SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES No. 81:
More ‘80s Hospital Slashing
by Nick Cato
The television ads for 1982’s VISITING HOURS promised the film was “so frightening you may never recover!” and that it “sets a new level of fright.” In reality, it delivered a lower-than-mediocre snooze-fest that even co-star William Shatner couldn’t beam the audience out of. That’s not to say this was a total turkey, but how it ever gained a reputation as an underrated slasher classic is anyone’s guess. After I wrote the following column, I went back and revisited VISITING HOURS for the first time since it’s opening night premiere 35 years ago. The verdict? My original opinion still stands.
My buds and I hit the (now defunct) Fox Twin Cinema just a month before our eighth-grade graduation. At this time, slasher films were being released nearly every weekend and we horror fans consumed them like we were at an all-you-can-eat pancake buffet. With the aforementioned TV ad’s promises fresh in our minds, we took our seats with high expectations.
(Note: my friends’ names have been changed to protect the innocent)
About five minutes into the film, my buddy Mark found himself covered head to toe in a thick vanilla milkshake. We spotted his recently exed-girlfriend running up the aisle, and Mark and another in our five- or six-man crew took off after her. With some decent-smelling sticky splash on my arm, I stayed put as a killer (played by Michael Ironside of 1981’s SCANNERS) stalked a TV news personality (Lee Grant, former TV star who was later seen in AIRPORT ’77, DAMIEN: OMEN 2 (1978) and even in David Lynch’s 2001 classic MULHOLLAND DRIVE). It seems Colt Hawker (Ironside) simply hates women ever since his mother protected herself against his father’s abuse by burning his face with boiling, extra virgin olive oil. And when he hears the famous Deborah Ballin (Grant) speaking out against domestic abuse on her nationally syndicated TV show, he decides to off her. But things don’t go as planned, and she ends up in the hospital where Colt spends the rest of the film’s tedious running time trying to finish her off, while sneaking around in various disguises (although he looks the same no matter what shirt or glasses he has on).
I’ll give VISITING HOURS credit for focusing more on the killer and his childhood trauma back story (it seems his father may even have molested him as a child after his mom was gone) than on pot-smoking, fornicating teen victims (which there are none of here). Ironside does a great job as the impotent killer, who likes to take photos of his victims as they die, then hang their pics on a wall in his apartment. When his crib is raided later on, the pics are discovered to be shaped like a skull. One sequence of Colt cutting an old woman’s oxygen tube is quite cruel, as he sits there watching her suffocate. The audience was a bit uneasy over this, the only kill scene with any real emotion or fear behind it.
After Colt kills one of the nurses, my friend Mark returned from cleaning himself off in the men’s room and several minutes of the film became a blur. But I knew Colt was also now after Deborah’s main nurse, Sheila (the lovely Linda Purl of TV’s THE WALTONS and countless other television shows) and her two young children.
Despite being an early ‘80s slasher film, VISITING HOURS is very low on gore and contains no sex or nudity, which in itself made it stand out. But it’s the tedious pace that had my friends and I (and much of the audience) groaning out loud. There are no surprises, and the fact we are told who the killer is from the get-go made this completely mystery and suspense free.
Again, after writing this column, I was absolutely dumbfounded over the amount of 8-10 star reviews on IMDb, so I decided to revisit the film and found it didn’t age very well at all. I’ll admit one sequence where Deborah is wheeled in for surgery is a bit nerve-wracking, but my eighth-grade self had found it lame. William Shatner (as Deborah’s boss and I THINK boyfriend, I’m still confused) is completely wasted here in a brief, throw-away role anyone could’ve done. And I’m thinking the said surgery sequence may have possibly inspired THE RAMONES’ 1983 music video for their song “Psychotherapy.” But we’ll probably never know, as the late Johnny Ramone was the big horror fan of the band.
VISITING HOURS is a film that tried, but in the end, is a forgettable, tame, tedious slice of classic ‘80s false advertising. When your brightest memory of a film is your friend being embarrassed in the theater by his ex-girlfriend’s shake-dumping skills, you know you’re not dealing with Oscar-worthy material.
Ironside has starred in almost 250 films (!!!), so of course they’re not all going to be classics. But his role here is VISITING HOURS‘ only redeeming value.
For slasher film completists only.
© Copyright 2017 by Nick Cato