If there is one type of television show that will never get me as a viewer it’s medical shows. I never watched ER, and don’t even get me started on House. I mean, a show where they figure out all sorts of weird diseases that people had!?! I’d spend the entire hour going, “I’ve got that…oh no, I’ve got that one, too.” I’ll just come right out and say it…hospitals give me the creeps. So what did I go and do, I watched a horror movie set in a hospital…1982’s Visiting Hours.
Deborah Ballin (Lee Grant) is a TV reporter who has been focusing on bringing attention to cases involving battered women. Her producer, Gary Baylor (William Shatner…yes SHATNER) admires her work, but doesn’t care so much for the way she comes dangerously close to earning lawsuits for the television station. Her latest report has also attracted the attention of a rather disturbed gentleman, Colt Hawker (Michael Ironside). At least that’s what the credits say his name is, I don’t think it’s ever mentioned in the film. Hawker decides to pay Deborah a visit, breaking into her home and attacking her.
Deborah survives her attack and is taken to the hospital for surgery. At the hospital she befriends a young nurse, Sheila (Linda Purl), who does her best to assure Deborah that she is safe. Little do they realize that Hawker has made his way to the hospital. He ends up killing a nurse as well as an elderly patient who is staying in the original room that was assigned to Deborah. Deborah now begins to realize that she is the target and not just the victim of a random break-in.
Having failed, once again, at killing Deborah, Hawker returns to his modest home. His apartment is covered with framed letters he has written to various news outlets as well as a strange collage of pictures of some of his victims. We also get to see him pick up a girl named Lisa (Lenore Zann) whom he threatens with a switchblade and viciously attacks. We also see him visit his disfigured father. We later learn, through flashbacks, that dear old dad was severely burned when his wife, Hawker’s mother, fought off an attack by dousing him with a pot of boiling water.
Back at the hospital, Deborah continues to try and convince Shatner and the others that she is in danger. She keeps catching glimpses of Hawker at the hospital, but no one believes her. Soon, Sheila finds that she and her family are being targeted by the killer as well. It all comes down to a final showdown at the hospital as Hawker tries to silence the outspoken reporter once and for all.
I suppose Visiting Hours can be categorized as a slasher film, though it’s quite different from the more iconic 80’s entries in that genre. For one thing, our killer isn’t masked or disfigured in any way. He’s not even bizarre in his appearance…other than the fact that he’s Michael Ironside and that’s plenty creepy enough. He does have a strange backstory, though, that only sorta explains his motivation. It seems as if he’s out to get this feminist reporter who defends women who fight back because his father was scared by just such a woman. However, there are a few brief moments in those flashback scenes that make it appear as if Ironside’s character may have been molested by his father…so it’s all a bit ambiguous. Ironside, as you may imagine, does make a very effective psycho killer, though. He has very little dialogue, but that steely look in his eyes combined with his signature sneer is quite scary.
On the other hand, Lee Grant’s performance leaves a lot to be desired. She really over does things and ends up giving much of the film a made-for-tv kind of feel. Shatner certainly contributes to that, as well. When I saw Shatner’s name show up in the credits I was thrilled. Unfortunately, he’s given almost nothing to do in this film, except for what may be the most dramatic pudding eating scene in movie history.
As a precursor to some of the more famous 80’s slasher films, Visiting Hours is an interesting watch, though. It does pull off a few solid scares and it is helped big time by the Ironside factor. On a whole, though, the film is just kind of meh