Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Scream Factory's BAD DREAMS (1988) / VISITING HOURS (1982) Blu-ray: A Great Prescription For Your Hospital Horror Addiction

Buy the Blu-ray or DVD  

If you're a horror junkie like me, then you no doubt are familiar with Scream Factory; Shout! Factory's genre-centric imprint. If it weren't for them, a lot of smaller catalog titles from the last 30-40 years that are owned by some of the larger Hollywood Studios (like Fox, Universal, MGM, etc) probably wouldn't see the light of day on Blu-ray. The studios just don't think it's worth their time to pump money into releases that aren't going to sell millions of copies. However, they are willing to license the rights to some of these films to other companies who will do their "dirty work" for them (and I mean that in the best possible way).  And thank heavens for that because, if they weren't, then films like BAD DREAMS and VISITING HOURS would probably never see the light of day again; let alone in High Definition.

For some of the titles with a larger fanbase, Scream Factory brings them home in their own feature-packed standalone releases. However, for various reasons that are out of the scope of this review, that's not always possible or reasonable. As a result, we get releases like the company's recent Horror Marathon DVD sets or their newest release, the BAD DREAMS/VISITING HOURS Blu-ray.

We'll talk more about the package in a bit, but first, let's talk about the films themselves...

The Movies

Bad Dreams (1988)

BAD DREAMS is a movie that I remember seeing trailers and commericals for as a kid. The poster, from the burned hand over Jennifer Rubin's mouth to the lettering of the title, is something that is ingrained in my memory from both theater lobbies and the video store. However, though I remember the film and what it was about, I'd never actually seen it in full until now. In many ways, I wish I hadn't waited so long to sit down and watch it.

The synopsis from Scream Factory is as follows:
In the mid-1970s the members of the love cult Unity Fields sought “the ultimate joining” by dousing themselves with gasoline and committing mass suicide. A young girl blown clear of the fiery explosion was the only survivor. Thirteen years later, Cynthia (Jennifer RubinScreamers) awakens from a coma inside a psychiatric hospital with only buried memories of that horrific day — but now her fellow patients are each being driven to their own violent suicides. Has the sect’s leader (Richard LynchDeathsport) returned to claim his final child? Bruce Abbott (Re-Animator) co-stars in the intense shocker Bad Dreams from director Andrew Fleming (The Craft) and producer Gale Anne Hurd (Punisher: War Zone, The Incredible Hulk).
Make no mistake, BAD DREAMS certainly is taking a page from the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET films, which were immensely popular at the time of its release (Rubin, the lead of the film, was even in NIGHTMARE 3) . From the antagonist who was burned alive and now haunts the dreams of a mental patient, to the boiler room imagery that is so prominent at times, it's pretty obvious that Freddy was on the minds of the filmmakers. Still, to call BAD DREAMS a rip-off of the NIGHTMARE films would be a disservice to it, as it's actually a very entertaining chiller with great performances and a creepy atmosphere. 

First-time Co-Writer/Director Andrew Fleming - who later went on to helm films of a more comic nature like HAMLET 2 - does an admirable job of here on all accounts. The story moves along at a brisk pace, and there are some decently chilling/suspenseful moments. The visuals are often striking, and overall, BAD DREAMS is just damn well put together.

Of course, it probably helps that the cast here is wonderful. Jennifer Rubin is gorgeous and simply engrossing as Cynthia, and we can't help but empathize with her throughout. Dean Cameron (probably best known as "Chainsaw" from SUMMER SCHOOL) is fun to watch, and Bruce Abbott is solid as always. Richard Lynch's turn as Harris, the demented cult leader, is also sufficiently creepy. An actual burn victim himself, Lynch does a great job of making the audience uncomfortable with his turn here, which is both creepy and welcoming at the same time.

It's also worth noting that BAD DREAMS was co-written by Steven E. de Souza, the man behind such classics as DIE HARD, 48 HRS, COMMANDO, and THE RUNNING MAN. As such, you can expect at least a handful of action beats in the film. None of them feel out of place, though, and they work very well to keep things moving. I also quite liked a lot of the subtext regarding doctors and the loose handling of prescriptions for mental illness. 

BAD DREAMS is certainly not a classic, but it is a well-made movie that is thoroughly entertaining, slightly twisted, and more than a little chilling. With a great cast, and a pair of talented writers, the film is actually a lot more than the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET knock-off that it often gets accused of being. I'm sure that's what Fox was hoping for when they bankrolled the project, but luckily, we get a lot more than just a wannabe Freddy Krueger. This is certainly the kind of bad dream that I won't mind having again and again.

Movie Score


Visiting Hours (1982)

colleague of mine recently told me that VISITING HOURS was one of his least favorite, and that it never really sat right with him; possibly due to its long running time. I knew about the film, and I was quite familiar with its wonderful poster (pictured to the right), but truth be told, it's been a blind spot of mine for years. As such, even with my trusted colleague's non-recommendation, I was looking forward to finally seeing it for myself. Well, now that I have seen it, I have to say that I kind of understand where he's coming from.

The synopsis from Scream Factory sums things up just right, so why reinvent the wheel:
Academy Award®–winner Lee Grant (Best Supporting Actress in 1975 for Shampoo) stars as outspoken TV journalist Deborah Ballin, whose crusade against domestic violence enrages a creepy loner (a truly disturbing performance by Michael IronsideScanners) in Visiting Hours. He brutally attacks the anchorwoman in her home, but Ballin survives and is hospitalized. Her assailant is enraged; he is haunted by a horrific childhood trauma . . . and now he has hidden himself inside the hospital to finish what he started. Can anybody — including her concerned boss (William Shatner), a frantic nurse (Linda PurlHappy Days) or Deborah herself — stop the psycho’s killing spree before it reaches sick new extremes?
In some ways, what VISITING HOURS delivers is something akin to what you'd imagine would happen if HALLOWEEN II were mixed with PSYCHO and a Lifetime film about a battered wife. None of that is meant to be a slam against the film; because it's not bad. It's just not great, and it has some serious pacing issues.

Screenwriter Brian Taggert's script tries to deal with some pretty heavy themes here, and unfortunately, they don't meld all that well in what is otherwise a fairly standard stalk-and-slash picture. Maybe we're supposed to sympathize with Ironside's maniacal killer in some way, but it's a stretch. And, quite frankly, I never really found myself sympathizing with the main heroine (or her husband) either. In a way, the film doesn't have a lot more to say than "men are evil and they beat women," despite the hefty narrative. This is a case where I think simplicity would have helped, and it may have brought the running time down and tightened things up.

That's not to say that Director Jean-Claude Lord does a bad job translating things. In fact, the film is very competently put together, and some of the performances here are pretty good (particularly Ironside's role). I'm just saying that there's probably a reason why most people aren't really familiar with Lord outside of his French-language work.

There are a few scenes with some good tension, though. Most notably, a sequence where one of the hospital nurses rushes home to check on her child's safety after realizing that something is amiss. Still, even that wonderfully suspenseful scene is problematic in that it feels like it's from an entirely different film. It's a mixed bag for sure, and in the end, things even out

As mentioned earlier, the movie is worth watching for Ironside's performance alone. His creepy psychopath seems to be an amalgamation of Norman Bates's Mommy issues and a young Jack Nicholson in full-on SHINING-mode. He has hardly any lines, but he manages to convey exactly what is on his mind through his actions (and they are pretty fucked up). It's hard to imagine another actor delivering such a menacing performance.

The film's score is also quite good at times. Its mix of 80s synth and hurried orchestral movements is fitting, when it's not simply being loud to tell you that something important is happening. In fact, some of the quieter moments are just downright creepy in the way they fall apart and create a dark ambient atmosphere. 

All in all, VISITING HOURS has some good things going for it; they just get bogged down by an overly long script and a narrative that's a little too convoluted and heavy-handed for it's own good. If you were to take about 10-15 minutes out of the film, I imagine that we'd be having a much different conversation, but as it stands, VISITING HOURS is just average. 

Movie Score


The Blu-ray

Scream Factory brings BAD DREAMS and VISITING HOURS home in a single-disc Blu-ray that is definitely an upgrade from Shout! Factory's initial DVD release of the film. Though both features are squeezed onto the same disc, the films look and sound better than they ever have, and there is a surprising amount of extra material to keep fans busy. 

Video Quality (3.5/5)

From a visual perspective, neither BAD DREAMS or VISITING HOURS are stunning to look at. The fact is, both films were lower-budget 1980s films, and neither of them ever looked like the Hollywood features of today. The images on Scream Factory's new Blu-ray are soft at times - more noticeable in VISITING HOURS - but both films still retain a fine layer of grain and look significantly better than the previous DVD Double Feature or their initial individual DVD releases from the early 2000s. BAD DREAMS is the better-looking of the pair, and it features a more pristine print (probably because it was filmed almost 7 years after VISITING HOURS (though both cost roughly the same to produce). Personally, I'm fine with that, as I think it is the better of the two movies. Overall, this is pretty much what I expected, and I would wager that it is about as true to the source as possible while maintaining the level of quality that Scream Factory brings to their releases; even if it's not their most impressive.

Audio Quality (3.5/5

Like the video transfer quality, Scream Factory's Blu-ray Double Feature treats the two films fairly differently. Again, the disc seems to favor BAD DREAMS, as it comes with both a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track and a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio track. The 5.1 track is easily the way to go, as it features a rather immersive surround experience that adds to the nightmarish atmosphere of the film. VISITING HOURS features only a 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio Track, but it fairs just fine and is likely representative of exactly how the film sounded in its initial release. In both films, dialog is clear and there is no clipping or muddy audio beats. This is probably the best that either movie will sound on home video.

Extra Features (4/5)

Though not labeled as a Special Edition of any sort, Scream Factory's Double Feature Blu-ray of BAD DREAMS and VISITING HOURS actually has hours' worth of bonus content. BAD DREAMS probably has the better assortment, and it features a decent commentary, but VISITING HOURS has a couple of nice, lengthy interviews. Overall, a pretty surprising package (in a good way).

Bad Dreams

  • Feature Commentary with Director Andrew Fleming: A good commentary track with the Director, who candidly discusses the origins of the film, his experiences as a first-time feature director, and pretty much all aspects of the production. Fleming is open and honest and never once gives the vibe of someone who thinks his work is above his contemporaries or gives it any more weight than it probably deserves.
  • Dream Cast (22 min): A nice featurette made up of interviews with the cast of BAD DREAMS. There's a lot of good stories and background here, and the piece is overall entertaining.
  • Make Up Effects Featurette (2 min): A vintage promotional piece featuring an interview with Make Up Effects person Michèle Burke.
  • Behind The Scenes (10 min): Video footage from the set of BAD DREAMS.
  • The Original Ending (10 min): Video footage of the original, uncut ending sequence.
  • Promo (4 min): A vintage promotional piece for the film. Probably used to sell the film. Reminds me of something we would've seen in between features on HBO back in the day. Interesting if only for the interview with Producer Gale Anne Hurd, who has produced a TON of huge projects, including the TERMINATOR films, ALIENS, THE WALKING DEAD, etc.
  • Trailer (2 min): An old red-band theatrical trailer for the film.
  • Photo Gallery (5 min): Several promotional still from the film.

Visiting Hours

  • Brian Taggert - The B-Movie Kid (44 min): A lengthy interview with the writer, who openly discusses his career. Starting with his childhood love for horror films, Taggert discusses his early experiences, and of course, his work on VISITING HOURS.
  • Une Visite Avec Pierre David (11 min): An interview with the Executive Producer of VISITING HOURS. It's not as in-depth as the talk with Taggert, but it's certainly worth a watch and well put-together.
  • Visiting With Lenore Zann (23 min): Another mid-length interview. This time with one of the central actresses of the film. Well produced and worth watching, this 
  • Radio Spot (30 sec): An original radio ad for the film.
  • TV Spots (2 min): A collection of original television advertisements for the film.
  • Photo Gallery (1 min): Several promotional still from the film.

Final Thoughts

At the end of the day, Scream Factory's BAD DREAMS / VISITING HOURS Double Feature Blu-ray is a great disc. Though I enjoy BAD DREAMS quite a bit more, VISITING HOURS still has its moments, and I'm happy to add it to my collection of genre films.  Both movies look and sound better than ever, and I imagine that this is likely the best version of either that we will ever get. BAD DREAMS is the stronger of the two on all counts. However, if you are at all a fan of either film, I have no reservations about recommending this new Blu-ray version. Those who already own the DVD Double Feature should consider upgrading.


Blu-ray Score


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