Home Video Hovel: Bad Dreams/Visiting Hours, by Mat Bradley-Tschirgi
Although released under Shout Factory’s Scream Factory label, this odd double feature of Bad Dreams and Visiting Hours is more thrilling than horrific. Out of these two 1980s films, Bad Dreams is more of a suicide-packed cheapie than the more striking Visiting Hours. The latter holds up, the former less so. The interesting milieu is what makes both films stand out.
In Bad Dreams, a group of cultists are baptized in what looks like water but turns out to be a liquid far more flammable. Their house is torched in the resulting blaze, leaving only one survivor. Cynthia (played by Jennifer Rubin) awakens from a coma several years later. To help her cope with modern life, she is placed in a mental ward (!!!). The other patients start to commit suicide in increasingly odd ways as Cynthia is haunted by the visage of the cult leader from many years ago. Director Andrew Fleming (perhaps best known for The Craft) delivers a film with moody lighting that helps hide its meager budget. Some of the dialogue is delivered in a histrionic style, but Jennifer Rubin gives a realistic performance as the tortured Cynthia. Her acting makes the film feel far more grounded than the over the top death scenes that litter the rest of the film. Rubin’s performance turns a mediocre film into a good one.
In Visiting Hours, feminist TV journalist Deborah Ballin (played by Lee Grant) survives a brutal attack in her home. When the attacker (played by Michael Ironside) traces her to the hospital, it is up to her to survive the myriad of death he leaves in his wake. Visiting Hours is legitimately suspenseful. Michael Ironside gives one of his best performances here as the killer who is plagued by flashbacks of his troubled youth. While his backstory could appear as maudlin, the way it plays out over a series of brief flashbacks with little dialogue make his character far more sympathetic that one might suspect. There are little cinematic flourishes from director Jean-Claude Lord, yet the film is even more disturbing as a result of its clean visual style. Lee Grant is decent in the lead, but her performance is overshadowed by Michael Ironside’s unforgiving, smoldering intensity.
This Blu-ray double feature release features an audio commentary for Bad Dreams from writer-director Andrew Fleming along with interviews with a few of the actors, the original ending, the theatrical trailer, and a featurette on the special effects work. Visiting Hours is a bit lighter on the special features with an interview, a still gallery, and original radio and TV spots. The commentary for Bad Dreams is especially amusing as Andrew Fleming discusses how he’d shoot the film differently if he were to make it today.