So frightening you'll never recover.
Year of Release: 1982
Running Time: 103 minutes (1:43)
Director: Jean-Claude Lord
Michael Ironside ... Colt Hawker
Lee Grant ... Deborah Ballin
Linda Purl ... Sheila Munroe
William Shatner ... Gary Baylor
Lenore Zann ... Lisa
Harvey Atkin ... Vinnie Bradshaw
Helen Hughes ... Louise Shepherd
Michael J. Reynolds ... Porter Halstrom
Academy Award winner Lee Grant (Best Supporting Actress in 1975 for Shampoo) stars as outspoken TV journalist Deborah Ballin, whose crusade against domestic violence enrages a creepy loner (a truly disturbing performance by Michael Ironside, Scanners) in Visiting Hours. He brutally attacks the anchorwoman in her home, but Ballin survives and is hospitalized. Her assailant is enraged; he is haunted by a horrific childhood trauma . . . and now he has hidden himself inside the hospital to finish what he started. Can anybody, including her concerned boss (William Shatner), a frantic nurse (Linda Purl, Happy Days) or Deborah herself, stop the psycho's killing spree before it reaches sick new extremes?
Visiting Hours, the movie that reminds us that the "Suspense" genre is essentially just a horror movie with slow pacing. You know who loves this movie? People that take 20 minutes to get into a cold swimming pool an submerge a quarter inch at a time. You know who I'm talkin' about. They're the same ones that take 5 minutes to pull off a bandaid even though the total amount of pain they experience is 10 times greater, just spread out over a longer period of time. They also like to amass $1000 in credit card debt an pay $25 a month on it for the next 40 years. Big sissies. But anyhow, this movie is probably the best hospital slasher movie with gratuitous William Shatner to ever come out of Canada, so lets focus for a moment on taking something positive away from it. First, boiling pots of oil are hot enough to melt the skin off your lecherous husband, but perfectly safe to pickup without oven mitts. Second, once you've not been able to rise to the occasion to rape your victim before murdering her, it's really just not worthwhile to ONLY kill her, so you may as well turn her loose. This only works in slasher movies that predate 1998. An third, stress balls are simply a marketing ploy, they don't really work. But here's the real problem that Visiting Hours brings to light. Nobody writes anymore. Our guy, Michael Ironside, really just wants to be heard. All he wants is for the people on the other side of the aisle to sit down with him an discuss why it's so wrong to murder your wife when she puts too much mustard on your sandwich. But will they give him the time of day? No sir. Most of them consider themselves too important, or too busy to answer their mail. An you see where that gets them. Being ignored puts Mike in a real stabby kinda mood. I mean, would it kill somebody to get Mike as a guest on Maury Povich so he can get his point of view out to the public? Maybe get him on the air with Anderson Cooper? Or if you were looking for a debate you'd prolly wanna go with Bill O'Reilly or someone on Fox News, as the liberal side isn't generally all that for punishing criminals. Either way, when people feel like they're being ignored, they escalate. Coast to Coast AM has probably saved more lives than penicillin and Herceptin combined. So consider that the next time you see a shabbily dressed street preacher or a cracked out transient ranting at his pet rock, an the urge to creep away takes hold of you.
The movie begins with representatives of the two greatest lying professions known to man, a lawyer and a newscaster, bickering at each other over whether or not some lady was acting in self defense when she murdered her husband for throwing her down the steps after she burned the meat loaf. The anchor woman's station manager, William Shatner, wants to know why... she can't... be... a little bit... more... unbiased. But she brushes him off on account of him taking twice as long as any other actor to deliver a line, until he tells her that he can't air her debate on account of newscasters being required to have some semblance of neutrality. Was there ever a time when that was really true? Oh, never mind, made in Canada, got it. So anyway, the anchor (Lee Grant) is pissed. But more importantly, the traumatized, psychotic janitor that works at the TV station is pissed. We'll call him, The Hawk. (This is how Joe Bob Briggs referred to him in the review that made me purchase the movie, and because it's a rather well executed, clever movie without a great deal of unintentional humor, I've no cute joke to twist his name into) We'll get into why The Hawk is so pissed later on, but at this point, he punches out an heads out to Lee's place an murders her housekeeper, puts on Lee's make up an jewelry an makes like Jame Gumb until she gets home. When Lee gets home, it looks like Daniel Stern an Joe Pesci were there, cause the water's running all over an there's a huge mess in the living room. If only there were someone being paid to clean this shit up. Anywho, Lee yells into the bathroom, assuming it's the housekeeper showering, to sober up an get on this squalid hell hole pronto or she's gonna have her sent back to Guatamala. But having received no answer, an after about 50,000 gallons of water have passed through the shower and sink, the investigative journalist thinks something might be amiss, an goes to check. What she finds is a vacant shower and The Hawk, trying to perforate her face with a 10" switch blade. Only The Hawk's got a little too much mascara in his eyes an he only gets her arm a couple times before she escapes to her bedroom. She locks 'em out an starts screaming out the window for help, only the neighbors know she's into S&M an know that the safe word is actually "no no, stop help", an that this is normal.
So she hides in the dumbwaiter until The Hawk kicks the door in an... well there's a reason they call it the dumbwaiter. An after he starts pulling her up, she stops him by holding her end of the rope. At which he shrugs an simply cuts it an lets her plummet to her death. Or so you'd think, she's really only horribly injured, an as she crawls for the door, the only neighbor that didn't know about the S&M shows up to help, an she's saved. For now at least. Unfortunately, The Hawk went to the James Bond Villain academy an never actually bothers to make sure she's dead. It's not long before he finds out that she's not nearly as dead as he'd intended an slaps his florist for hire magnet on the side of his van an heads for the hospital to finish the job. When he arrives, he overhears one of the nurses on the phone saying mean things about the guy that hurt Lee an he gets this look on his face like she just kicked his puppy. But first, he's gotta dispatch Lee. So he goes to her room an cuts her life support, only when he sits down beside her he realizes she's aged about 20 years an gone grey. But, since she's already done for, he figures he may as well pull out his handicam an take a few shots for the photo album while she struggles for air. Things are really not going according to plan, so The Hawk puts on his thinking cap an hits the page button so the skanky night nurse will come check on the room, an when she does, he shanks her all over for pulling the old switcheroo on him with the hospital patients. Elsewhere, the blonde nurse (Sheila) is trying to get Lee's autograph when she realizes the skanky nurse's been gone for quite awhile an goes to make sure she's not down in the morgue getting freaky with the cadavers. She finds her an the old lady an just assumes they're dead (this is why nurses make less than doctors) an runs into The Hawk just around the corner, only she doesn't know he's the shanker an he just casually takes the elevator outta there. The Hawk knows he needs to take her out, but he really needs to rest his stabbing arm for awhile, an follows her home so he'll know where to go when he's feelin' up to killin' some more. Additionally, stabbin' people all night builds up a powerful hunger, so he stops at a greasy spoon where a Tijuana last call girl starts givin' him the eye an goes home with him shortly thereafter.
The Hawk tries his best to romance her with his switch blade an cheap beer but things just aren't working out an he has to get rough with her as she tries to leave, an we leave them with her blubbering an him licking up the Keystone he accidentally spilled on her back. The next day, The Hawk goes to the hospital to hang out with his dad for awhile. Seems Dad didn't get the concept of "no means no" when he was younger an Mom had to throw a boiling pot of cooking oil on him, on account of her not having a hose handy. This is why The Hawk hates women. Elsewhere, Lee really's sick of the shitty hospital food an suffering the indignity of using a bedpan an really wants to go home. But she needs surgery so Sheila an The Shat have to calm her down with a sleepy shot. About that time The Hawk puts on some scrubs an dresses up as part of the surgical staff. But one of the real doctors catches him an tells 'em to get the fuck out, an goes back to what he was doing, knowing that his commanding voice will have certainly done the trick and that no further action is necessary. So after The Hawk kills the deluded surgeon he goes to Lee's surgery where he's basically just trying to scare the bejezus out of her cause, she's only half there, but she's alert enough to recognize him, but is unable to warn anyone because of the sleepy gas. After the surgery, The Shat tries to reassure Lee that she was just looney tunes from the gas an that there are guards all over the place, on account of her being a pretty white famous woman. Elsewhere, Sheila is treating The Hawk's date from the night before, an she tells Sheila that he drew outlines over her ribs with his switch blade on account of not being able to rise to the occasion an show her a good time. She tried to tell him that it happens to all guys sometimes, but that just seemed to make him slashier. By now, The Hawk is really starting to get frustrated, so he sneaks into the hospital again an hides out in the laundry room until lights out. Lee really really wants to leave, but The Shat says it'll be alright cause he's gonna stand guard an set his phaser to white knight. Only he really sets his phaser to "wait til she's asleep an ditch out", cause when The Hawk shows up, he's nowhere to be found. Then The Hawk shanks the patient in the next room an sneaks in through the adjoining bathroom, only while he was aerating the patient next door, the guy knocked a metallic object onto the floor, which roused the guard.
You've gotta believe The Hawk is pissed now. Some days you just can't seem to get anything to go your way. So now he has to slice up the guard, only he's got a bit of an anger management problem, I mean, more so than usual, an after he punctures the guard he tosses 'em through the window for good measure. Which of course, rouses even more security. Where they were when he snuck in the first two times, I dunno, but there's an entire battalion of them now an he has to high-tail it outta there. Upon arriving home, he can't help but notice that there's a lot more curse words spray painted all over his walls than he remembers, his apartment's an even bigger wreck than usual, an worse yet, his collage of murder victim Polaroids is missing. This time, they've gone too far. Back at the hospital, The Shat still doesn't want Lee to leave, cause she's a strong woman an it should take more than several attempts on her life, each involving a security breach, to rattle her. She tries to explain to The Shat that she can be as strong as Superman, but that unless she too is made of steel, it won't mean jack shit when The Hawk starts goin' all Norman Bates on her. Downstairs, the Tijuana last call girl shows up an gives The Hawk's victim collage to Sheila, on account of it having her picture on it. But about that time, the receptionist tells Sheila she's got a call, an the only thing we hear on the other end is her daughter's doll crying into the receiver an she gets this look on her face like she just swallowed one of her gold fillings an hits the exit. When she arrives home, she finds her daughter's decapitated doll sitting on the couch, but otherwise, nothing seems amiss. She wakes up her lesbian life partner an tells her to get the kid an get the fuck outta there cause there's about to be more stabbings than a KKK rally in Compton. She creeps downstairs an dials the hospital, only The Hawk's been hiding under the desk an jabs her with his switch an starts up another photo shoot as she lays there leaking Hunt's spaghetti sauce all over the rug. After he scares the bejezus out of her life partner an the child, he lays the knife down an leaves. Upon arriving home once more, he's got a crippling dilemma. He's never gonna get back in the hospital now. Even these security guards aren't quite that inept. So he hatches a genius plot. He pulls out a bottle of beer, downs it, and brings his arm crashing down upon the bottle. Shards cling to arm, blood gushes forth, an he's got himself not only safe passage, but a free ambulance ride to the trauma center, where Lee's finally gonna get what's coming to her. We'll cut here to preserve the ending.
Visiting Hours has a pretty high standard on its production values, which is not something I expected from a movie which I have only ever heard or seen anything about, through Joe Bob Goes to the Drive-In. Which is not to say JBB doesn't have great advice, he does. But I hadn't heard or seen a word about this movie, except in his book. I suppose that's the kind of movie it is. Good, but not great, and that has much in common with a lot of other slasher movies. But it's far better written than many others that it bears similarity to. It's got a great deal more depth than either Halloween for Friday the 13th, and yet, those two films are probably better. Halloween definitely is, although quite frankly, this might be as good as Friday the 13th. Maybe. I think a lot of viewers that would turn up their noses at Friday the 13th might actually enjoy Visiting Hours, because it's got a really well written script, a lot of suspense, and with the exception of the security force that couldn't catch crabs from a $5 hooker, it's really very realistic. There aren't a lot of moments where you sit an think something that occurred is nonsense. My only real problem with it is that it's about eight minutes longer than it needs to be. As I mentioned earlier, a suspense movie is just a horror movie with bad pacing. Although I suspect that many who enjoy the suspense genre will find this one a little bloody. It's not all that graphic, but definitely too graphic to be a Murder, She Wrote episode. As Joe Bob would say, there's way too much plot getting in the way of the story here, an I think that shortening it would have improved it quite a bit, maybe to the tune of +8 or so on its overall rating. With the exception of the pacing, it honestly doesn't have any other problems at all. I'm not sure that it has any real kind of a message, or if the ending is just meant as a bit of irony for the woman crusading against domestic violence. But if it is intended as a message, that's really the way to do it. They're not beating us over the head with it the way Frankenheimer did in Prophecy. Perhaps Canadians have a little more faith that their audience will understand than Americans. Perhaps that's justified.
So, the nitty gritty. As mentioned previously, the plot is very good. I don't suppose calling it "deep" is the best way to put it. But there are a lot of minor incidents that happen in the movie that speak to why Michael Ironside's character is the way he is, and everything just seems to come together really well. Everything fits. There aren't any situations that make no sense, based upon something that happened in his past, or that happened previously in the movie. It's probably the best thing the movie has going for it. The special effects, such as they are, are adequate. Some blood, that's about it. The murders aren't all that graphic, and because the idea is for the guy to come off as a realistic serial killer, he uses the same M.O. all the time and the kills come off as repetitive. Sometimes there's a very plain line drawn in the sand, where you can be realistic, or you can be entertaining. This movie is on the realistic side of that line, from start to finish, and that's something I honestly cannot berate. But it comes off as a bit dry as a result, and I find it odd that I obviously enjoy a random Friday the 13th sequel more than Visiting Hours, for that reason. Seems to me like Visiting Hours is definitely the better, well put together movie. I guess it's just a little too predictable. That's as good a way to explain it as any. The acting is adequate. Some of the cast has some genre experience, with Lee Grant having also starred in The Omen II. Michael Ironside is the real genre actor though, having been in Prom Night II, Watchers, Night Trap, Scanners and Children of the Corn: Revelation. Shatner of course, is Shatner. But honestly, Ironside is the only interesting character. Which is not to say the others are poorly acted, they're just not particularly interesting. The shooting locations are adequate and authentic, mostly just the hospital in terms of relevance. The soundtrack is alright, somewhat similar to the soundtrack from Halloween, but only in some of the more suspenseful scenes where the soundtrack is really just a shrill noise that plays for 20 seconds as a suspense generator. It has no tracks that stand out the way Halloween does, and Halloween has several of them. Overall, it's a pretty good one that you may never have heard of, and if the one thing I find problematic is not problematic for you, you'll enjoy it all the more. Recommended to fans of the slasher genre, an for people looking for something they may not have seen before.