Judge Brett Cullum once visited a hospital. He found the smell oddly compelling.
In this hospital, your next visit may be your last.
In 1982, the slasher craze was all the rage in horror movies. Michael Myers had butchered his way through baby sitters in Halloween, Jason hacked up some unlucky camp counselors on Friday the 13th, and studios were scrambling for movies to fill the voracious appetite for splatter and mayhem. Visiting Hours was a Canadian import 20th Century Fox decided to release with a slick ad campaign designed to fool people in to thinking it was simply another serial killer horror flick. People were looking for scary thrills, and studio heads were looking to make a quick buck. The Canadian team that had produced David Cronenberg's Scanners, The Brood, and Videodrome weren't really shooting for a true "slasher flick" with Visiting Hours, but somehow the movie got tossed in to the pile haphazardly.
Visiting Hours is a shock thriller in the vein of Brian De Palma's Dressed to Kill more so than an ode to promiscuous teens lining up for slaughter in suburbia. The story is about an outspoken TV journalist Deborah Ballin (Oscar winner Lee Grant, Shampoo) who decides to take a public stand against domestic violence. Unfortunately, her rants attract a woman-hating psychotic (Michael Ironside, Scanners) who attacks her at her home. She ends up in a hospital, and her would-be killer soon follows to finish the job. William Shatner (Star Trek, Boston Legal) makes an appearance as Deborah's concerned boss, and Linda Purl (Happy Days) plays an empathetic nurse. Can anyone stop the madman before he finishes what he started? And will the Canadian health system be able to patch up all the victims?
The cast is certainly stellar when you consider Visiting Hours is a low budget affair filmed on location at Veteran's Hospital in Senneville, Quebec. Lee Grant, Michael Ironside, and William Shatner all lend a certain respectability you don't expect from a schlocky thrill ride such as this. Grant plays her righteously indignant yet scared reporter well, nobody does psycho quite like Ironside, Purl is pretty, and Shatner is Shatner. None of them truly see Visiting Hours as a career defining moment, but it's not half bad either. At least the movie allows for solid doses of character development mixed with ingenious twists now and then. Still, we've basically got a "stalk and slash" formula film complete with audio cues designed to make you jump when things get tense rather than truly scare you.
There is something unique going on that makes Visiting Hours a satisfying ride, and that is its socialist themes contrasted with slasher leanings. The story deals with Ballin's feminist rage taking on the conservative moral outrage of her killer. Cronenberg didn't direct this one, but it is the same producing team. It feels very much like David Cronenberg decided to direct a LIfetime movie, and couldn't resist the urge to make it scary. The director is a French Canadian Jean-Claude Lord (Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives! and tons of Canadian television).
The DVD from Anchor Bay presents Visiting Hours in a widescreen format with a respectable transfer. Colors seem slightly hyper, and the image is sometimes soft, but it looks better than expected given its financial limitations and age. Most of the sequences have an '80s look to them with tons of colored lights, moody shadows, and a slight ever-present wash of grain. The original mono track has been ported on to the disc without any further options. Extras are limited to five catchy television spots showing lights on a hospital façade turning in to a skull, and a goofy radio spot containing "a real screaming audience." There's nothing else here to explain or expand the film, but seems this rudimentary thriller needs little explanation.
Visiting Hours isn't just a simple slasher flick from the '80s, but it still has a schlocky side that keeps it firmly planted in the horror genre of the decade of movie mayhem. It's definitely worth a look if you're a fan of any of the cast, or looking for a good couple of thrills. It feels like "Cronenberg light," but there's certainly nothing wrong with that sentiment. Anchor Bay gives the film a basically solid presentation without many bells or whistles. It should please fans looking to buy the picture, and makes for a good rental for the curious. It's a smarter than average slasher flick with a strange feminist message thrown in for good measure. But in essence weren't all of these films slightly pro-women? Consider it was always a morally upright woman in danger who took down the maniac male no matter how unstoppable he seemed. The psychopath was always mince meat at the hands of his ultimate victim by the end. What makes Visiting Hours different is it gives a social commentary in addition to simply setting up the lambs for the slaughter.
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