The films which were on the Video Nasties list in the early 80s mostly look like a quaint and goofy old bunch in our modern world of Evil Dead remakes and Serbian Films. I cannot for the life of me work out why Visiting Hours is on the list. Sure there are plenty of stabbings and even the odd slashing if you know what I mean. But most of it is through clothes or with just a splash of blood. There’s no close-up flesh tearing, eye gouging or even good old fashioned beheadings. There is William Shatner mind you, but outside his singing, what’s so nasty about him?
Although it was realised during the height of the slasher craze, and it certainly sounds like it could be a Happy Birthday to Me or Friday the 13th with its time-related title, it is quite a different beast. For one thing it is really well shot with a solid, professional cast. Also the script is not your usual teens-with-tits-in-peril jobbie but actually intelligent and well written, with something to say on the matter.
The first shock, not just within the slasher genre but also in Hollywood in general, is that it stars a middle-aged woman. Lee Grant (who will forever be etched in my mind as having one of the most ludicrous deaths in cinema when in Omen II she has her eyes bitten out by a crow and then is launched into the air by a 10 ton juggernaut) plays an outspoken TV journalist. When she makes one of her editorials about a domestic violence case, she attracts the attention of a woman-hating psychopath who wants to shut her mouth… permanently!
Said psycho is played by the always dependable Michael Ironside with slicked back hair and a deeply unflattering tucked in blue T-shirt, Simon Cowell-style. However, when we first meet him waiting in Grant’s flat, he is wearing a pair of Y-fronts and all Grant’s jewellery. After trapping her in the bathroom, Ironside takes off the bling and puts his clothes back on. He never does anything like this again throughout the film and its not referred to or explained in any way. Its like he was caught in a kinky moment he was trying out and decided the jewellery and underpants look wasn’t for him.
Unlike many slashers of the time where the killer is kept in shadows, we spend a lot of time with Ironside. Apart from all the plotting to kill Grant in the hospital she’s in after his botched first attempt, we also see more of his life. He picks up dates (warning girls – never go on a date with a man wearing a black leather armless T-shirt), cuts up photos of his victims and visits his sick old pa in a home. Through flashbacks we get the hint of the basis for Ironside’s hatred of the opposite sex, and possible abuse at the hands of his father, but its kept a bit vague in case we get too much sympathy for him.
Because make no mistake, we are on the women’s side, but the men here are decidedly not. Grant is constantly fighting to get her message heard that her attacker is in the hospital looking for her or her editorials shouldn’t be cut from broadcast. She befriends a nurse who, when fearing she is in danger, is ignored by the male policemen. William Shatner as Grant’s lover also dismisses her fears, although I’m not sure whether that’s because he’s an uncaring man, or that Shatner plays the whole thing with a lightness of touch and twinkle in his eye.
What is it with William Shatner and me? Whenever I see his name in a film credits I am immediately much more interested than I was a moment before. His line delivery is legendary but he also does seem to be having a thoroughly good time whenever the cameras are rolling. He just can’t help himself. I must watch more Shatner.
Anyway, back to the film. This isn’t just some feminist assault on man, and even if it is, good. There aren’t enough films which tackle misogyny head on. Casting a successful adult female is good start but also the young nurse talks to her as to how she is an inspiration to her in life. When the nurse is attacked, she finds Grant is an inspiration again, as she does her best to survive in the same way Grant did. And while Grant does her fair share of screaming and running away (as anyone would with Michael Ironside running after you) when it comes to the final showdown (SPOILER) she decides not to run away, face her male attacker and penetrate him with his own knife. As he collapses onto the floor dying, Grant leans in to look into his eyes, as if trying to read what it is that had made him so hateful towards women. When, as she walks away, Ironside in a last gasp of violence, grabs her ankle, Grant doesn’t even stop, she just shakes him off, like she has the knowledge of him and he is no longer a threat.
Then William Shatner shows up and gives her a big cheesy grin and a hug, bless him.