Sunday, May 17, 2015

Visiting Hours (1982)

... aka: Fright, The
... aka: Get Well Soon
... aka: Horror Hospital
... aka: Terror at Central Hospital, The
... aka: Terror at the Hospital

Directed by:
Jean-Claude Lord

After a heated TV press conference, feminist journalist and non-violence advocate Deborah Ballin (Lee Grant) returns home to find her house guest dead and sweaty, woman-hating, stress-ball-squeezing psycho Colt Hawker (Michael Ironside) ready to slash her to ribbons. After being stabbed twice, Deborah manages to get the attention of her neighbors and Colt flees. She's taken to County General Hospital, where she awaits surgery on her injured arm, while Colt decides to finish the job he wasn't able to complete earlier by continually sneaking his way back into the hospital and attacking her. Several other women inadvertently become involved, including sweet nurse Sheila (Linda Purl), a divorced single mother of two, and Lisa (Lenore Zann), a loose-living party girl who Colt takes home and beats severely, but lets live. Colt's homicidal misogyny is explained by a series of brief flashbacks that involve his mother flinging a pot of hot oil into his father's face, which of course has made him a maladjusted and impotent man who detests strong, independent women... just like Deborah.

Visiting Hours has a lot going for it, especially in comparison to other films of this type from the early 80s. For starters, the budget was relatively high for a change, affording this very glossy production values and cinematography. The cast is more than competent, with Oscar-winner Grant as an atypically headstrong and authoritative middle-aged lead in a subgenre usually dominated by teen virgins in the central role. Though Deborah's not particularly likable or sympathetic, Purl's strong working class supporting character is and helps to balance that all out. Genre regular Ironside (who landed this part because of his memorable performance in Cronenberg's Scanners [1981]) also does an effective job playing the intense, creepy psycho, while William Shatner is given nothing to really do as Grant's agent. The script is quite ambitious as well in its attempt to bridge the gap between exploitative, disreputable slasher flicks and more socially-conscious thrillers. And yet all the above combined cannot save this film because it becomes an implausible mess after the first 20 or so minutes. That's a true shame considering the opening scenes offer up a few good scares and some genuine suspense.

What partially killed this film for me is its incompetent portrayal of the hospital staff and the police. The psycho manages to get into the hospital and has full access to Grant no less than four different times. Once? Sure. Twice? Highly unlikely, but possible. After that it's just plain absurd. The first time he poses as a florist and kills a patient and a nurse who are in the room Deborah was originally supposed to be in. Instead of informing her her life is in danger, the staff instead keep it a secret and she has to find out secondhand from another patient about what's going on. The killer then sneaks in a second and a third time, killing people each time he's there, but nothing much is done. My question is: Where the hell are the security guards in this film? That's right, they're all hanging out in the downstairs lobby and none happen to be on the same floor people keep getting attacked on. At one point, Shatner's character assuredly tells Grant not to worry after several murders because "They've got a great security system here," which literally made me laugh out loud. He deserves some kind of award for being able to say that line with a straight face.

Any patient in the same predicament - let alone a celebrity patient like Grant's character - would not only have several armed guards posted right outside her door at all times, but also guards in each hallway of the floor she's on monitoring who comes and goes. Not only that, but the hospital would have guards patrolling the outside perimeter of the hospital and ones in front of each and every door of that place considering the murders that keep occurring there. I also couldn't figure out why there was no attempt to relocate Deborah; if not to a new hospital entirely (she just has an injured arm for Christ's sake!) but to another floor or even another room. Of course if this film used even the most basic of logic, there may not be a film at all. Then again, is that really such a bad thing considering how stupid this thing turned out?

Unfortunately, the idiocy isn't just confined to inept security, but is liberally spread through the rest of the film as well. Shatner's character manages to convince Grant to stay in the hospital just one more night by saying he won't leave her side and then in his very next scene is off at another location doing something else entirely. Toward the end, Purl's character gets a phone call from the psycho, who's at her home. With her children's lives in danger and knowledge of the psycho's whereabouts, she gets flustered and babbles some frantic, incomprehensible gibberish to one officer before rushing home all by herself! She could have simply said "Hey, the killer is at my house RIGHT NOW, how about you gather up a few dozen men and follow me over?" Nope, instead she rushes home in a panic and needlessly gets herself stabbed. This is followed by Colt getting into Grant's room yet again and chasing her around through empty corridors because we've already established the staff and police don't seem to care that people are being murdered right and left in this place. I can handle a few dumb moments in my horror films, but this simply has far too many of them.

I've noticed a few defenders of this film pointing out that one shouldn't get too caught up in details because it's "just a horror movie." And to that I say "Precisely!" This is indeed just a horror movie. It's not a good horror movie or a memorable horror movie or a thought- provoking horror movie. It's just another horror movie lost in a faceless sea of other poorly-conceived and forgettable ones from the slash-happy early 80s. And there's a good reason Visiting Hours isn't highly-regarded among most horror and slasher fans: It's slow-moving and takes itself completely seriously yet is too implausible to even be believable.

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