Killer Double Feature: Bad Dreams | Visiting Hours:
If you hang out over at the DVD Talk Forums (and if you don't, why not?) you've probably caught wind of a little concern called; "are the days of DVD numbered?" We wise ones know this isn't the case, at least not yet. Digital streaming takes ownership out of the hands of buyers, and most people still like to have that spine on the shelf to browse late at night. Plus, we have to go through total condensing and re-release of every little thing that's ever been previously released on DVD.
Single editions get paired up as double features, and double features get repackaged as All Night Marathons. Pretty soon, a person will be able to buy every movie ever released on one giant CD the size of a satellite dish. But for now, Johnnies-come-lately can enjoy the pleasures of Bad Dreams and Visiting Hours helpfully shoved together in their original single-disk formats in one two-disk Double Feature. (It doesn't hurt that both movies have been out-of-print for a while, increasing their 'desirability.' Yep, DVDs will be around for a while.)
I know you readers will inform me if I'm wrong, but Bad Dreams seems to be the only serious attempt to rip off the Nightmare on Elm Street that I can find. (No, I'm not going to do any extra research.) That's an odd thing, considering the way Hollywood is unable to generate new ideas, but whatever. Maybe if Bad Dreams were better, we'd have seen a whole bunch more movies about fatally burned psychos attacking teens in their dreams. Wait, that would be Britney Spears. (I'm trying, people.) Nevertheless, this little flesh-boiler sports, in combo, enough atmospheric scares, gruesome makeup, splashy/silly kills, and a couple of real cute women, to make it a worthwhile discovery. It doesn't hurt that Bad Dreams was produced by Gail Anne Hurd, and features Sy Richardson in a fairly prominent role, either.
Cynthia (hottie Jennifer Rubin) is a wayward soul sucked in by Harris, leader of the cult Unity Fields. Ultimately lured into some kinda kinky baptism that most people would say 'no' to, Cyn almost becomes a cinder, as Harris douses everyone with gasoline and sets the house on fire. Luckily Cynthia is blown free of the destruction by an explosion, but no one else, not even Harris, survives. Or did he? Booahhahahahahah.
13 years later Cynthia wakes up in a mental hospital, forced into group therapy with a bunch of silly characters who would make the writers of The Bob Newhart Show blush. Cynthia starts freaking out, suffering weird hallucinations involving the devilish Harris, while her fellow inmates begin committing 'suicide' in very odd fashion. Like trying to have sex in an industrial turbine, for instance. Lynch's sleaziness, Rubin's hotness, and a few fun kill scenes - dig that immolation scene! - mean horror fans won't be having any bad feelings after watching this not-perfect but thoroughly entertaining film. Even if it goes completely off the rails by the movie's end.
Perhaps running a bit overlong at 105 minutes, Visiting Hours is one of those iconic '80s horror movies that no-one has ever seen, and is unfairly maligned by those who have seen it. Starting with one of the king-hell all-time best poster concepts, Visiting Hours weaseled itself into the minds of horror fans of all stripes. But then they found out it starred William Shatner, causing the movie to disappear from theaters in a trice. Its second life as a placeholder on VHS rental store shelves was largely due to the backwash of indifference. Now here for it's fourth or fifth go-around, viewers can finally see the movie as a moderately suspenseful slasher variant featuring Michael Ironside as an ultra-sleazy, sweaty creepo with an insatiable desire to kill. Think of it as Maniac without any of the over-the-top gore, and you'll get an idea of its true nature. Plus, Shatner actually holds back! Quite a bit!
Shatner is boss to TV Journalist Deborah Ballin, (Lee Grant) a feminist crusader whose stance against domestic violence so outrages nutbag Colt Hawker (Ironside) that he decides he must kill her. (Ostensibly, Ballin's message of female empowerment could cut in on Hawker's chances to kill.) When at first Hawker doesn't succeed in icing the reporter, he sneaks into the hospital where Ballin is recovering - in order to kill her and everything else in sight.
Ironside truly delivers on this premise promise, appearing both at his most vulnerable and most evil. Willing to dress in a rubber wife-beater among other fetishistic costumes, Ironside sweats, anguishes, and kills with disturbing malice. Meanwhile, director Jean-Claude Lord devotes equal time to things that don't exactly drive the plot, such as hospital protocol and lengthy scenes of Grant proving she's a real actress. Grant humanizes her character by befriending others in her hospital, Lord lingers on her politesse, and little is added to the movie as it develops a herky-jerky rhythm.
Yet, in all, there are enough slimy and suspenseful scenes, plus jump scares based on misdirection, that Visiting Hours emerges as an enjoyable, competent thriller. Some stylishly staged kill scenes and Ironside's grounded-in-reality psycho further bolster the movie's actual value. Teens lured by that cool poster probably expected another teenie-kill slasher opus with boobs, gore and little plot, instead of a fairly thoughtful Canadian thriller, but now you can enjoy it in its own right - a VHS placeholder no more.
Both movies come with Anamorphic Widescreen Transfers, at a 1.78:1 ratio. I'm not sure if these are new transfers, but both movies look great. Colors are especially vibrant - dig that burnt Reverend Harris! - and black levels are pretty good. Some of Bad Dreams comes in looking a little washed out, but neither film has much in the way of print damage, and grain is subdued. Images are crisp, detail levels OK, and compression artifacts won't trouble you.
Bad Dreams enjoys a new Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound Audio Track, as well as the Dolby Digital 2.0 Track from the previous 2006 release, while Visiting Hours gets only its 2006 release 2.0 treatment. Bad Dreams carries some nice jolts and intense scenes, bolstered by a decent mix with a pretty robust dynamic range. Both movies have otherwise healthy audio tracks, wherein everything is clear.
This two-disc double feature comes in a standard sized keepcase with a flipper. Bad Dreams comes with a nice complement of extras, including a Commentary Track with writer/director Andrew Fleming, who is open and self-effacing, you also get Interviews with Jennifer Rubin, Bruce Abbott, Richard Lynch and Dean Cameron. Featurettes included are a brief look at The Special Effects of Bad Dreams (2 minutes) and Behind the Scenes of Bad Dreams' Original Ending (9 minutes). Lastly you get a Theatrical Trailer. Visiting Hours comes only with its Radio and TV Spots, no Theatrical Trailer as previously, erroneously mentioned, and a Photo Gallery.
This Killer Double Feature packs two movies (each on their own disc) into a flipper case, just for your pleasure. Consider this pairing of two previously released movies as DVD Collecting's way of keeping the DVD dream alive, but in this case, these two largely ignored obscurities tote enough sleaze 'n' slashing to merit rediscovery. Neither movie is perfect, or classic, but a pair of creepy, slimy scuzzballs and cheap thrills make this Double Feature at least a hearty Rent It proposition. (Or, if you were like me, you'd buy it, to fill that empty place in your life.)
- Kurt Dahlke
~ More of Dahlke's DVD Talk reviews here at DVD Talk I'm not just a writer, I paint colorful, modern abstracts, too! Check them out here KurtDahlke.com