Synopsis: In this unforgettable assault on reality, legendary Hollywood director/actor John Huston (The Maltese Falcon; Treasure of the Sierra Madre) stars as an intergalactic warrior who joins a cosmic Christ figure in battle against a demonic 8-year-old girl and her pet hawk, while the fate of the universe hangs in the balance.
Multi-dimensional warfare, pre-adolescent profanity and brutal avian attacks combine to transport the viewer to a stat unlike anything they’ve experienced… somewhere between Hell, the darkest reaches of outer space, and Atlanta, GA.
The Visitor fearlessly fuses elements of The Omen, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Birds, Rosemary’s Baby, The Fury, and even Star Wars, creating the most ambitious of all 70s psychedelic mindwarps.
Its baffling all-star cast includes Shelley Winters (Night of the Hunter), Glenn Ford (Superman), Lance Henriksen (Aliens), Franco Nero (Django) and Sam Peckinpah (director of The Wild Bunch).
The Visitor 7.0
eyelights: its oddball hybrid conceit. its weird special effects. its star-studded cast. its locations.
eyesores: Shelly Winters. its plot inconsistencies. its discrepant score.
“Beyond the imagination.”
Do you like oddball cinema? Not bad movies, just weird ones? If you do, then you’re well-served with ‘The Visitor’, a 1979 Italian-American co-production that barely saw the light of day in North American (in cropped form only!) and which was renamed ‘Stridulum’ in Italy.
It’s sort of hard to describe… An unsubtle Christian allegory mixed with science fiction and horror elements would be a start. ‘The Omen‘ trilogy crossed with ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind‘ would be another. It’s also been called ‘The Bad Seed’ as made by Jodorowsky.
Oh, I know…
Throw in such illustrious names as Mel Ferrer, Glenn Ford, Lance Henriksen, John Huston, Franco Nero, Sam Peckinpah and Shelley Winters and it’s nearly impossible not to be a bit curious. How could such a gonzo production reel in so many big names, including legends?
Wonders will never cease. One could even call it a miracle.
(It would be appropriate.)
‘The Visitor’ basically posits that our conception of Christianity is a misunderstanding; it tells us that what we consider divinity is really extra-terrestrial encounter. According to its quirky mythos, Sateen is an alien who has been trying to spread the seeds of his evil on Earth for eons.
To prevent Sateen from succeeding, an aged alien humanoid goes to Earth and, with a group of Earth-bound servants, tracks down these spawns of evil. Then he brings the now-tame children back to his complex to spend their existence under the guidance of a Christ-like figure.
Oh, I know…
It has all the makings of a pretentious, ambitious-yet-horrible picture. But you have to understand its origins: it’s a low-budget Italian co-production from a time when Italian filmmakers were knocking off unofficial sequels and spin-offs to popular North American brands.
In short: they took successful ideas and ran wild with them.
The same applies to ‘The Visitor’.
Apparently, the original writer was hired by producer Ovidio G. Assonitis to come up with a discrete rip-off of ‘The Exorcist‘. But then director Giulio Paradisi kept asking him to throw in all sorts of impractical or nonsensical ideas into the mix (“Put elephants in it!”).
It got a little nutty.
The picture is so all over the place that co-star Lance Henriksen suggests that the script was probably poorly-translated from Italian – hence why he couldn’t make sense of some of it. And it didn’t help that Paradisi kept changing aspects of it as they were shooting.
The whole thing is a recipe for disaster.
And yet… it’s not as bad as that.
Past the pseudo-religious hokum, ‘The Visitor’ takes us to Atlanta, GA, where the visitor goes to track down Katie, the spawn of Sateen. She’s a headstrong, entitled brat who lives with her wealthy single mom and pretty much rules the roost in the company of her falcon.
But the visitor can’t come for her yet; for some reason, he has to wait for “the others” to arrive. So he bides his time, watching Katie. Meanwhile, Katie’s mom is involved with a man secretly in league with the forces of evil: 12 businessmen who are funding his sports team.
These men want him to impregnate Barb, Katie’s mom, so that there will be another spawn of Sateen (because apparently Barb has a womb of evil!)
Well, it’s not for a lack of trying – but it will be his undoing.
B-t-w, did I fail to mention that Katie has supernatural powers?
She sure does: she makes an NBA player slam dunk an explosive winning shot, changes a birthday gift into a loaded gun that “accidentally” paralyzes her mom when she throws it, collapses a fire escape on a small food stand hiding the visitor, and smashes a hall of mirrors.
And she’s a mean byatch: while ice skating in a large indoor mall, she gets into a fight with some bullies and proceeds to trounce the lot of them. She also crashes her invalid mother right into a large aquarium. And she drags her mom up the stairs by her ankles – then drops her.
Mean, mean, spawn of Sateen!
It’s all quite hilarious to watch, really. But it’s made even more so because the storytelling is so uneven; not only are the scenes presented in absurd ways, but we rarely understand why the characters are doing what they do. And sometimes it simply makes no sense at all.
- Why would the visitor come to Earth without the rest of his crew?
- Why would Katie beat up on her mom if she wishes her to have a child?
- Why would Barb hire a whacko maid who is at odds with her daughter?
- Why would the cop keep driving while being attacked by the falcon?
- Why would Barb and Ray leave Katie with a strange babysitter?
- Why would the visitor make his presence known to Katie and even meet with her face to face?
It almost passes muster, though, thanks to the calibre of the cast, who make the most of their parts. I mean, we’re talking Mel Ferrer, Lance Henriksen, John Huston, and Glenn Ford! They’re amazing here. And even newcomer Paige Conner is rather good, if a bit raw at times.
The only eyesore, performance-wise, comes at the hands of Shelly Winters, who by then was rather eccentric (according to Henriksen, she would “waft” the room with her music before a scene) and was slumming it. Here she overacts like mad, essentially SHOUTING her lines.
(Well, it’s in keeping with the unsubtle score, which blares overly-dramatically through the whole movie…)
At the very least, the settings are worth seeing: somehow, the producers were able to land all sorts of grand locations, including Ted Turner’s house. So, while dated now, it’s sumptuous by ’70s standards. Not to mention the interesting set where the Christ figure awaits the visitor.
And the special effects, though limited, are creative. My favourite scene is right at the onset, when the visitor has a vision of being in a desert when a cloaked figure appears and reveals itself to be Katie. There’s animation, blue-screening and practical effects. It’s !@#$-ing weird.
In a good way.
Frankly, I think that it’s probably an apt way to describe “The Visitor’: weird in a good way. It’s a hodge-podge of genres, plot elements and techniques, it’s ambitious but visionless, it’s fascinating and mindboggling at once – it certainly isn’t boring, even though it defies logic.
So if any of this intrigues you, even if it’s due to a morbid fascination with its potential trainwreck quality, then you should rush out and grab a copy of ‘The Visitor’. It’s silly fun. Personally, at the very least, I’m tickled by the thought of so many big names trying to make sense of it.
And still not being able to, 40 years later.
Date of viewing: January 29, 2017