Review Date: October 22, 2008
Released by: Anchor Bay
Release date: 4/18/2006
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.78:1 | 16x9: Yes
I know Canadians are typically modest, but I'll come right out and say it: we made some damn good slasher films. Black Christmas
, My Bloody Valentine
, Prom Night
, Terror Train
...we had a pretty good run in the eighties. While those are the ones that will commonly be cited in top ten lists, more obscure entries like American Nightmare
are just as good, if not better. Visiting Hours
, another Canadian slasher, sort of falls in the middleground - successful upon its release, but largely forgotten since. A few years ago Anchor Bay finally injected this hospital slasher with enough digital serum for DVD. How is the disc, and how does the film hold up with other canuck tentpoles?
In a trope right out of Eyes of a Stranger
, we have an outspoken news reporter, Deborah Ballin (Lee Grant
) speaking out for women's rights and infuriating a mad stalker in the process. There's a media frenzy surrounding a court case where a woman was alleged to have killed her husband in self-defense. The defense is arguing she staged the event, and Deboarh's objections to the allegation, as well as her viewpoint that violence should never be tolerated, causes a man missing a few too many screws to get all turned up inside. You know you're in trouble when you piss off Michael Ironside (Verhoeven's token bad guy and previous good guy in American Nightmare
). Colt Hawker (Ironside
) pays Deborah a visit when she arrives home, but is unable to finish the job before fleeing the scene.
Deborah is admitted to the hospital under the care of Sheila Munroe (Linda Purl
). The authorities suspect the attack to be a robbery and deem her safe enough to recover. Colt is still on the prowl, however, and sets his sites on that big red H. Leave it to health care bureaucracy that Deborah is shuffled around to different rooms, but it ends up working in her favor. When Colt strikes at the room she's listed in, he ends up mistakenly murdering yet another innocent bystander. How do you follow up a blunder like that? Beat the shit out of a prostitute, of course. Colt has some serious childhood hold ups, and it isn't until he's sown crying in a basement laundromat that all the flashbacks start pouring out.
The man is deranged. His hatred for women runs deep, and it's not only Deborah that he's looking to punish. It's any woman that stands in his way. Deborah's too-busy boyfriend, a toupee wearing William Shatner, is never around, so it's up to a news reporter, a nurse and a prostitute to stand up for woman's lib and fight for their lives. Colt knows where they live, tough, and is about to make this a family affair.
Let me get this out of the way first - I hate celebrities in slasher films. The horror film is the rare genre where an unknown cast actually works to its benefit, since there's never any preconceptions. Anything goes when it's a cast of nobodies. When you've got a star in the lineup, whether it's William Shatner here or half of the Columbia studio backlot in Alone in the Dark
, you know the script is going to cater otherwise insignificant scenes to them to boost screentime, and worse yet, you know they will be in it for the long haul if they make it past their first scene. There's just no surprise, it is in a way a self-imposed censorship on spontaneity, creativity and all that good excess horror fans love. Is Jack Palance going to let the filmmakers cut off his Oscar winning hands and then have his body impaled with some gardening sheers? Nope, but the rafters in The Burning
were game. So imagine my trepidation, then, when Captain Kirk smirked his way onto the screen in Visiting Hours
Thankfully, Shatner's hardly in the film. It's no surprise that every scene he is in is a total throwaway, inflating what normally would have been a ninety minute film into a chunky one-o-five. He also does that thing I hate with any film where the woman is allowed to be a strong central character - he undermines their success by insubstantially consoling them after they previously dealt with their adversaries on their own terms. The same sort of cop out lessens the femme blow of movies from Friday the 13th Part II
to Red Eye
. Even with Shatner mugging about though, the film does still present a modest and meaningful look on violence and how it is consistently misunderstood in media deconstruction. Grant's sort of Lady Macbeth realization during the closing moments is particularly effective. But oh, the Shatner, why are you here? Surely Michael Ironside as the lead already made this Canadian enough for tax investors?
Ironside gives a typically snarling performance; so good at being a creep that you almost take his acting chops for granted. The uneven and muddled story doesn't give him the buildup and character his villain requires, but he does the most with a meager part. The script has him crazy and on the rampage almost from the opening credits, and it's only until after the midway point that it ever stops to try and give him any sort of context. A slasher villain can be effective without any pretense (see Final Exam
), but when so much time is spent humanizing the character in closeups, they move from being a shadowed force of vengeance to a character that demands explanation and reason. While I was happy to see the flashbacks finally surface, they were so simple and shallow that it seems a wasted opportunity. When you've got someone as crazy as Michael Ironside in the main role, at least give him something other than a childhood battery cliché to play off of.
[So a muddled script, a bulky runtime, an overused Shatner and an underdeveloped Ironside...that doesn't quite sound like a winning combination. It isn't, but the momentum of the finale and the sheer Canadianness of the proceedings nearly redeems this otherwise modest slasher entry. This is the first slasher film of note to say the word "eh" without any hint of irony, and you won't find any other slasher where the killer cruises around on an ice rink zambonie. Seeing as universal health care is one of the qualities that sets Canada apart from the States, it's a fitting location to have everything set in a hospital. That the hospital is characterized as a dark, understaffed labyrinth, complete with bureaucracy and poor security, is itself a fine bit of social commentary from within the system that funded the film. Still, these are only peripheral pleasures and can't really mask the fact that in the canon of slashers, this falls in the worst place it possible can - the mediocre middle.
Anchor Bay has done a decent job cleaning up the film, presenting a clean copy of Visiting Hours
in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. The transfer has been encoded progressive scan, and exhibits a fair bit of detail and minimal grain. Color timing isn't quite as stellar, though, with fleshtones and overall saturation inconsistent from scene to scene. It isn't a huge issue, since there is generally a good use of color throughout the film (even in all those sterile hospital scenes), but it is distracting when they don't quite sync up color-wise.
This film has a fever, and the only cure is more mono. English mono is all that's provided, and it serves the film fine. It's a quiet movie, with minimal orchestra and a whole lot of contemplative silence. It's understated in the great Canadian fashion, and this mono mix preserves that quality amiably.
This was one of the many titles Anchor Bay leased out from 20th Century Fox, and because of such we get a bunch of trailers before the film for movies that don't really relate thematically at all. Bette Davis? If it ain't Watcher in the Woods
or Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?
then she's in bad company. The only actual film-specific extras are brief radio and TV spots. The trailer would have been nice. It would have been nice to land a sit-down with Michael Ironside on his early work, since even after going on to great success as villains in Top Gun
and Total Recall
, he's still been marginalized on DVD extra material. Has he ever been in a supplement?
isn't really a slasher you'll want to revisit. The story lacks focus and momentum, William Shatner is totally out of place, doing nothing but bog down the runtime, and even the great Michael Ironside isn't utilized to full capacity. There's a few delights for canuck viewers, but everything else here is middle of the road. The image has some timing issues, but is otherwise strong, and the sound is what you'd expect in mono. No extras means that unless you're a feverous fan of the film you should ask the doctor to prescribe you with something with a little more punch. I heard the Moosehead in My Bloody Valentine
is pretty potent.
Movie - C+
Image Quality - B+
Sound - B
Supplements - c-
- Running time - 1 hour 26 minutes [Theatrical]
- Rated R
- 1 Disc
- Chapter Stops
- English mono