Summer of the 80’s: Visiting Hours

Summer of the 80′s is a weekly column that will run until the end of August in which I watch a movie released during the summer movie season of the 1980′s that I’ve never seen before.  Every Friday, I’ll write about an 80′s movie that came out on the same day, or near the same day, that correlates with the post here on the site.  So follow me as I travel back in time to discover my lost summer at the movies.

About the movie

Visiting Hours was released on May 28, 1982 by 20th Century Fox.  It was directed by Jean-Claude Lord, a director that remains to this day a relative unknown, from a script by Brian Taggert (Poltergeist III, the original V television series).  The film stars Michael Ironside, Lee Grant, Linda Purl, Lenore Zann and William Shatner.  The Canadian production cost an estimated $CAD5,500,000 to make and grossed a total of $13.2 million in the U.S.  It is currently available on DVD and Netflix instant streaming.

Tagline

So frightening you’ll never recover.

My thoughts

So this week’s column was originally based upon the 1987 film, My Best Friend Is A Vampire.  I watched it last night and sat down around midnight to write about it only to find that my brief research on the film was incorrect and the film had opened in early May of 1987.  Since this didn’t really correlate with today’s date very well, I had to go back to my list of 80s films and hope one of them was on Netflix instant streaming so I could keep some consistency with this column.  I found Visiting Hours, a horror thriller that I’d never heard of before, with Michael Ironside and William Shatner in the cast and featured no other talent, behind or in front of the camera, that I was familiar with.  It seemed like a gamble but you run out of options when your scrambling for something last minute.  Fortunately, despite the loss of sleep, this all worked out in my favor.  While My Best Friend Is A Vampire had some good cheesy 80s flavor to it, it was just okay.  Visiting Hours, to my delight, was a much better film and I’m happy I stumbled upon it.

The film follows Deborah Ballin, played by Lee Grant (Damien: Omen II), a TV journalist who is campaigning on behalf of a battered woman who murdered her abusive husband.  Her outspoken views anger a psychopath named Colt Hawker, played by Michael Ironside (Scanners), and he follows her home and attempts to kill her.  He does not succeed and Deborah ends up in the hospital.  He decides to go to the hospital to finish the job he started.

The premise of the movie definitely makes you think that Visiting Hours is in the slasher vein, and while it definitely has slasher elements (though gore isn’t really one of those), I found the film to be much more than that and throws in some elements of psychological thrillers.  There are many times where the movie is seen through POV shots, lending itself to a Halloween-esque slasher but the focus of the movie also switches itself onto Colt Hawker himself and slowly reveals more about what he does in his free time and why he is the way he is.  I really enjoyed the fact that you start out knowing very little about Hawker and why he’s hellbent on killing Deborah.  His unrelenting pursuit is made all the more frightening because you don’t understand him, he’s just evil.  Over the course of the movie, they do clue you into the events that led him to be disturbed but it is done in a way that doesn’t rob the character’s sinisterness or create much empathy for him.  You understand that he’s unpredictably psychotic and anyone he comes across you fear for their life because you don’t know if he’s going to kill them or just ignore them.

Furthermore, Colt Hawker is a killer that is very much out in the open.  He’s blatant in his pursuits and isn’t afraid to attack people in public areas.  When he seeks Deborah out in the hospital, he goes into the room he thinks has her in it (though she was moved to another room out of an emergency) and cuts the life support tube to her bed only to find it’s just some older lady.  Instead of worrying about getting the wrong person, he remains calm and sits on the woman’s bed and watches her die, taking pictures for his collection.  It’s a pretty creepy and effective scene.

I’ve seen Michael Ironside in a variety of things but I think this might be one of his best and most captivating performances.  He barely says anything at all in the movie and does so much non-verbally to create a character that is downright psychopathic.  It made me think of a much more evil version of Ryan Gosling’s mostly silent character from Drive.  Ironside is definitely the best reason to watch Visiting Hours, which has quite a lot going for it.

The film is surprisingly well-written and directed.  The characters all feel pretty smart and well-realized as opposed to the often inept characters that make stupid decisions in horror films, especially in the slasher genre.  It often surprised me with how it wouldn’t play into genre stereotypes very much, which kind of gave it a bit of an unpredictable feel.  When the characters were in peril, I felt a sense of danger more because I felt like I didn’t know what was going to happen.  I’d never heard of director Jean-Claude Lord before but he seemed to have quite a handle on the cinematography and editing of the movie.  He did a pretty good job in crafting something that was interesting just as much as it was exciting.  Visiting Hours has a little bit of a female empowerment message in it that was kind of unexpected but cool.  The women in the movie aren’t paralyzed by their fear, they are all pretty strong characters that want to fight the very thing that is causing them fear.

The rest of the cast are all pretty great as well.  Lee Grant, an actress I wasn’t really all that familiar with, did a great job as the journalist being stalked.  William Shatner has a smaller role in the film and does a good job with his limited character, playing his character straight-faced and serious.  Linda Purl and Lenore Zann, both actresses I’d never seen before, deliver pretty good performances as strong women characters, as did Grant.

Visiting Hours is a great example of what I wanted to find in doing this column about movies I hadn’t seen before; it’s one of the little gems that get overlooked and that I may never have found otherwise.  The film isn’t a perfect one (but really, what is?), however, it did its job in creating a suspenseful and interesting take on the slasher/thriller genres.  Solid performances, a good script and effective cinematography all make Visiting Hours worth checking out.  I really dug it and would gladly watch it again.

Trivia

The limp that you see Michael Ironside sport at the end of the movie was real.  On the first day of filming he broke his ankle.

The theme music for this film is modeled after John Carpenter’s iconic Halloween score.

Michael Ironside was cast as Colt Hawker partly because of his sinister performance in David Cronenberg’s Scanners, which was also from the same producers of Visiting Hours.

This was the first of the UK’s infamous ‘Video Nasty’ films to be aired on television. In 1989, the ITV network aired the film uncut and subsequently received a fine from the Broadcasting Standards Council.

by Ben McBride

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5 thoughts on “Summer of the 80’s: Visiting Hours

    1. It’s actually not heavy on the gore at all. There’s a little blood in it but honestly not overly so. The fear is more psychologically driven. Gore fans would be disappointed.

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