Character Actors We Love . . . to Fear!

Michael Ironside is one scary bastard. And we love that about him; he's one of the greatest heavies in the past 30 years of film, with a name to match. (As so eloquently put it, "The only way his name could be more fitting is if it were Michael Chillingglare or Michael Crushyournuts.") When he's one of the good guys (which isn't often), as in guilty pleasure Starship Troopers, he's only there to instill fear in the pretty-boy heroes; as a villain, he's so bad that sometimes you end up rooting for him. (Tell me you didn't actually want to see him squash Arnold like a grape in Total Recall.) His particular blend of gravel-voiced, craggy-faced menace has even been played for whimsy, as surgeon "Wild Willy" Swift on ER; still, you spend the entire episode waiting for the Scanners moment when he makes someone's head go "boom."

This week, Anchor Bay DVD releases Visiting Hours, one of the creepiest, most disturbing entries in the slasher oeuvre of the late '70s and early '80s, for ostensibly one reason: Ironside, y'all. On the one hand, the Canadian suspense flick stands out for a less teen-angst-driven premise than most films of the era: journalist Lee Grant, raped and nearly killed by sicko lunatic you-know-who, lies recovering in a hospital when old Ironside decides to come finish the job. There's even a supporting role for William Shatner thrown in for good measure. Yet ultimately, it's a mediocre genre entry with some strangely convenient-for-murderous-psychos plot points. (I know it's the graveyard shift, but come on . . . there's no one around!) Against all odds, though, it works like gangbusters thanks to Ironside's toweringly creepy performance, which just goes to show you can ride pretty far on the back of a born baddie.

Also recommended: Coachella: The Film; The Complete Mr. Arkadin; Event Horizon: Special Edition; Michael Palin: Sahara; Mrs. Henderson Presents; TCM Archives: Laurel & Hardy.


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