Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Visting Hours

Today we’ve got Visiting Hours, a semi-classy Canadian slasher flick from the early eighties. It’s about this murderous misogynist (played by Villain Hall of Famer Michael Ironside, whose evil eyebrows make him creepy even when he’s playing good guys) who gets so pissed off about this TV anchorwoman telling the world its okay for women to use lethal force to defend themselves against the psychos who try to rape and kill them that he decides to shut her up for good. So he breaks into her house and murders her maid (off camera), then strips to the buff and drapes himself with all of her jewelry until he looks like Xerxes from 300. When she comes home, he stabs her up pretty good, but she lives, so he spends the rest of the movie trying to get to her in the hospital, which must have the worst security ever, considering how many times this clearly psychotic motherfucker waltzes in and out. I’ve heard bad things about the Canadian healthcare system, but jesus.

The movie’s just okay, though I did like the unexpected girl power message they snuck in. While all the men in authority are saying that everything is under control, the anchorwoman teams up with a feisty single-mom nurse and a victimized New Wave chick with frizzy hair. These sisters are doing it for themselves. Most slasher movies have a hidden feminist theme, but this one seems to be a bit more earnest about it. It’s above-par for the slasher genre in terms of cinematography and acting (Did I mention that William Shatner is in it, wearing the most fabulous belted suede jacket I’ve ever seen?) but really light on the gore. It does point out a couple of interesting things, though.

First is the difference between the urban and rural slasher movie. In the rural slasher, the killer is usually a deformed, asexual mongoloid who kills people for some vague sort of revenge. My man Jay Voorhees is obviously the poster child for this type of slasher, but other examples are Madman Mars from Madman and Victor Crowley from Hatchet.

By contrast, the urban slasher is generally more realistic. He’s just your everyday sexual predator who kills women because he enjoys it. Examples of this are notorious video nasties like Maniac, The Toolbox Murders, and Eyes of a Stranger. In these movies, the killer isn’t a vengeful ghoul from beyond the grave. He’s just some dude. That’s what makes him scary. Instead of being an eight-foot-tall monster, he could be any greasy white guy on the street.

These are the movies that bore the brunt of the early eighties uproar over cinematic violence, but to me, they’re much less ideologically offensive than modern-day psycho-killer movies. Back then, there was no way that you could identify with the killers, who were portrayed as deranged outcasts. Granted, you wanted to see the gore that they left in their wakes, but more than that, you wanted to see these sick fuckers pay. No one ever watched one of these movies and said, "Man, I want to be just like that sweaty guy with the receding hairline and filthy apartment." Urban slashers were never "cool." They didn’t have iconic accessories like Jason, and they weren’t driven to insanity like Cropsy in The Burning. They were just sick fucks with bad hair and weight problems. They were pathetic and, sadly, true to life. In Visiting Hours, the killer spends all his time writing to his congressman and the media about his hatred of minorities and women. He’s a completely despicable character with no sense of style (he wears a leather vest, for God’s sake). In Maniac, the title character cries himself to sleep at night in the arms of a mannequin. How could Tipper Gore and her censorship gestapo possibly think that anyone would want to emulate these losers?

But nowadays, if you believe Saw and Seven and all of their various imitators, the smartest people on earth are serial killers. These movies glorify their murders as depraved works of art, lingering over the ingenuity and creativity involved and giving them rational-sounding motivations that normal people are meant to relate to. I find this much more offensive than the old school slasher flicks, which had the guts to lay bare the ugly and depressing banality of evil. In real life, psychopaths aren’t charismatic geniuses with a flair for dramatic art direction and a sadistic view of community service. They don’t kill you as part of a cat-and-mouse game with a brilliant profiler. They don’t kill you to teach the world a lesson. And they sure as shit don’t kill you for your own good. They’re just lonely weirdos who kill because it’s the only way to make their dicks get hard. Movies like Visiting Hours aren’t pretty, but at least they’re honest.

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