Monday, June 18, 2012
Visiting Hours - a toupological analysis.
Visiting Hours is a 1982 Canadian feature film starring Michael Ironside, Lee Grant, Linda Purl and William Shatner. Numbers two and four in that list are reunited on screen for the second time, having both starred together in 1968's Perilous Voyage and subsequently also an episode of this TV show.
The (thin) plot begins with reporter Deborah Ballin (Grant) in trouble for crossing a line between reporting and editorializing over the story of a battered wife facing prosecution for taking the law into her own hands against her husband.
Her boss, producer Gary Baylor (Shatner), is furious at Ballin's apparent on-screen feminist campaigning.
It seems the segment will be pulled.
But that's not the anger she should be concerned with. A member of the studio's cleaning crew, Colt Hawker (Ironside), is watching...
...and is haunted by Impulse-esque traumatic childhood memories of his father abusing his mother.
It's all made him into a psycho misogynist and now this journalist is speaking up for women's rights. So it's time for a killing spree, he decides. The serial killer goes after Ballin, turning up at her home.
Will Hawker get to Ballin, now recovering in hospital from her attack?
Who else will the madman go after?
How long will it take for someone to tip off the police about the killer's identity?
And how long until Gary Baylor (that's Shatner's character!) reappears and does something in this movie?
So many questions? Will they all be answered by the movie's climax?
So what to make of all this? Glad when it was over - relieved at the prospect of never having to voluntarily sit through this movie again! Not encouraging emotions at all... Frankly, we found Visiting Hours to be a thoroughly mediocre experience. The direction is so flat that one never really feels privy to a cinematic experience of any kind. The ruthlessness of The Terminator; the medical goings on of Coma (which also has a female lead); the claustrophobia of John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 - to paraphrase a famous debate statement in American politics: director Jean-Claude Lord sure ain't no John Carpenter.
Indeed, no matter how hard it tries with its almost mechanically and formulaically constructed array of horror contrivances and clichés, it all feels far more like a TV movie than a feature film. Among other things, TV movies need great scripts to work and that is certainly not the case here. Unbelievably crass dialogue (including endless examples of characters describing the character traits of other characters, such as "So shy" and enough dramatic pauses throughout to put even Bill Shatner to shame)...
GRANT: I'm not going home, I want to walk. [Exits]
SHATNER: Now, wait a minute! Alright, walk! [Long pause - end of scene]
...little characterization or plot, poor pacing, and head-scratching flaws in logic. Illustrating the latter: the psycho-killer Colt Hawker spends the entire movie slipping in and out of the hospital and homes that he is laying siege to. After a while, one can't help but think: are the police in this movie completely stupid or something? Is it really so hard to secure a hospital and protect a few specific people? What's with all the empty hospital corridors? Why is there no police chief character on the case?
The movie isn't entirely without merits, including decent, rich early 80s cinematography. And around 5% of the "scary" scenes genuinely do evoke a sense of some terror. Particularly the early scene in which Lee Grant finds herself pursued in her own home by the faceless intruder.
Others, like a scene in which Hawker - not only a psychopath, but also a voyeur and sadist - brings home a girl he has picked up only to brutally assault her, border on salacious and disturbing.
Lee Grant (still amazing-looking here despite being in her fifties at the time) gives a typically strong performance as does Michael Ironside as the creepy killer. As for Bill Shatner, his role is so Sulu-esque as to be almost perfunctory. He has a few scenes in Visiting Hours, playing the concerned TV producer but there's just no real meat there to chew on. As shocking as this is to say - William Shatner is in a film in which he doesn't really leave that typical Shatneresque stamp of "I'm here, look at me!". It's all very understated and insubstantial.
Why on earth did the actor take this role? Perhaps it's because as a man who has always believed in the power of "yes!!", Bill Shatner is hardly going to change that to "no" when presented with another opportunity to work with (the almost eternally and mysteriously bewigged) Lee Grant!
Let's move swiftly to the hair!
Bill Shatner's relatively brief screen time, coupled with his rather thankless role, sadly don't leave much in the way of MTOs (Moments of Toupological Opportunity) or MTIs (Moments of Toupological Interest). In the scene pictured above, the actor looks wistfully at a fresh flower - alas, the petals shall soon whither and ultimately detach themselves from the plant stem, leaving a raw bud - nature can be so cruel. It's a subtle moment, but in a movie otherwise lacking in such emotional complexities, Bill Shatner uses his unique ability to present toupological subtext to at least partially lift the scene and the movie.
In this early scene, we also have an interesting over-the-shoulder shot enabling us to see the back of Bill Shatner's head, an area often far more unpredictable than the toupee above.
Overall, what we have here is a typical-for the times "TJ Curly" phase one, meaning a "top hat" weaved on to the head. By the time of Star Trek III, this had been replaced by a phase two toup, which was also secured down the front sides (more here).
Visiting Hours is available on DVD (it's also currently up on YouTube, but who knows for how long...). A pretty lame experience. Let's close with a few more pictures of Lee Grant.