Visiting Hours (1982)

I’ve watched a lot of bad films. In my opinion, this is a good film, but it still receives the B-movie treatment because it ended up on the Video Nasty list in the UK. But why did it end up on the list? It does have a disturbing rape scene, but it isn’t necessarily graphic. The violence is realistic, but again, not graphic in the way films like Anthropophagus or Lucio Fulci’s films are. There is no nudity. But this is a pseudo-slasher film in which a mentally unstable and extremely misogynistic man stalks, attacks, and harasses a feminist journalist after she criticizes on television a case where a woman shot a man in self-defense (as far as we know. The case is only discussed at the beginning of the film in depth, though I believe through the conviction of Lee Grant’s character that we are to believe the woman did in fact commit self-defense). This is also a Canadian film, which might explain part of why it was banned in the UK (only 1 of the 72 Video Nasties is a British film). And this film does attempt a take on very uncomfortable subject matter.

Lee Grant is a journalist who shreds a lawyer at the beginning of the film on the air while her boss, William Shatner, watches. Unfortunately the crazed, misogynist, and bigoted Michael Ironside also watches, and he decides to retaliate and punish Grant for having the gall to express her opinion. Grant survives the initial attack but is hospitalized and treated by Linda Purl, but Ironside makes several attempts at Grant and finally goes after Purl. In the final scene, Grant realizes she must defend Purl and herself, and she makes a split-second decision that is world-shattering to her.

First, Michael Ironside is phenomenal as the hateful killer. He’s shown only in silhouette for the first half hour or so, but he is frighteningly convincing. He moves like an animal, a raging force of nature that is utterly relentless and unmerciful. I found him far more unnerving when compared to masked murderers like Michael Myers, mainly because he isn’t hiding behind a mask, yet his face might as well be one for the lack of life it shows. He is hatred personified. Lee Grant is also marvelous as the journalist who must violently tangle with Ironside because she aired her views. She also espouses nonviolence but has to confront her views on violence in the wake of Ironside’s assault. To me, she appeared both terrified but also tough, intelligent, and capable in a world where only one person seems to listen, a non-traditional female hero in the slasher genre. Linda Purl, meanwhile, is also intelligent and capable as the nurse who treats Grant, also feminist and trying to do her best to help other women who suffer from violence, but is generally less vocal and tries to stay within the rules. Eventually Ironside targets her too, and she races home to protect her family but becomes critically injured in the process.

So the real question: is this film feminist or misogynist? That’s a tough question to answer. Ironside is never the hero, but at times the film tries to show the reason why he is mentally ill, after witnessing his mother horribly wound and cripple his father with a pot of boiling oil as an act of self-defense (it is implied that the father was abusive). As a result, the audience could potentially sympathize with him as the addled mind of someone who saw a terrible act and never recovered. Yet his actions warrant no sympathy as he unemotionally murders hospital residents, threatens and rapes a woman, and attacks the female stars. I would also argue that Ironside is the lead here. He receives top billing, and once he is revealed, the film follows him closely compared to Lee Grant.

Conversely, Lee Grant is the sympathetic female lead, attacked merely because she gave an opinion. But a) the attack targeted her because she gave her opinion (the misogynist argument, “she brought it on herself”), and b) she is forced to deny her views and commit violence in the end, even though it could be seen as an act of love to protect a friend. In some ways it could be argued that the film is punishing her for her actions at the beginning and forcing her to change her thoughts as a result. It could be argued that Ironside even wins due to this change, despite his failing to kill Grant. Her killing him leads to her own humiliation by the same press she belongs to.

And then there are the other characters. Repeatedly men appear as inept security guards, police, and hospital patients who fail to help the women in need, again and again. Shatner’s character acts largely sympathetic to Grant but still patronizing, and he fails her multiple times throughout the film.  Despite this, I think this is one of his best films. He actually acts in this one. Purl is sympathetic and doing her best to help other women in need, but she is restrained by the system in place and even hindered by it when she most desperately needs help. All of the other women in this film are either victims, such as Lisa, a young woman who is brutally raped by Ironside, or they defend Ironside, such as his landlady.  We end up with the few men who try to be supportive completely failing, and women becoming victims or protecting the abusers.

Either way, I would recommend watching Visiting Hours, particularly if you are interested in the debate about feminism in exploitation and horror films but don’t have the stomach to sit through things like I Spit On Your Grave. In my opinion, it is a well done film, which does an excellent job establishing a consistent sense of dread and disgust while never going into full blown gore porn or sexploitation. I would also be interested in hearing the thoughts of other people who have watched it, to understand how they viewed it.

Oh, and don’t expect to learn anything from the trailer…

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