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Bad Dreams / Visiting Hours


Mental hospitals, regular hospitals — is no place safe?

Rod Lott August 31st, 2011

Earlier this summer, I read a book about the history of slasher movies, and kept a list as I went along of movies I've somehow managed not to see. As if by sheer coincidence, Shout! Factory plops two of them together in one "Killer Double Feature": 1988's "Bad Dreams" and 1982's "Visiting Hours," each on their own disc.

killerdoublefeature

"Bad Dreams" centers on Cynthia (Jennifer Rubin), the lone survivor of a Jonestown-esque religious cult that ended in a blaze 13 years ago, when its charismatic brainwasher of a leader, Harris (Richard Lynch, "Invasion U.S.A."), soaked everybody in gasoline a lit a match. She's spent the entire time since in a coma.

Almost immediately upon emerging, Cynthia is haunted by visions of Harris, his face all burnt and bacony, complete with grease drippings. He wants her to join him in death. She resists, but other members of her therapy group in the mental hospital aren't so fortunate, leaping off the rooftop, getting chopped up in a turbine, downing a formaldehyde cocktail.

I recall "Bad Dreams" being touted as the next "A Nightmare on Elm Street" — Rubin was hot off the hit "Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors" at the time — and the stories are not without similarities, but this faded into near-obscurity quickly. It's not bad, although obviously made on-the-cheap and doesn't really find its groove until the final half hour. Playing yet another doctor, "Re-Animator" vet Bruce Abbott has the funniest line/reaction shot during this time; you'll wish the rest shared that carmageddon scene's wickedness.

For a movie that grossed less than $10 million, there are a surprising amount of extras on the disc. At 10 minutes, the original ending is wholly unnecessary, with one hokey final shot that would've had to result in laughter had the filmmakers not had the foresight to ditch it. Don't miss "Dream Cast," a 20-minute featurette with new interviews from Abbott, Lynch, Rubin (who admits she's not a good actress) and Norman native Dean Cameron ("Summer School"), but not writer/director Andrew Fleming ("Hamlet 2"), whose first film this was.



"Visiting Hours" wanted to be the next "Halloween," and yet, be classier. You can't have it both ways. Just a few years after winning an Oscar for "Shampoo," Lee Grant apparently wanted to be a middle-aged scream queen as highly opinionated TV anchorwoman Deborah Ballin. Her feminist rants don't sit so well with all guests and viewers, one of whom, crazy-letter-writing Colt Hawker (Michael Ironside, "Terminator Salvation"), breaks into her home one night and beats the crap out of her.

He meant to kill her, but she gets away and ends up hospitalized for her injuries. So he goes there to kill her, thereby essentially stealing the setup and plot of the previous year’s “Halloween II.” But unlike your Michael Myers and imitations, Colt could be real. He hates women; his hobbies are hurting them and snapping photos of them in their throes of pain. (He even makes collages out of his shots, so he's not without mad scrapbooking skills.) The most disturbing scene has him clad in a black-leather undershirt, using his knife to toy with some pink-jeans, hairy-armpitted skank he picked up in an all-night diner.

He doesn’t need a mask, either — which is why “Visiting Hours” isn’t as fun as it should be (after all, it has The Shat, aka William Shatner, in its cast). Instead, it aims to be a legitimate drama while putting a slasher spin on it, but the melding only partially gels. Thus, the story’s lasting impression can’t match the one left decades later by its still-creepy poster. —Rod Lott

 
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