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Does ‘Visiting Hours’ Deserve Its ‘Nasty’ Reputation?

The 1982 thriller let Michael Ironside deliver a villain for the ages

Deborah Ballin (Lee Grant) is the host of “America Today.” Her on-air views anger exactly the wrong fan, a deranged individual named Colt Hawker (a great villain name and a stunning performance by Michael Ironside).

Hawker is obsessed with Ballin, sneaks into her beautiful home and attacks her. Though Ballin survives the incident, she is whisked away to a hospital, where Hawker aims to finish what he started.

Visiting Hours (1982) - Trailer in 1080p

Jean-Claude Lord’s “Visiting Hours” (1982) has the distinction of being on the infamous British list of “video nasties” and boasting one of the most memorable movie posters (more on that later).

It is also, hands down, the best ’80s slasher movie set in a hospital, better than Rick Rosenthal’s “Halloween II.”

The trailer and poster art (which a reputable 1987 mystery omnibus called “Murder in Manhattan” stole) are still tops. 

Lord’s direction is good – even before Ironside’s character enters the story, the camera is already stalking Grant. A sequence where Grant hides in a pulley while Ironside drags her to him, is especially well-staged (the camera provides her POV).

The director later made “Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives” (1989), which is a good soundtrack in a search of a movie.

Eddie And The Cruisers (1983) - Trailer

Grant and William Shatner are very good in this, but its Ironside’s showcase. The actor made a big impression in David Cronenberg’s “Scanners” the year before. This was another standout turn, though only a minor hit in 1982.

The tagline touted that it was “So Frightening, You May Never Recover.” No, but it is disturbing. “Visiting Hours” is truly unsettling.

Ironside’s character is all brute force, savage and bizarre – he dresses up in his victims’ jewelry and even photographs them. He’s playing Travis Bickle, but lacking any sense of humanity or a moral center.

Ironside is briefly introduced through extensive close-ups and profile shots, like a shark circling his prey, a fitting visual. We never root for the villain, as Ironside’s disturbingly committed performance makes this impossible, but the character’s evil glee and barely contained rage makes Ironside’s performance the main attraction.

RELATED: ‘TERROR IN THE AISLES’ IS PURE ’80s HORROR

Jonathan Goldsmith’s effective score, with plucks on the piano to simulate the sound of as heartbeat, is effective.

The screenplay has some limitations, like flashbacks to Ironside’s abusive father during childhood, which are vague rather than illuminating.

Right before the first attack scene, Grant is framed in front of a shower long enough for the “Psycho” (1960) reference to catch. Linda Purl, who bears a resemblance to Tippi Hedren, becomes the film’s other female lead in the second act. No one will confuse “Visiting Hours” for Hitchcock, though Lord definitely tries.

The movie has a weird place in its genre: it’s a slasher movie, but with a grown-up cast. The setting and tone are serious, at odds with the teen shenanigans audiences come to expect from these movies.

Also, unlike the scream/giggle reaction to the outrageous gore from the likes of “Friday the 13th,” the violence here is never meant to be “fun” or received with ironic laughter. Ironside keeps this tense.

“Visiting Hours” begins Hitchcockian, turns sleazy (an extended sequence of Ironside terrorizing a woman he picks up is over the line), then finds its way back at the end. By making Purl the film’s lead in the third act, the film regains its footing.

Being set in 1982, it creates the feeling of a hospital as an isolated environment where anyone has access to you. Thankfully, hospital security has come a long way since this movie, but that’s also part of the nightmarish scenario it creates.

If the title is a reference to those we’re happy to see us at our most vulnerable, then is there anything worse than being neglected by hospital staff while someone is stalking you, in a building where people die every day?

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