Visiting Hours (1982)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #398

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Also known as Get Well Soon
Number of Views: Two
Release Date: May 28, 1982 (US)
Sub-Genre: Psychological Thriller
Country of Origin: Canada
Budget: CAD 5,500,000
Box Office: $12,111,208 (USA)
Running Time: 105 minutes
Director: Jean-Claude Lord
Producers: Victor Solnicki, Claude Héroux, Pierre David
Screenplay: Brian Taggert
Special Effects: Gary Zeller
Cinematography: René Verzier
Score: Jonathan Goldsmith
Editing: Jean-Claude Lord
Studios: Canadian Film Development Corporation (CFDC), Filmplan, Victor Solnicki Productions
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Stars: Lee Grant, Michael Ironside, William Shatner, Linda Purl, Lenore Zann, Harvey Atkin, Helen Hughes, Michael J. Reynolds, Kirsten Bishop, Deborah Kirshenbaum, Elizabeth Leigh-Milne, Maureen McRae, Dustin Waln, Dorothy Barker

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Suggested Audio Candy:

Ugly Duckling Smack

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If there’s one thing that really snags the pubes in my zipper it’s censorship. In particular, the whole sorry “video nasty” debacle of 1984 gets my blood boiling over. Amidst a national outcry from enraged parents, fanatical religious organizations, and the typically misguided British tabloid press, politicians passed a new law which identified any supposedly obscene films and brought them swiftly to justice. Of the 72 films proposed as morally repugnant, just over half were successfully prosecuted. However, the DPP got it all so woefully wrong that often films were banished with little to no reasoning. Case in point; one distinctly nondescript offender, Cannibal Man, was banned for its name alone while Tobe Hooper’s The Funhouse made the list purely through clerical error as it shared its title with Roger Watkins’ Last House on Dead End Street which was also released under the same title.

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I get that the market needed some sort of legislation in place to prevent these films falling into the wrong hands as, up until then, it had been unregulated. As a parent myself, it would be irresponsible stating otherwise. What rattles my cage most is the inconsistency shown as certain films were made an example of while other more mean-spirited works like Maniac, The Prowler and The New York Ripper, despite also being seized by police during raids, never officially made the shortlist. One inclusion which dumbfounds me to this very day is Jean-Claude Lord’s Visiting Hours. Originally passed with cuts for cinema, it was then named and shamed, before eventually being released with approximately one minute cut in 1986. All this while being relatively bloodless. Hilariously, it later aired on television totally uncut in 1989 after, you guessed it, another clerical error. Shameful.

TOTAL RECALL, Michael Ironside, 1990

Visiting Hours was the first English language film from French-Canadian director Lord (The Vindicator, Mindfield) and marked the first of two instances where he worked alongside Michael Ironside. The studio responsible for David Cronenberg’s Scanners had been so impressed with the actor’s portrayal of Darryl Revok that they suggested him for the role of the similarly unhinged Cole Hawker and that most definitely wasn’t a clerical error. Ironside broke his ankle on the first day of filming, thus the limp he carried towards the end of the film was entirely authentic.

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The first example of Lord going against slasher convention was his choice to make the killer of the piece known to the audience from the very offset. There weren’t an abundance of P.O.V. shots, leather gloved hands, or tacky masks, and instead Hawker had a penchant for his mom’s tacky costume jewellery and sported kinky leather vests as he went about his foul business. Ordinarily, this would appear something of a bum steer as it should have robbed Hawker of any mystery. However, what we weren’t made privy to, was the madness which existed inside that glorious pulsating cranium and his enigmatic performance hinted at just how cluttered a locale that was. Let’s not forget the kind of migraine this man could encourage through mind bullets alone.

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Cole was a pure vessel of vitriolic rage and misogyny with curled snarling lips and a look of cold, passionless, malice in his eyes. While never explained why he garnered an inexplicable hatred towards women, it was hinted on occasion that he had suffered a torrid upbringing and this was responsible for his contempt towards the fairer sex. Ironside played him to perfection, proving without reasonable doubt, that he is one of the finest character actors of our generation or any other come to think of it. So much of the success of Visiting Hours was simply down to him while none of the blame could be left on his doorstep for any of its numerous shortcomings.

VISITING HOURS, William Shatner, Lee Grant, 1982 TM and copyright © 20th Century Fox Film Corp. All rights reserved

After taking exception to feminist activist Deborah Ballin (an assured Lee Grant), after her appearance on a TV talk show, Hawker tracked her down and attempted to snuff her out. Having failed, she was admitted to the County General Hospital and he acquired himself some scrubs to continue tormenting her further. However, where Rick Rosenthal’s excellent Halloween II was predisposed with coming good on its promise of a bloated body count, this played out more like a made-for-TV thriller, albeit a well constructed one. It even pulled in William Shatner for a frankly pointless hammed-up cameo as Deborah’s unhelpful boss, presumably to locate the knock-off Shatner mask which Michael Myers had pilfered years earlier. Wrong hospital Bill; you may have travelled where no man had gone before, but geography clearly wasn’t your major.

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Visiting Hours was solid and well-played on the whole, but the performance of Ironside was single-handedly responsible for keeping us on the edge of our seats and not dropping off in their comfy confines. Certain long drawn-out scenes of Hawker stalking his female victims wrung every last droplet of tension out of Brian Taggert’s screenplay but wouldn’t have resonated had it not been for his formidable presence. It wasn’t half bad, despite being fifteen minutes overlong and needlessly padded out, but I’ll tell you another thing it wasn’t…a freaking video nasty. On the plus side, any infamy garnered has helped this decent Canadian tax shelter feature from vaporizing entirely but don’t go expecting splatter as it was strictly a nil by mouth affair.

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Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10

Grue Factor: 2/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: God only knows why this was branded as improper. Perhaps it was on account of the scene where Hawker used his switch blade to free one victim of her blouse. So while Susan George was busy having her back paddock pounded by David Warner and secretly loving it, a few displaced shirt buttons and a busted bra strap constituted a witch hunt right? We didn’t even see any skin for crying out loud. Tut tut indeed. Elsewhere there were a couple of stabbings which, despite being relatively tame by “video nasty” standards, were admittedly decidedly vicious. This didn’t translate to grue however and the closest we came to splatter was the moment where Hawker slammed his forearm down onto shattered glass during one of many moments of outright lunacy. That one admittedly necessitated at least a band-aid.

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