A Movie A Day: VISITING HOURS (1982) + Brian DePalma’s DRESSED TO KILL (1980)!!
Published at: Oct. 9, 2009, 12:24 a.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the newest October special horror run of A Movie A Day!
[For the entirety of October I will be showcasing one horror film each day. Every film is pulled from my DVD shelf, recorded on the home DVR or streamed via Instant Netflix and will be one I haven’t seen. Unlike my usual A Movie A Day or A Movie A Week columns there won’t necessarily be connectors between each film, but you’ll more than likely see patterns emerge day to day.]
VISITING HOURS was a title that jumped out at me because of the cast list. William Shatner and Michael Ironside in an early ‘80s hospital horror movie? Um. Yes.
In keeping with the last few films I’ve had on this Halloween run of AMAD Visiting Hours was a lot weirder than I expected. In my mind I pictured a more straightforward killer in a hospital movie, but what I got was a commentary on feminism… set in a hospital with a killer in it.
Lee Grant plays a broadcast news reporter who champions women’s rights, especially in a specific case where a woman was jailed for killing her abusive husband in the middle of a horrific beating. She’s debating this with the prosecuting attorney on her show and a creepy looking, pierced freak is getting pissed while watching it.
I didn’t even realize this freak-show was Michael Ironside at first, not until he invades Grant’s house after the show and cuts her up.
There is a certain cheese factor you kind of have to expect when exploring ‘80s genre films, especially something with a DVD cover that has a big skull on it, so this opening sequence was a bit different than I was expecting. The tone is deadly serious, almost something out of a Brian DePalma movie. Ironside stalking Lee Grant through the house isn’t done to entertain you, but to creep you out.
And Ironside plays it the nines, which is awesome. He’s a juggernaut here, a human rhino filled with hatred towards women, especially strong women.
Grant is able to escape with her life, but she’s real hurt. Naturally she goes to the hospital for surgery and recovery, but Ironside isn’t one to leave his work unfinished, so he keeps trying to sneak in a kill this woman.
There’s a B storyline following a young mother and head Nurse (Linda Purl) as she befriends Grant that is interesting, but doesn’t fully work. At some point Ironside gets this nurse in his sights too, and starts stalking her. It’s like they set her up to be the tragedy of the story, but don’t have the courage to step past that line when the time comes.
By splitting the narrative the filmmakers over-complicate the second half of the movie. Not only are we following Grant’s recovery and the nurse’s home life we also stay with Ironside and learn more about him, especially where his hatred of women who will stand up for themselves comes from.
It’s too much and muddles the movie at a certain point.
I won’t go so far as to say that the movie gets boring. It doesn’t, it just gets over-complicated and doesn’t go as far as I wanted it to.
One Mr. William Shatner is also in this movie. However he’s not in it much. Where Michael Ironside’s role was a pleasantly bigger, more intense part than I was expecting I was very disappointed with the amount of Shatner in the movie. Not only that, but he plays a boring character.
Shatner is Grant’s boss at the news station and also her main squeeze. He’s there at the beginning, chastising her about stirring the shit on the air, gets a little of his flirt on, then visits her a couple of times in the hospital. He never really does anything other than be Grant’s support at key moments of emotional distress.
Considering this was released the same year as WRATH OF KHAN I was hoping for a substantially bigger role for Mr. Shatner, but that’s not what I got. Cue echo-screaming to the stars! “IRONSIDDDDEEEE!”
Final Thoughts: While it may be a flawed movie, it is heads and tails better than I expected it to be mainly because it takes the situation seriously and doesn’t go for the tongue-in-cheek winky-winky at the camera exploitation feel that I expected from the cover and title. If this story was developed by someone like DePalma, Cronenberg or Paul Schrader it would have been taken to that next level and might be incredibly famous today. As it is, it’s a strong, underseen movie, but not a classic.
I mentioned Brian DePalma a couple of times in the above review. While I was tempted to go with another hospital-set horror movie for the recommendation title, I think instead I’ll go with a like DePalma thriller from the same era.
Brian DePalma’s DRESSED TO KILL is out of print, but available on Video On Demand and also still available to rent on Netflix (but not Netflix Instant, damnit!).
I came to DRESSED TO KILL a little late in life. I don’t know what your movie-watching habits are, but I’ll find a director or actor I like and then indulge in their films like a buffet, watching a whole bunch at once.
With DePalma I did that as a teenager. I grew up with Carrie, loved it, so I did a run where I discovered my favorites of his work: PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE and BLOW OUT. I stopped at Blow Out, leaving a few more surprises for me to uncover later. DRESSED TO KILL was one of those surprises I hadn’t watched until the last couple of years.
And boy is it fucked up.
In Michael Caine’s great autobiography (called What’s It All About) he said that after he did this film he refused to do another horror movie because of how disturbed he was by living in this world. Then he did JAWS: THE REVENGE, but I guess that one falls more into the category of “comedy” than “horror,” yeah?
DePalma is always given shit for his Hitchcock homages (or rip-offs depending on which side of the argument you’re on) and he’s never been as blatant as he is in this movie. But that doesn’t matter. Sure, Angie Dickinson is the Janet Leigh of this movie. Sure there’s an even deeper Psycho vibe than that (spoiler!). Who cares? A good movie’s a good movie and I really dig DePalma’s twisting of Hitchcock’s style into something grittier, darker and more brutal.
Plus Hitchcock never had a young, nubile Nancy Allen slut it up so hotly or an aged, but still sexual dynamite Angie Dickinson in a crazy graphic shower scene. Hitch’s shower scene turned out slightly different…
There’s a myriad of characters, including the sensible psychiatrist (Michael Caine), a snoopy teenager (Keith Gordon), a gruff New York cop (Dennis Franz) and the hooker who witnesses a murder (Nancy Allen) all circling around a peculiar woman-hunt. Turns out this blonde slasher is a patient of Caine’s and he joins up with the witnesses to find his dangerous ex-patient before she kills again.
The mystery of the movie might not be all that hard to figure out and is probably known already by many of you even if you haven’t seen this movie, but it speaks volumes about how well-made this film is that knowing the “twist” doesn’t ruin the experience.
There’s a scene with Dickinson being followed through a museum that plays out without any dialogue and is pure suspense, switching POVs and creating the type of atmosphere that made DePalma a master of this era.
Dressed To Kill is shocking, graphic, crazy, disturbed and just fucking great. Totally my kind of movie.
Here are the next week’s worth of AMAD titles:
Friday, October 9th: MACABRE (1980)
Saturday, October 10th: PRIVATE PARTS (1972)
Sunday, October 11th: ROAD GAMES (1981)
Monday, October 12th: DEAD END DRIVE-IN (1986)
Tuesday, October 13th: PSYCHIC KILLER (1975)
Wednesday, October 14th: THE BODY SNATCHER (1945)
Thursday, October 15th: THE LEOPARD MAN (1943)
See we’re headed back a little bit over the next week, ending up at the last two Val Lewton movies I didn’t hit last year. See you folks tomorrow for some Lamberto Bava!
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