Scream Factory has thrown us a few double-feature discs over the past year and, while, to me, personally, they’ve all been great fun, the reason they’re double-features is usually due to the fact that neither film in the collection is deemed financially feasible as a stand-alone release. This time out, however, Scream Factory gives us a double feature that, were each film released individually, would probably still sell like hotcakes. With the new Bad Dreams/Visiting Hours collection, we not only have two very popular cult titles, but two very proficiently made films! Released originally on DVD by Scream’s parent company, Shout! Factory, 1988's Bad Dreams and 1982's Visiting Hours both get a well-deserved HD upgrade, as well as a surprising amount of bonus goodies that make this already value-priced set an absolute steal!
First up we have Bad Dreams, which, at first blush, looks to be an obvious cash-in on the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise (specifically said series’ third installment, Dream Warriors), but, beyond the hospital setting and the presence of star, Jennifer Rubin, the films actually share very little in common. Okay; maybe more than a little, but it’s still a great flick!
Opening in the mid-1970s at the remote compound of the Unity Fields cult, Bad Dreams introduces us to their enigmatic leader, Harris (career villain, Richard Lynch), as he prepares his flock for their ascension into his promised realm of eternal love and happiness. Harris douses his followers with gasoline, and sets the place ablaze, killing everyone within save for the young Cynthia, who inexplicably survives the inferno, and spends the next thirteen years in a coma.
When Cynthia (Rubin) awakens in a rehabilitation center, she can’t remember the cause of the fire (police ruled it an accident) or how she escaped, so she’s encouraged by her attending physician, Dr. Berrisford (Harris Yulin) to take part in the facility’s group therapy sessions in hopes she’ll be able to recover her memory and also be brought up to speed on the things that have changed since the 1970s. Cynthia is reluctant to be active in the group sessions, however, as it’s obvious that her fellow members are much worse off than her, at least psychiatrically, but she’s won over by the handsome overseer, Dr. Alex Karmin (Bruce Abbot).
It isn’t long before Cynthia has the breakthrough that Berrisford was hoping for, but, along with that comes horrifically vivid dreams and hallucinations that, ultimately, manifest themselves in reality, leading to the deaths of those around her at the hands of the cruel cult leader she long though dead.
Obvious Dream Warriors comparisons aside, Bad Dreams offers a lot of effective scares, solid performances by a b-movie fan’s dream cast (which, in addition to Abbot, Rubin, and Harris, includes Pee Wee’s Big Adventure’s E.G. Daily and Ski School’s Dean Cameron), and some really grotesque gore/burn effects. The film also has a strangely un-supernatural dénouement that truly separates it from the films it was meant to cash in on.
While, for me, Bad Dreams is worth the purchase alone, Scream Factory goes ahead and makes us an offer no self-respecting 80s horror fan could refuse by pairing it up with one of my guilty pleasure “slashers” from the 1980s – Visiting Hours!
Lee Grant stars as Deborah Ballin, an ultra-feminist television journalist who, while championing the rights of an abused woman who murdered her husband, incenses the unbalanced and misogynistic studio custodian, Colt Hawker (Michael Ironsides) so much that he breaks into Deborah’s house, murders her maid, and lays in wait for her return so that he can show her just what he thinks of her feminist prattle. Deborah manages to survive the encounter, but is taken to the hospital to recover from the serious wounds Colt inflicted upon her. Colt, meanwhile, infiltrates the hospital, stalking Deborah and biding his time until he’s given an opportunity to finish the job. During his prowling about, Colt kills a nurse and another patient, and, despite the assurances of her boss, Gary (William Shatner!) and nurse, Sheila (Linda Purl), Deborah fears that her attacker is trying to finish what he started.
Visiting Hours obviously doesn’t need as much of a description as Bad Dreams as it’s pretty straightforward stuff. It’s an old school 70s-style thriller with slasher undertones and the sort of cast usually reserved for Sunday Night Movie melodramas, but with the always-amazing wildcard that is Michael Ironsides thrown in to stir shit up. There are a few decent jump scares, but gore is on the light side, and the obviously older cast always made me think of Visiting Hours as a “slasher” for the elder set, eager to see what the kids were going on about, but not quite ready for the full-on bloodletting of its contemporaries.
Revisiting this one years later, I always find it an absolute hoot, especially William Shatner’s sleazy smooth network executive persona and Ironsides’ bug-nuts insane turn as Colt, who, in one scene, assaults someone dressed only in smeared makeup and jewelry, calling to mind Ted Levine’s infamous tuck-dance scene in Silence of the Lambs, but only ten times louder and more "Ironsidesy". The film sometimes strides dangerously close to “so bad it’s good” territory, but I love it to pieces, and, as evidenced by its devoted following, I’m not alone.
Scream Factory gives Shout! Factory’s already gorgeous DVD transfers of the films a noticeable HD upgrade, but, surprisingly, of the two films, the older Visiting Hours benefits most from the extra pixels. Bad Dreams looks fine, but the film has an inherent softness to it that masks a lot of the fine detail while Visiting Hours looks tack sharp, with detail that really pops, especially in close-ups of faces (and Shatner’s bad suits). Both films sport a perceptible amount of cinematic grain, but it’s never distracting, and both handle blacks and shadows well, although, once again, it seems Bad Dreams suffers a bit in comparison as some of the blacks appear a bit washed out on occasion. Colors are more vivid in Bad Dreams, but, to be fair, there’s a lot more use of color in that film (especially red), while Visiting Hours works from a much more Spartan palette.
Bad Dreams wins out in terms of audio track choices, with both a Dolby DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 mix as well as a Dolby DTS HD Stereo track that, for me, packed more of a bassy wallop than the 5.1 option. While the 5.1 mix is a bit more open, I found it a touch weak, and preferred the much more condensed stereo mix for both its stronger bass and more organic sounding dialogue. Visiting Hours, meanwhile, gets a mono DTS HD track that is crisp and clear, and free of the distortion that often plagues movies of this era. Like the film, it's no frills stuff that satisfies.
All of the bonus features from the DVD release are carried over to this Blu-ray set, including a feature-length commentary on Bad Dreams by director Andrew Fleming, as well as the Dream Cast featurette produced for the DVD release which offers a lengthy collection of recent interviews with Abbot, Rubin, Lynch, and Cameron (and has been upgraded to HD). Also included are some vintage goodies (SD), including a short behind-the-scenes piece, a makeup FX featurette, and interviews with the film’s producer, Gale Anne Hurd (The Walking Dead) and director, Fleming. We also get the film’s original ending (SD), theatrical trailer (SD), and a stills gallery (HD).
Visiting Hours, meanwhile, gets an all-new bonus feature, and that’s a whopping, feature-length collection of interviews with writer Brian Taggart, producer Pierre David, and actress Lenore Zahn (who played a prostitute/victim of Colt). The real bulk of the interview time is taken up by Taggert's installment, who, in addition to reminiscing about Visiting Hours, chats it up about the laundry list of b-movie awesomness he’s written over his career (including Of Unknown Origin and Maximum Overdrive). It’s a delightful interview and it’s teeming with all sorts of interesting tidbits for fans of not just Visiting Hours, but b-movie cinema in general.
Visiting Hours extras also include a stills gallery (HD), the film’s original trailer (SD), and a radio spot.
Scream Factory has put together one hell of a double feature, here, featuring two much-loved cult classics and a really impressive amount of bonus material for each, making this set such a bargain that I can’t see why any horror fan would want to pass it up. Even if you already own the DVD, the upgrade in PQ/AQ (especially Visiting Hours) and nearly 90 minutes of new bonus material is more than enough reason to double-dip. Highly recommended!