dialogue is audible (it helps that this is one of the few Scream Factory titles to actually include English subtitles), but the bigger effects fail to pack much of a punch. Visiting Hours does have a monaural mix that's just as good, probably because it's a much quieter movie and only needs to handle dialogue.
The bonus features from the original Anchor Bay DVD and Shout! Factory's double feature rerelease have been ported over for Bad Dreams, meaning we get Andrew Fleming's engaging commentary, the short featurette on the movie's makeup effects, some behind-the-scenes footage, brief interviews with Fleming and producer Gale Anne Hurd, a photo gallery, the original trailer, the movie's original (and I would argue better) ending presented in very rough work print form and, best of all, a 20-minute retrospective featurette with reflections from Rubin, Abbott, Lynch and Dean Cameron. A really solid collection of supplemental features, but nothing new is offered. That's not true of Visiting Hours, which includes nearly 80 minutes of brand new interviews with producer Pierre David, writer Brian Taggert and co-star Lenore Zahn, all of which are a lot of fun and cover much more than just Visiting Hours. Carried over from the previous DVD release are a photo gallery and a small collection of radio and TV ads.
Because Scream Factory has been so incredible about releasing great special editions of classics and re-discovering lost gems, it's a bit of a disappointment that this disc is really just a Blu-ray upgrade of a previously released disc. The disappointment is short lived, though, once you realize that we now have both Bad Dreams and Visiting Hours on Blu-ray. Two underrated horror movies, very different from one another, both worth having in any genre fan's collection. Scream Factory, you've done it again.
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