Sunday, November 27, 2011

Michael Ironside Can Visit Me Any Hour

Why does MIchael Ironside headline so few films? 

Why does Michael Ironside wear women's makeup in so few films?
Why does Michael Ironside wear a pleather tank top in so few films?

Why is this world such a poorly managed place?
Quick Plot: A feminist newswoman named Deborah (Lee Grant) earns some press when she grills the lawyer who prosecuted a battered wife who killed her abusive husband. Later that evening, Deborah comes home to find a shirtless Michael Ironside wearing her costume jewelry and waving a knife over her heart. 

Deborah is sent to a general hospital and put in the care of Sheila, a single mother nurse who does double duty at a woman's shelter. What neither woman realizes is that Ironside's Colt is a serial killer who stalks and slays women that catch his interest.
Visiting Hours was once classified as a video nasty, which is irritatingly ridiculous. Watching it today, the actual violence is quite tame, leaving more to the imagination than you'd expect. Despite being about a raging misogynist who slaughters strong women, the film contains no nudity, hardly any gore, and carefully filmed violence that has far greater effect for not being exploitive. A pseudo-rape scene, for example, never lingers over the victim's body lecherously. It's a great exercise in restraint that makes Visiting Hours feel positively classy (not nasty). 

Okay, so there's this, but trust me!
The film was written by Brian Taggart, whose genre credits include a random assortment of television and films like The Spell, Omen IV, Poltergiest III, V, and the made-for-TV remake of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. Director Jean-Claude Lord has a long resume, though few (that I can tell) genre credits. It’s quite a shame, since Visiting Hours is indeed a uniquely well-crafted thriller that does almost everything right.
There's also something to admire about the strong female characters, not a trait you found readily in '80s killer thrillers. As Sheila, Linda Purl (probably better known to modern audiences as Pam Beesly's mom and Michael Scott's ex) conveys a realistic balance of likable innocense and common motherly sense. Sure, she probably shouldn't run home without that reluctant cop when she suspects a killer's playing house there, but you believe her earnestness at that point and become genuinely invested in her fate. Lee Grant's Deborah isn't a perfectly defined character (see Low Points) but she has a certain Dee Wallace-in-The-Howling quality that makes you respect this professional woman's dedication to her beliefs.

But the real star of Visiting Hours has Sides of Iron, and his contribution can't be underrated. The fact that he barely says two sentences in a row yet still conveys so much presence speaks strongly to Michael Ironside's performance, making the character's Energizer Bunny-like determination to assassinate his targets all the more powerful. 

 Also, he wears a pleather tanktop in one scene and an argyle sweater vest the next. Now THAT'S versatility!

High Points
I won't argue that I'm not biased--my love of Michael Ironside is legendary to listeners of Girls On Film--but I do objectively feel that he gives a superb performance. The man's face is obviously custom-made to this kind of role, but Ironside goes a step farther by making Colt both a sociopath and child of abuse. It's actually quite understated

This is an odd 'high point' to explain, but I shall try: the sexual aspect of Visiting Hours' violence is handled incredibly well. A lesser film would have used several chances to toss in a few boobs or worse, gone more conventionally brutal with the attacks. But that's not who Colt is. As we learn from his surviving victim, he's impotent and therefore not interested in the sexuality of his female victims, but in their strength. It's a much more complex topic than you typically see in a serial killer thriller, and I appreciated it.
Low Points
I understand that Deborah's main position as a political newscaster is anti-violence, but this quirk seems so shoe-horned in to make Visiting Hours end on a kind of Straw Dogs 'we're all killers' note that simply isn't necessary

Random AMC Pacer Alert!
The vehicle of choice for single mom nurses everywhere

Lessons Learned
Even crimped hair and hot pink high-waisted jeans aren't enough to arouse some men
Sleeping in the nude can be slightly inconvenient, especially if you're babysitting small children or expecting a serial killer to break in

Too much loose living causes gallstones 
Hospital pudding can be quite tasty, at least if you're William Shatner

Random Observation
When the subject of criminal sketch artists arises, I often find myself confused. I can't remember what color hair a person has, much less describe in detail where his or her cheekbones sit with enough accuracy to produce an accurate portrait. That being said, Michael Ironside has a pretty unique face and had any police department employee with a notebook and pencil asked, I imagine every female character in the film could have given a full-bodied driver's license photo!

It's a shame that Lord didn't make more genre films, as Visiting Hours is by far and away a cut above most of what I associate with this type of story. The characters are well-constructed by good writing and solid performances, making the plot twists believable even when they shouldn't be. The film is streaming on Netflix and has just received a long-delayed DVD release (on a dual disc with Bad Dreams, no less) so check it out if you enjoy a good cat-and-mouse hunt or if like me, you just enjoy Michael Ironside in pleather.


  1. I think I love Ironside differently than you do. But that's OK.

    I wasn't wild about this one when I saw it, but did dig Ironside. Plan to give it another spin someday, though now you've reminded me of Bad Dreams....and now I want to watch that again. Damn choices!

    As usual, great stuff!

  2. But it's the same DVD set! So the choice is simply which film to watch first (I suggest the one that shows more Ironskin).

  3. I enjoyed this film too. There was a certain level of mystery in Ironside's character that kept me on my toes. The pleather and jewelry were effective for the creep factor and I liked how open for interpretation that was. You hit every point and I couldn't agree more.

  4. Right? It would've been so easy to make him a rapist or obsessed stalker, but having him be so sexually stunted and frustrated was infinitely more interesting. Plus, pleather!

  5. I suspected it was pleather but wasn't sure. I think that if you can look at a piece of clothing in a movie and know for sure if it's pleather or real leather, you have the eyes of an eagle.

    I saw this movie on cable as a kid and it scared the hootenanny out of me. What "hootenanny" was doing inside of me to begin with will forever be a mystery.

    Visiting Hours makes a good double feature with Halloween II, or a good triple feature with HII and the schlockier Hospital Massacre. If you're planning on watching four hospital slashers in a row, I'd have to scrape my brain to find something.

  6. Pleather Sides of Iron, this may be the holy grail of ironside, or maybe Extreme Prejudice is..

  7. It seems to move like pleather, with more breathing room. My eyes are sadly getting worse. I ingested way too much hootenanny as a small child.

    And agreed on the double billness of it. The VH hospital isn't the Ritz, but it's run a tad more convincingly than HII and a whole lot more so than Scream 4!

    TD: I haven't seen Extreme Prejudice! Should I immediately?

  8. You should probably put Extreme prejudice on your radar, i seem to recall it having a High Iron content. I think it is a must watch for the iron-o-phile.

  9. Consider it done! I'd hate to become anemic.

  10. Aww, Michael Ironside! Like Lance Henriksen he always makes any film better--even if the film is bad--because he's in it. I personally became a fan of Ironside because of his role as Ham Tyler in V:the Final Battle--what a badass! Anyway great review of an underated (and somewhat forgotten) thriller. Btw, I bought the Visiting Hours/Bad Dreams 2 pack when it came out and it was money well spent in my opinion.

  11. Thanks Dorian! I'm glad to find that there was a lot of hidden love for this film. Odd how forgotten it was when so many lesser genre films seem to gather such louder cult love.

    And I totally remember Ironside on V! My first intro to his work came from one of my all-time faves, Total Recall. Sigh. Now I want to drop everything and rewatch Total Recall!

  12. Great review! This is a movie I had never heard of, but it sounds admirably restrained. (There aren't any boobs in Psycho, either. Or at least not that you can really see all that well).

    You know what I see the real question of this entry being? Why do certain actors wildly succeed while others don't get the shot they deserve? Don't really know, but does have something to do with luck. One my closest friends would be getting the roles Michael Shannon is if he had a better agent.

    Maybe Ironside needs a different rep? Have you applied for the job?

  13. It's a valid question Dusty. You could say that Ironside is just a tad too unconventional looking for leading man roles, but look at Adrien Brody or Dustin Hoffman! So much of casting comes from who you know and your luck knowing them. It's also the reason I get so annoyed at actors like Jessica Alba. Look, I understand that people like to look at her, but there are PLENTY of equally hot out of work actresses who could be in the same roles and not play empty voids with hot bodies. Sigh.

    And I've applied for a LOT of jobs with Ironside. His reps keep claiming he's not hiring but I will not take no for an answer. Just you wait...

  14. It's true. The world needs way more Michael Ironside than it gets. Thank you for giving us a healthy dose.

  15. Right? Especially in a pleather tank top!