The good ol’ horror-loving folks at Scream! Factory recently gave us a double dose of hospital-themed terror in high definition with their Bad Dreams/Visiting Hours Blu-ray, which features the two cult classics as well as a handful of new bonus features. Par for the course, Scream’s presentation of the material is yet another home run, making it a must-own for fans or even the uninitiated.
First up on the hospital horror double feature is Bad Dreams, which follows a young woman named Cynthia (Jennifer Rubin) who awakens from a 13-year coma the sole survivor of a religious cult that burned together in a suicide pact orchestrated by an enigmatic leader named Harris (Richard Lynch). Harris believed true spiritual unity awaited his followers if they all died together, but of course with Cynthia surviving, that leaves her leader with some unfinished business. Soon, the young woman begins to fear for herself and the other patients after Harris begins terrorizing her through a series of disturbing visions, threatening to kill everyone unless Cynthia commits suicide.
Co-written and directed by Andrew Fleming (who also helmed The Craft and Dick, two criminally underrated films), Bad Dreams is a highly effective but deeply flawed psychological horror story that boasts a couple of nasty kills, some great shock moments and great performances from a cast who elevates the material. Rubin, who was still an up-and-coming actress at the time, really holds her own against her more seasoned co-stars including Lynch, Re-Animator’s Bruce Abbott and Harris Yullin. Bad Dreams also features a ton of other familiar-ish faces including Dean Cameron (Summer School), Elizabeth Daily (Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure), Susan Ruttan (L.A. Law), Sy Richardson (Repo Man) and Susan Barnes, who played (one of my personal favorites) the terrified elevator lady at the beginning of Speed.
Unfortunately, there’s a big problem weighing down Bad Dreams- other than the cult subplot, the rest of the story feels very much like it took almost all of its cues from Freddy Krueger and the franchise that made him a pop culture icon, which is kind of like committing horror blasphemy. I guess Fleming at least tried to switch it up a little bit and made his stalker a cult leader (a touch I rather enjoyed myself) instead of a neighborhood child killer, so Bad Dreams has THAT working in its favor. It also helps that the surrealistic flashback scenes at Unity Field compound gives Bad Dreams’ storya nice layer of gonzo Jonestown-esque weirdness that really complimented the film’s more straight-forward horror moments.
Even though Bad Dreams may bare more than just a little resemblance to A Nightmare on Elm Street or especially A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors (considering Rubin, who was also in Dream Warriors, is being haunted by a burned entity that only comes to her in visions and in her dreams here, any comparisons are pretty much fair game in my opinion), I still couldn’t help but dig its trippy and quirky “cult meets psycho slasher” vibe that made me wish I hadn’t waited so long to check it out. Bad Dreams also smartly doesn’t take itself too seriously, the material being peppered with a wry sense of humor throughout that certainly helped.
For all it may get wrong, Bad Dreams does at least put forth a ton of effort with its gore gags and kills, creating by far one of the most wonderfully insane moments I’ve seen ever in the horror genre involving a heating duct that was unexpected and awesome. The cast is strong, the visuals are often disturbing and a bit jarring, and first-time filmmaker Fleming is clearly a diamond in the rough with his debut. Not perfect but perfectly fun all the same.
Movie Score: 3.5/5
An animal of wholly different breed, the Canadian low-budget thriller Visiting Hours feels more you’re your typical early eighties slasher. It features the always brilliant Michael Ironside as an enraged psychopath with a personal score to settle after an outspoken journalist named Deborah Ballin (Lee Grant) whose work on behalf of women’s rights clashes with his own chauvinistic ideals, leading him to attack and nearly kill her in her home. The attack leaves Deborah wounded but alive, so our villain must make a trip to the hospital where she’s recuperating so that he can finish up what he and his trusty switchblade first started.
A basic ‘stalk and slash’ that stands out mostly due to a terrific performance by Ironside and some fine work by his co-stars as well, there’s no doubt that Visiting Hours was largely inspired by some of its predecessors including Halloween, Friday the 13th or even Maniac! to some degree. Director Jean-Claude Lord doesn’t really do much here to try and mix things up at all in Visiting Hours, mostly relying many of the typical slasher tropes to set up his scares and death scenes.
It also feels like at times that the script by Brian Taggert couldn’t make up its mind about which character it really wanted to be about. Deborah is established as the film’s protagonist early on but then we suddenly shift gears about midway through, with Visiting Hours spending a huge chunk of its remaining running time focused on Deborah’s nurse (played by Linda Purl) that feels like an odd narrative choice to say the least.
That being said, there’s some really good stuff simmering just below the surface in Visiting Hours; there’s a great amount of character development that you don’t often see in slasher movies of that time, which was refreshing. The script also does its best at exploring gender politics and confronts violence against women head on- again, something you don’t see every day in low-budget horror of that era. While it may not do a lot for viewers looking for more of a gory, high-octane horror romp, Visiting Hours is truly an underrated slow-burn gem that deserves a watch, Ironside’s performance alone making it a truly worthwhile experience.
Movie Score: 3/5
Scream Factory packed in a bunch of special features for their Bad Dreams/Visiting Hours double feature Blu-ray. For Bad Dreams, there’s a commentary track with Fleming included as well as a new featurette that includes several interviews with the likes of Rubin, Abbott and Cameron. I really enjoyed the interviews, particularly Rubin who is a personal favorite of mine. There are also a couple of other featurettes on that celebrates Bad Dream’s stellar special effects and gives us a brief behind-the-scenes look at the film’s production as well. We also get the theatrical trailer and the original Bad Dreams ending to enjoy so there’s plenty of fun stuff for fans to enjoy.
For Visiting Hours, Scream Factory included a gaggle of interviews with producer Pierre David, the film’s writer Taggert and Lenore Zann who plays a feisty punk gal named Lisa that plays a pivotal part in the movie’s second half. It’s kind of odd that we don’t hear from the director Lord for this release of Visiting Hours but I’m sure it’s not for a lack of trying. Beyond the interviews, we also get some radio and TV spots but overall, the interviews are really what’s worth diving into here. Once again, another great job by Scream Factory on all fronts.
Overall Disc Score: 4/5