Yes, a West Island slasher film

William Shatner and a few other (better) actors star in 1982’s Visiting Hours, another marvel from the Tax Shelter era of Canadian cinema.

Visiting Hours
Linda Purl in Visiting Hours
Alex Rose’s Made in MTL is a series exploring films from the vaults shot and/or set in Montreal.
The film: Visiting Hours (1982)

Does Montreal play itself? It’s never said explicitly, but it very well may.

Notable local talent: I think it goes without saying that Visiting Hours is somewhat momentous in the context of this feature since it represents one of only two features William Shatner has made in his hometown (the other is his debut, something called The Butler’s Night Off). As a not-particularly-classy product of the tax-shelter days, it’s hardly a career high (not to mention it would be charitable to deem Shatner’s role supporting) but it’s an interesting footnote. Like most movies made in the tax shelter days, it fills its supporting roles with actors from all over the country, so there are few recognizable faces throughout.

visitinghours__spanMost egregious local landmarks: The hospital used for the exteriors (and presumably the interiors) is the veterans’ hospital in Ste-Anne-de-Bellevue. It’s also pretty much the only location in the film besides Lee Grant’s home (which could be anywhere) and Ironside’s home (which is a shabby Plateau-esque building that’s only glimpsed in one shot).

As I’ve probably pointed out in the past, I’m mildly obsessed with the period of Canadian cinematic history between 1975 and 1984 known as the Tax Shelter Boom. Paul Corupe of Canuxploitation explains it succinctly here but they were essentially films that were star-heavy and big-budget on paper, but essentially made cheaply and barely released to capitalize on the huge tax breaks offered by the government. Not many of these films are very good; some of them are downright unwatchable. Others hit a weird kind of balance, where they’re both competently made and yet completely devoid of effort or interest. Visiting Hours is in that last category. Directed by the more-than-competent Jean-Claude Lord and starring actors that have done much better work elsewhere, it’s also completely mundane, generic and warmed-over.

Deborah Ballin (Oscar winner — though not for this movie, obviously — Lee Grant) is a prominent feminist activist whose appearance on a talk-show earns the scorn of greasy psychopath Colt Hawker (Michael Ironside). Hawker, you see, hates women for fighting back because he witnessed his own mother disfiguring his father with a pan full of hot oil when the father got rough with her. This deep-seated trauma has caused him to become a total fucking psycho, stalking Ballin into her home and attacking her badly enough to land her in the hospital. Deborah is certain that Hawker has it out for her specifically, but her boss (Shatner) believes she was the target of a robber. Hawker begins stalking a nurse at the hospital (Linda Purl) in an attempt to get closer to Deborah — and, well, you can probably guess the rest.

Michael Ironside
Michael Ironside

Considering that Visiting Hours was placed on the notorious U.K. list of banned “Video Nasties” and has the pretty gross notion of a killer stalking feminists at its core, it’s a fairly tame thriller that has more in common with Halloween II than the grotty gorefests that accompanied it on the Video Nasties list. That’s not to say that the idea of a man stalking and killing women based on some half-baked Freudian flashbacks isn’t gross and exploitative, but it ultimately doesn’t feature that much in the film. It’s far less reprehensible than other films of the same time period, but I’d take a little outrageous exploitation if it meant the film was dynamic or interesting in any way.

Visiting Hours barely works under the (usually pretty generous) guise of a slasher film, either; it’s mostly devoid of suspense, despite Lord’s careful staging of suspenseful sequences, undone mostly by Ironside’s frothing-at-the-mouth approach to playing a crazy guy. It’s a slickly made film that doesn’t fundamentally understand the appeal of its genre, and thus represents the worst aspects of the tax-shelter films: well-packaged, well-cast genre films that have little to no conception of what actually makes the genre work. There’s slicing and stalking and all of the elements of a slasher movie, but it’s all going towards the ultimate goal of selling a poster and maybe some overseas distribution. ■
Visiting Hours is available to stream (in gloriously unnecessary HD) on Netflix Canada.