"A psychopathic killer viciously attacks a woman journalist when she returns home from a TV broadcast. She survives but the killer refuses to give up. And any girl who stands in his way is in for similar treatment. The trail leads to a hospital where the journalist is at last cornered and finds she has no-one to turn to for help ...
This exciting and superbly constructed exercise in terror stars Michael Ironside as the ripper who likes to photograph as well as murder his victims. Lee Grant as the terrified journalist and William Shatner (of Star Trek fame) as her TV producer boss.
Visiting Hours is produced by Pierre David and Victor Solnicki , the men responsible for The Brood and Scanners and directed by Jean Claude Lord. "
1981 was a bad year to find yourself in hospital. What with Michael Myers continuing his reign of terror in Haddonfield General (OK, technically it was 1978, but hey), killer Doctors on the rampage in X-RAY and who knows, you could have ended up next door to charred and pissed off Cropsy!
In VISITING HOURS Lee Grant plays Deborah Ballin a middle-aged journalist, who is campaigning on TV on behalf of a battered woman who murdered her husband. Aggressively, she argues with a guest. Her boss, William Shatner, tells her they can't use the segment as she has gone too far and it's unbroadcastable due to legal reasons. However, unbeknownst to Deborah her outburst has also triggered a much more dangerous reaction from one of the studio's cleaning staff, Colt Hawker (Michael Ironside), a closet psychopath with a hatred of women (triggered by seeing his Mother throwing boiling oil in the face of his abusive Father when he was a small child). Incensed by her views Ironside beats Deborah home, with the intention of killing her. At first she's annoyed that her maid hasn't cleaned up, little knowing that she lies dead in another room. After a couple of flase scares, including a squawking parrot (plus the ubiquitous large fish tank - no early 80's slasher flick would be seen dead without one, usually garnished with a severed head, or two) she is attacked by Colt with a knife, and viciously slashed (he makes a frighteningly oddball sight, adorned with her jewelry and smothered in her make-up). Injured, she manages to get away from him before he finishes her off. Hiding in her locked bedroom she tries to raise the alarm by screaming out for help to her neighbours, but they just think she's drunk. She hides in a dumb waiter, as he smashes his way into the room; only escaping his clutches when someone finally investigates the noise.
Deborah is taken to the local hospital; a huge sprawling medical metropolis where the majority of the action in the film takes place. She's badly injured and needs an operation, but doesn't want to stay in the hospital, rightly fearing for her safety. Indeed, Colt has no intention of giving up and he makes the first of many visits to the hospital - using ingenious methods to gain access - with the intention of giving her more than a bunch of grapes!
VISITING HOURS appears on the surface to be a more conventional thriller, with the atypically middle-aged Lee as the heroine and 'final' girl and the (ahem) legitimacy lent by an actor of Shatner's (double ahem) stature, but truth be told it's a slasher flick through and through. There's cat and mouse antics and false scares aplenty, not to mention some top notch sustained suspense. Lee shares the slasher bait role with Linda Purl, who plays the role of Sheila Munroe, a pretty blonde nurse and single Mother of two, who looks after her whilst she's at the hospital. Indeed, Colt divides his time quite equally between the two, and when he isn't stalking Deborah through the endless warren of hospital corridors he goes after Sheila and her family at her home after she angers him when, unbeknownst to her, he overhears her calling him a creep on the telephone.
Ironside gives a chillingly convincing turn as the 'everyday' psycho; conveying pure evil and barely suppressed rage beneath a blank and numb facade. He has much more in common with the villains in such quasi-realist slasher flicks of the same period like DON'T GO IN THE HOUSE (1980) and NIGHTMARES IN A DAMAGED BRAIN (1981), where the monster exists and hunts in believable locations - as opposed to the more popcorn'ish antics of Jason and Freddy. He has a really nasty edge, which may seem like a silly thing to say about a killer, but his character is believably vicious thug and right wing bigot (HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME's Leonore Zann plays a girl who makes the mistake of going home with him; she comments on all the letters he has framed on his wall, "God, you blast them all: blacks, jews, Mexicans ..." (also look for a fleeting appearance from Neil Affleck as a policeman, Axel in MY BLOODY VALENTINE (1981)); of course, he saves his greatest wrath for women. Zann gets away with a beating, but most aren't as lucky: he photographs his other female victims in their death throes and along with pictures of intended victims-to-be uses the prints to make a giant skull shaped collage on the wall in his bedroom closet.
What is perhaps most interesting about VISITING HOURS is the way it juxtaposes Deborah, a women's rights organiser, against an all too real manifestation of male hostility. At the time, politically and particularly in the media there were women's groups picketing films (especially horror and slasher movies) that they saw as glamorizing violence against women (in-fact some accused the women that appeared in them as being no better than those that appeared in pornography). What the picketers made of this movie we can only guess. We can but wonder the ulterior motives (if any) of the makers of this movie, whether they were holding a mirror up to the then current affairs, or were just interested in making a horror movie. Actually, it's probably a bit of both: it works very well as a early 80's slasher flick, pouring on the suspense and milking the sterile locale for all it's worth, whilst pitting the Liberal (Deborah and the media) against an off-balance bigot (the far right and the lone white, heterosexual middle class male, who at the time had been identified as making up the highest percentage of serial killers in the US). The theme of what happens when the pacifist Liberal has to resort to aggressive violence to survive is a familiar one (STRAW DOGS (1971) and DELIVERANCE (1972) being good examples, although most horror films utilise this too to one degree or another, really).
VISITING HOURS is a nasty movie in a lot of ways (several scenes made me really squirm), although it was perhaps one of the most surprising movies to be officially declared a video nasty in the UK. This movie - the trailer for which I must have seen when I was twelve, or so, (the sight of the hospital building, it's lights going off one-by-one to leave a glowing skull, was definitely one of my formative movie going moments!) - is still definitely worth tracking down.
BODYCOUNT 8 female:3 / male:51) Female killed off screen