Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Final Girl Film Club - Visiting Hours

Cody is endeavoring to write about all of the Final Girl Film Club entries he missed over the years. The movies will be covered in the original Film Club order in most cases, while some of the articles will be posted to coincide with certain dates.

Discussed this time, the ups and downs of 1982's Visiting Hours.

Deborah Ballin is a television talk show host who speaks out for women's rights, a fact that enrages regular viewer Colt Hawker. The final straw comes when Deborah announces that she's started up a defense fund and secured a new lawyer for a woman who's on trial for shooting her husband, an act that her supporters say was done in self defense against the man who had been abusing her.

When Deborah returns home from taping that episode, Hawker is waiting for her. Naked except for Deborah's makeup and jewelry, he attacks her with a knife, stabbing her in the chest and missing her heart by mere centimeters.

Deborah survives the attack and is rushed to the hospital... but that's not enough to keep her safe. Hawker intends to finish what he started.


From what I've seen, many viewers feel that Visiting Hours gets off to a very promising start, then goes off in a less enjoyable direction at around the 35 minute mark. I'd have to agree. The first 35 minutes are great. There's a suspenseful build-up to Hawker's attack on Deborah, with her moving around in her empty house. There's a good cat and mouse game played between the killer and his wounded prey, including a nice moment with a dumbwaiter. It doesn't take long for Hawker to follow Deborah to the hospital, where he doesn't find her but does get a bodycount started in a very creepy and disturbing way, cutting a patient's breathing tube and then sitting on the edge of the elderly woman's bed, taking pictures of her as she dies slowly. He overhears a nurse making disparaging remarks about whoever attacked Deborah Ballin, so now he has a second target.

Hawker gets sidetracked from his Deborah mission and follows the nurse home, where she's seen to have a very casual relationship with her babysitter. The kids are in bed when she gets home and the babysitter is taking a shower. The nurse relaxes on her bed, and when the babysitter finishes her shower she comes out of the bathroom wearing nothing but a towel and plops down on the bed beside her employer to have a chat. With Hawker outside a house containing an attractive nurse and a barely covered up babysitter, it's looking like we're getting set up for another good stalk and slash sequence, that the hits are really going to keep on coming in this flick. But instead, Hawker just drives off into the night.

At that point, the film branches off from being a thrilling slasher and becomes largely a character study of Colt Hawker. We get to know a lot about this repugnant, misogynistic, racist, homicidal douchebag. We see him mistreat women, he has flashbacks to his rough childhood, we find out his mother abandoned him, that he regularly visits his elderly father in a nursing home, we see him watch TV. We'll come to know exactly why Deborah bothers him so much, but all this knowledge doesn't make him any more sympathetic. Hawker still does some stalking around through the movie, but he takes his sweet time getting back to the action.

As the second act went on, the film became a slog to get through, and my attention began to wander. The approach gives the great Michael Ironside more to do as Hawker, but really drags down the film's momentum and is why things get drawn out to 105 minutes, too long for a movie of this type.

Visiting Hours came one year after Ironside made his genre breakthrough in Scanners, and this movie was made by the same trio of producers. They gave him a couple good actresses to focus his murderous attention on, Lee Grant as Deborah and Linda Purl as nurse Sheila Munroe. Prolific character and voice actor Harvey Atkin, best known to me as Morty from Meatballs, appears as another patient at the hospital, and given little to do in the small role of Deborah's boss is William Shatner.

It's a decent movie, nothing special but not terrible. It's bolstered by its opening 35 minutes and has moments near the end where it almost reaches those heights again, but the middle stretch can be a deal breaker for some and almost was for me.

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