JULY 1, 2011
If you notice, I have finally tagged all of the "Video Nasties" that I have reviewed thus far, so I can keep track as I attempt to watch them all before the end of the year (as there are 42 to go, I better get cracking!). It's a bit of an obscure "genre", but it's one I am fascinated by, especially when you watch an entry like Visiting Hours, which is about 10 frames shy of a PG-13 by today's standards, and even then must have confused its makers when they saw it listed along with movies like Cannibal Holocaust and I Spit On Your Grave.
In fact, it's one of the few slashers on the list at all; most of the films are zombie, cannibal, or rape films. There is an off-screen rape in this movie, unlike the rather graphic Lipstick (not on the list), and the gore is kept to a shocking minimum - the most we see is on a self-inflicted wound on the killer! Yet the same year gave us Friday the 13th Part 3, with eyeballs popping out of heads and what not, and that is also not on the list. In short, whoever picked the movies on this list was just as inconsistent and erratic as the MPAA, and I have to wonder if they even saw this movie in its entirety.
Because I pray no one watches this movie specifically for its "Nasty"-ness, or else they will be even more bored than I was. I figured it would be on the more "classy" side of things considering its cast (Lee Grant and William Shatner aren't exactly the types of folks you expect to see in a Friday the 13th wannabe), but I didn't realize it would also be so terribly unfocused. There are times when they almost seem to be trying to make us sympathize with killer Michael Ironside, though his tendency to kill a few folks at random prevents us from doing so. They also introduce a friendship between Grant and a nurse (Linda Purl, aka Pam's mom on The Office), but then more or less write her out of the third act, so what seems like an interesting addition to the usual material is actually just padding.
The structure is also too damn wonky for my tastes. Ironside tries to kill Grant in her house early on, and fails, so she is brought to the hospital. What follows should be a Halloween II ripoff (albeit with better actors and hopefully a less nonsensically small staff), but instead Ironside fails to kill her, goes home, tries again, goes home, and finally returns yet again. A slasher works best when it's compressed into a day or two, or at least all comes down to a giant, half a movie setpiece (like Scream with Stu's party), but by the time Ironside returns a final time there are only like 20 minutes left of the movie, and with Purl out of the picture (he tried/failed to kill her too), it's just too anticlimactic. You know he's not going to get her, and there's no one else around of note. Shatner's role in the film is so perfunctory it's a wonder they didn't just edit him out of it entirely.
And that's the other thing - it's too damn long. 105 minutes is fine if you have a mystery (again, Scream) or a complicated plot, but it's basically "Michael Ironside hates women so he wants to kill this particular feminist". 85 minutes MAX would have been plenty, and there are a number of things that just don't serve much of a function. The blond girl with the crimped hair, for example - her scenes take up 10-15 minutes and the only purpose they serve is finding out Ironside's name and address (which is how they get rid of Shatner and some of the cops for the climax, they head to his apartment when he's already at the hospital again). Why couldn't they have just given Shatner something to do by having him get his address off of one of the letters Ironside sent to the news station (Grant is a reporter, he is her boss/lover)?
One of the random subplots kind of pays off with a nice scare though. Purl's nurse friend goes on and on about the guys she dates and how she has come up with a new rating system (one guy is a "2" because he cries in bed, for example), which I thought was building toward a twist of sorts where you find out Ironside is one of her lovers. But instead she gets killed like a half hour in, so that was a nice little surprise. Since every other kill in the movie comes as no surprise, it's good that one of the few that worked came early enough to buy the movie some goodwill.
And again, it's classy. They steal the score from Halloween, and Ironside's dress habits are a bit out of left field, but otherwise it operates more like a traditional stalker thriller, boosted by actors who deserve better than Brian Taggert's (Poltergeist III, and, I shit you not, Trucks, the "remake" of Maximum Overdrive) script. Some of the suspense bits are pretty good, such as the initial one inside Grant's house, and even though it killed the pace it was sort of fun seeing how Ironside had to keep coming up with different ways to get into the guarded hospital. I also quite liked the chilling bit where Ironside cut a woman's air tube (he thought it was Grant), and instead of just leaving (or pressing the call button, for some more of that sympathy vote), he sits on her bed and watches her die in a most painful way.
However, ultimately the poster (recreated in the trailer) is probably better than anything in the movie, which is sort of a problem. It was modified a bit for the DVD, but basically the lights in the hospital's windows form a skull face, which is awesome. But it also suggests a more traditional "fun" slasher, not the melodramatic, occasionally grim thriller that it really is. Hell, even Shatner seemed to be playing it straight for once. You know, they've remade every other goddamn slasher from this period, why not remake this one and do it right?
What say you?
P.S. This movie's title resulted in "Not The Doctor" from Alanis Morissette being stuck in my head the entire time ("Visiting hours are 9 to 5 and if I show up at 10 past 6 then I already know that you'll find some way to sneak me in..."), and also reminded me of how much I used to listen to that album. On that note, the bonus track "Your House" is creepier than anything in this movie.