Visiting Hours (1982)

It’s not surprising that there are countless film trailers that prove to be more exciting than the movies they’re advertising. The same can be said for movie posters. Visiting Hours is a case in point, as its cool poster of hospital lights forming a skull is one of two things that, for me, made this stand out from the other slasher films that were made during the ’80s. The other aspect making it stand out is that none other than William Shatner appears in it, just before he made Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

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This film begins with news anchor Deborah Ballin (Lee Grant) interviewing a lawyer about a recent case he won, in which he convinced a jury that an abused housewife did not kill her husband out of self-defense as she claims. But Deborah proceeds to rip her guest a new one, giving a strong argument that said housewife was indeed protecting herself. Deborah adds that the lady in question has a new lawyer and is prepared to open the case again, with Deborah’s support.

Her arguments are cheered by her colleagues backstage, although her boss Gary Baylor (Shatner) is flabbergasted, telling Deborah that she must remain neutral when discussing such topics on the air.

One of the studio’s maintenance workers, Colt Hawker (Michael Ironside), is also backstage in a separate room hearing Deborah’s on-air takedown. He shows he’s downright pissed off by squeezing a stress ball before yanking the cord out of a TV set that he was watching.

Gary’s put-downs cause Deborah to be pissed off herself as she heads back to her house. She sees that her home is in some disarray, and thinks it’s because of her recent houseguest. But Deborah soon finds the real cause when Colt pops out of nowhere wearing her jewelry. Hey, if you’re going to assault someone, you might as well look flashy, right?

He slashes her with his huge switchblade, but she manages to briefly hide in her bedroom and yells out of the window for help from a couple next door.

She then heads for her dumbwaiter, which she uses to lower herself to her home’s ground floor. But Colt makes that trip faster by using his blade to cut the cords on the thing. Deborah hits the ground and slowly moves again, until she sees her neighbor entering.

I guess Colt just bolted without us knowing, because we next see Deborah being admitted to County General Hospital. The nurse assigned to her, Sheila Munroe (Linda Purl), makes her comfortable, while Gary delivers flowers.

Colt enters the hospital pretending to be a florist and gets access to the floor Deborah is recuperating on. As he stalks his way to her room, he overhears Sheila badmouthing him over the phone. He gets into one of the rooms and uses his switchblade to cut the oxygen tube of a patient, thinking it’s Deborah. Alas, it turns out to be another woman. For some reason though, Colt decides that this is the time to take pictures of the poor lady as she’s gasping for air.  She manages to press her help button, summoning Sheila and one of her colleagues. Sheila goes to another patient requesting help, while her co-worker goes into the dying victim’s room and is quickly killed by Colt.

Shelia enters shortly afterward and finds both bodies. Startled, she sees Colt leaving and calls for him to help. But the elevator he’s now in closes its doors before she can get too close to him and his switchblade.

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After explaining everything to the police, Sheila goes home, preoccupied with what’s happened. Colt clandestinely follows her to her home, where she kisses her two sleeping children before getting into her sleepwear.  Her babysitter/friend Denise asks if everything’s okay, and Sheila tells her no. I’m assuming Denise is also Sheila’s girlfriend, since she plops into bed next to Sheila wearing only a towel.

Colt later returns to his apartment. Not long after, he picks up a girl named Lisa at a restaurant. At his place, she notes the hate letters he has posted on his walls, which are targeted at women and minorities. This soon leads to Colt brutalizing her.

After Deborah gives the press an update on her recovery, she becomes alarmed when she learns of the two people Colt has killed. Both Sheila and Gary try to reassure her that there’s nothing to worry about, but Deborah is convinced that Colt is going to keep coming after her. Her fear only increases when they learn that Colt killed another patient and a police officer before he bolted again. However, she needs surgery in order to conduct an upcoming interview, so Sheila sedates her.

We next see Colt keeping his father company at a nursing home. It’s here that we learn that his hatred of women comes from his abused mother throwing hot water in his dad’s face when Colt was a kid.

He continues to stalk Sheila, even taking pictures of her, as she goes to her second job at a nearby clinic. As luck would have it, she meets Lisa there, who tells her the story behind her recent injuries. They shoot the breeze, with Sheila telling her that she also works at the hospital.

Colt later returns to his place to find it ransacked. There are also lewd messages on his walls written in what looks like blood. But what really draws his attention is that the pics he took of Sheila and his hospital victim have been removed from the collage of pics on his closet wall. The collage now resembles the skull used in the ads.

At the hospital, Gary keeps reassuring Deborah with increased security. Sheila is surprised to see Lisa in the lobby. The latter says that she and her friends ransacked Colt’s place (which apparently involved mutilating themselves with the blood there?) and Lisa produces the pics she took. But before Sheila can take them to the cops, she gets a phone call. All she hears on the other end are the noises her daughter’s doll makes.

Frantically, she tells Lisa to give Gary the pics, and getting no help from the cops, heads off to her place. After arriving, Sheila quietly enters and arms herself with one of her kitchen knives. Reaching her living room, she sees one of her little girl’s dolls is sitting decapitated on the sofa. She makes her way upstairs and quietly tells Denise to wake her daughter Bridget and sit tight.

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Sheila goes back downstairs and calls Deborah. But before she can talk, Colt stabs her in the gut from beneath a table. He places the receiver next to her and snaps away while she moans in pain. Before departing, Colt takes her knife and places it in front of Denise and Bridget as they stand at the top of the staircase. I guess the guy has a soft spot for kids.

Sheila’s cries send the police and Gary, along with the photos, to her place. Colt, meanwhile, returns to his place and downs some pills with beer. He then smashes the bottle on his arm, leaving a nice, bloody mess.

As both Sheila and Colt are admitted to the hospital, Gary and the cops are at Colt’s place. As they look over his pics, Colt’s landlady informs them that he was injured and sent to the hospital.

As Sheila is prepped for surgery, Colt gets bandaged up and soon after starts his prowling. He finds and begins to chase Deborah after killing the policeman guarding her hospital room door. At one point, he manages to grope her before she tosses alcohol in his face. During their chase, he loses his switchblade while he tries to get in an elevator.

Soon, Deborah finds herself in a room where Sheila is waiting to be wheeled away for her surgery. Deborah calls Colt to her location before managing to stick his switchblade into his gut.

Being this is a slasher film, Colt grabs her foot as she walks away but dies before he can do anything else.

Lee Grant would go on to say she was less than satisfied with Visiting Hours. This is understandable, as some could interpret the movie as misogynist. I will say, though, that the Deborah/Sheila scenes are pleasant.

While Colt comes across as an idiot in some scenes (why would he take the time to kill random people and risk capture if killing Deborah is his sole objective?), the film manages to have unsettling moments. I also must give the film credit for having Lisa, one of Colt’s victims, produce the evidence that incriminates him, as well as Deborah herself being the one who takes the villain down in the climax.

Visiting Hours is certainly flawed. Shatner is clearly just here for a paycheck (anyone expecting to see Kirk take down the heavy from Total Recall will be disappointed), and the finale isn’t as lively as the one in the previous year’s Halloween II, another slasher film that takes place mostly in a hospital.

Despite all that, I can’t help but give the film points for its good intentions.

Rob Kirchgassner

Rob is a blogger, critic, and author. His latest novel is Ailurophobia, available now from Amazon.

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