Keep in mind that Visiting Hours was released in the United States in May of 1982, when I was Seven and a Half years old and more than a little impressionable. I never forgot it, however, and I went on a mini-crusade to track it down a few years ago. Let me tell you, I still think that image is impressive (if you haven't noticed, images derived from that one can be found in various places around this website). When Visiting Hours was released on DVD on April 18, 2006 (twenty four years to the day after its theatrical premiere in the UK), I bought it on the first day and was pleased to find that the same previews were available as extras on the DVD. The original plan was to review this one as part of the 2006 Summer of Horror. There is another interesting aspect to this film's history that makes its inclusion in this season a better choice. Just as this Canadian-created film made its theatrical debut in the UK, it was also later Banned in the UK as one of the 74 infamous Video Nasties.
In many ways Visiting Hours amounts to your standard early-'80s Slasher Movie, not markedly different from a great many others that have come and gone before and since this one was released. Even the Hospital Horror theme had been previously exploited in such films as Halloween II. Other films like this didn't make the list. Also other films like this didn't have a cast like this one.
While it's true that these names might not have been Hollywood A-List at the time, it's noteworthy to look back and see this film that starred Academy Award Winner (for Shampoo) Lee Grant, Happy Days regular Linda Purl, fan favorite Michael Ironside and, yes, the Chairman of the Board, William Shatner, just after the debut of the first T.J. Hooker TV Movie, but still before the release of The Wrath of Khan!
Visiting Hours centers around Deborah Ballin (Grant), a tough Television Journalist and feminist crusader against violence. After seeing an interview of hers on television the violent and out of shape serial killer Colt Hawker (Ironside) is infuriated enough to rip his television cord out of the wall and set his sites on Deborah Ballin as his next victim. You see, he and his beer gut have been slashing women and snapping pictures of them as they die for some time now, so he takes none too kindly to such a notion as "nonviolence".
Ballin's producer Gary Baylor (smilin' Bill Shatner) is disturbed too, not because he disagrees with her at all, but because her lack of objectivity in her interview of an unsympathetic attorney could damage her credibility and that of the show. To Deborah's dismay, Gary informs her that he can't let the episode go on the air, so she goes home early in an angry huff.
Let's review that before we go on. A Serial Killer is angered by an episode of Deborah's show that he saw on television, so he sets his sites on killing her, but her producer, after the fact, states that he can't allow that episode to air on television. Was Ironside getting into his Highlander II role by time traveling? The Priests of Zeist only know!
We do know that Hawker travels to Deborah's home and slashes her up enough to put her in l'hôpital central before being interrupted in his carving duties.
It's within this hospital that the core of the film takes place. Hawker uses varied methods of varied success to gain access to Ballin. If he can't reach her, he takes other victims and then tries again. The second act also serves to outline the protective relationship Nurse Sheila Munroe (Purl) develops with Ballin and also takes the time to develop the character of Munroe herself. As Munroe's personality is explored, so is the psyche of Colt Hawker.
Writer Brian Taggert (who would later work with Ironside again on V: The Final Battle) gives us a series of flashbacks that show the damage that led to Hawker's psychosis as a child without ever quite crossing the line of "excusing" Hawker's actions. Hawker subsequently tries various methods of getting into the hospital (and thus, to Deborah) and comes closer with every attempt as those around her pay the steep price. Can Sheila protect her? Can even Captain Kirk protect her? Must she protect herself?
Heaven knows. What we do know is that Hawker's personality defects run deeper than the sea of tranquility and he's out to show this fact in virtually every way he can think of. Hawker does pull some truly nasty stunts along the path of his personal vendetta and there are more than a few bloody and disturbing scenes to turn the stomach of the viewing crowd.
This, of course, brings us to the reasons why this film was banned in England on the Video Nasty List. There are a lot of films out there (both on and off the list) with a good deal more gore and violence than this one. There is very little profanity here and no nudity at all. However, the DPP and the BBFC weren't measuring blood drops, body counts, nipple peeks or f-bombs for their banning choices. The main concerns of the screeners (along with the watchdog group NVALA) was the effects such films would have on impressionable children. Of particular concern (amongst many) were films that depicted "techniques likely to be useful in the commission of offences". More specifically, red flags were raised when screeners detected depictions of torture, particularly sexual in nature, toward humans and any alleged eroticized depiction thereof. The no-nos go a lot deeper than just these rules, of course, but these will do for Visiting Hours! For example, a video might be able to show a rape scene as long as that rape scene was definitively shown to be horrible and not erotic. A video could detail a murder as long as the murder wasn't made to look like a turn on to the characters or the viewer.
A scene in Visiting Hours, meant to give a deeper look into the craziness Ironside's character carried around in that balding dome of his, certainly qualifies for these red flags. Colt picks up a hot young blonde named Lisa (played by sexy Lenore Zann) and brings her back to his apartment. The subsequent scene includes the slow and meticulous rubbing of a switchblade's metal edge along the length of her bare thighs, around her small, pink laced panties and up and over her tight, cotton camisole, which he soon rips. The scene is disturbing anyway, but the added element of sexuality makes it more so. Looking at it a different way, take the same scene with the knife removed and you've got a very hot and sexy moment in this film, especially as Zann is a very attractive woman. Clearly director Jean-Claude Lord (who also served as editor) knew this as well, as his lens drinks the scene in for all its heat. The man knew what he was doing. With the knife, of course, the scene takes a different, ominous air. It's the underlying eroticized, sexual theme that counted against it.
Like many of the listings, though, the classification of Visiting Hours as a Video Nasty only furthered its notoriety and caused it to be a more sought after work. Even without such a distinction, Visiting Hours is most assuredly not a waste of time, even if it's also not a great film. Many of the movies on the Video Nasty List were quickly churned out exploitation fare, released by smaller distributors who needed sensationalism to move product. Many of these were better suited to excite and horrify than truly entertain on a real level. Visiting Hours, on the other hand, is one of the ones that had an intention of quality and an eye toward detail. It was also released by Twentieth Century-Fox in both Theatres and on Video.
That said, I can't imagine anyone involved in this film believed they were making "great art", or expected Oscar Nominations that never came. Aside from the aforementioned continuity issue, we're still dealing with a low-budget early 80s horror flick from Canada. Scenes like Zann's, not to mention the impressive advertising campaign, were clearly aimed toward exploitative techniques and sensation. The acting is all around pretty decent and there are a few surprises and even some suspense supplied by Lord. Still, we're talking about a slasher film and those of you who have seen more than a few of them can pretty much predict the major plot points before they happen.
Then again, what is one to expect out of these films? Shakespeare? No. Shatner! Visiting Hours is interesting and can be exciting. It's disturbing, but contains very little that would fall into the "Gratuitous" category. It's one in a series of early 80s slasher B-Movies, but it features William Shatner at his dramatic, cocky best.
Taken for all with all and slash by slash, I'm diagnosing Three Stars out of Five for Visiting Hours. It's a cut above your average slasher thriller and can be downright clever from time to time, but it also devolves into TV Movie of the Week territory in between those times. Take the good, take the bad, take the Shatner and take the Grant. Turn out the lights (in any pattern you wish), relax and enjoy if you can.
Visiting Hours are over... good night and see you in the next reel.
The results are in...
I'm afraid you've got a bad case of the Video Nasties!
The prognosis is not looking good!
The treatment calls for clicking HERE for more reviews
and then some intense psychiatric therapy!
Don't go committing any "Offences"!