Dir. Giulio Paradisi (as Michael J. Paradise)
There's always a tinge of concern with viewing films that have become the new cult favourite which The Visitor has been in the United States before getting a release in Britain. Not because of an inherent bias but that they tend to be the more 'mainstream' and the least interesting films for me compared to those less known. The Visitor however has proven to be special. Contrary to the writing on it, the film makes sense. An alien of evil power was defeated but not without mating with human women, leading to the sole woman able to give birth to beings with supernatural beings, Barbara Collins (Joanne Nail), and her daughter Katy Collins (Paige Conner), a being with powers who, with her attitude, her killer pet hawk and death stare behind her pigtails, makes Damien from The Omen (1976) the mere toddler he is. A secret group of men, led by Dr. Walker (Mel Ferrer), want Barbara to have more children, using Raymond Armstead (Lance Henriksen) to try and seduce her, but as Katy Collins makes her powers known, individuals connected to actor Franco Nero sporting Jesus Christ's hairstyle, and a room of bald children, plan to stop the villains and bring Katy Collins to their fold, represented the most by Jerzy Colsowicz (film director John Huston).
Effectively it's a sci-fi twist on The Omen, part the mad Italian film it is, part the curious history of the paranormal in culture of it's era especially in the US of A. After the moon landings, (unless you believe they were faked with Stanley Kubrick directing the footage), the obsession with aliens and UFOs, the obsession with psychics, the after taste of hippy culture moving to New Age culture, Wicca, and Anton LaVay's Church of Satan mistaken as actually being about devil worship rather than anti-conformist beliefs. The thing that makes The Visitor weird is not that it's plot doesn't make sense, but the brew of all these strands with a film structured in a way that makes it much more perplexing. I can get around the back story dropped on you in the first minutes by Franco Nero as Space Christ, or how the film goes narratively, or when Shelley Winters, as a mysterious housekeeper interested in astrology and star signs, starts going into a vague topic on New Age metaphors with the director of Key Largo (1948). What's more off-kilter is the cuts between Barbara at the hospital, after being left paralysed from the waist down by an unexpected gift on her daughter's birthday, with her daughter doing gymnastics or the prolonged sequences with the director of Wise Blood (1979) conducting bald men around semi-transparent panels like an installation piece. Or the unexpected incident at an ice hockey rink with older boys chasing after Katy Collins, only to turn into tragedy. The perplexing aspects of the film are trying to wrangle to potpourri of ideas, and films it's obviously borrowing inspiration from, into angles and shapes that are unexpected to the viewer. Very rarely does a film that makes no sense come off as fascinatingly odd, just tedious, the films that grab people having a tentative concept within them, even if you have to improvise a narrative for them, and going through the film adrift in the content. Here, every has a rationality to it even if you do have to wonder what was going on in the script. It's how it's presented that makes you go from this and become baffled.
Is it a good film? Well Henriksen has called it "a turkey made out of cement", but with no desire to insult the great and prolific character actor, if this is a "bad" film, it's still one which burns virtues. A technical beauty if any in terms of beautiful cinematography, sharp and startling use of editing, and memorable imagery and sequences. The opening scene on another planet in snowfall with two figures. The ice skating sequence itself in editing between the rink and John Huston going down the longer set of mall staircases possible. The masked men coming out of a truck, in the middle of the night, with a wheelchair nearby. The gruesome use of a garrotte wire on a certain piece of equipment and how the camera is angled. Too many images and sequences, inspired or bizarre, to mention. For a notorious film, produced by producer/filmmaker Ovidio G. Assonitis, of Tentacles (1977) and Piranha II: The Spawning (1981), this has a level of artistry that makes it impossible to view as less than an incredibly accomplished film. Even though it has quirks, this artistry undermines the notions of a so-bad-it's-good movie, because a film like this that runs rings around 'better' films, defined in terms of their plot and logic, is superior to them regardless. For its visuals, for its music by composer Franco Micalizzi, though some of it sounds like the score for a TV cop show, and it's eye for visual tricks such as a scene in a room full of mirrors. As a seventies film as well it is given an additional aesthetic boost. The use of locations, exteriors shot in the US, interiors in Italian, is distinct, of urban streets and modernist architecture, a sense of space and rooms that is bold and memorable. That's not to mention that materials within these spaces, from the clothes to the objects. Peculiar room decorations like a metal tree in one corner that catches your eyes, to the prominent use of a Pong game console, not only used in the plot for the first meeting of two antagonists, but with its giant green screen projected on the wall, tiny blocks of various sizes moving in different directions, almost becoming an avant-garde flourish by accident. All of this adds to the extraterrestrial tone of the science fiction, an era of sci-fi that is dated aesthetically through modern perceptions, but now having an alien mood to them, of then-modern futuristic office buildings contrasting against hot dog stands and the run down building that John Huston spends his time in with his troop of bald performance artists.
Yes, the film feels ramshackle at points, times where it nearby falls off the rails in its moments of esoteric gobbledygook. But this film is what the term "marvellous", as the Surrealists used it, might have been for, amazing in how it completely folds conventional filmmaking, or specifically films like The Omen and American paranoia thrillers, inside-out and lets you see the content in an inherently weird light. Plus it helps this is what, viewing it the first time, you'd want from a film labelled "cult". Despite my hesitance, Drafthouse Pictures and American hipsters were right on the money clamouring over this film. Where Paige Conner, as an evil young girl, turns the air blue with some of the obscene words she says or the threats she makes that you may have difficulty in doing now in films. Where another legendary film director, Sam Peckinpah, has a small role and it happens to be in a scene with the most emotional investment. Where one of the main tropes of the film are bird attacks, including one inside of care, or how, as mentioned, the first and very important meeting between two supernatural and cosmic figures is over a game of Pong. A film that has made me appreciate John Huston and want to see more of his films, utterly charismatic in his role and apparently the most charming and kind human being on the set according to the grown up Paige Conner, his role as a cosmic visitor befitting a man with his legacy and even an accent that is referenced from that went from forties noir to films like this. Where Lance Henriksen, despite his dismissal of the film, got a lead role and in a film that actually has immense quality behind it. So much in this comic mess is too exhilarating for me to care about absurd things like logic when The Visitor is a fest in content I gravitate to anyway.
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Low
The one thing that may surprise some reading this is that I don't find The Visitor that peculiar in context of this blog. Down get me wrong, it's an unconventional movie alright, a weird little cosmos sci-fi film with tinges of horror. A downright weird film in fact, where you have John Huston and Space Jesus against a demonic girl and her pet hawk in the good and bad roles in the film. Of pseudo-religious monologues or a weird mechanical toy bird that talks in a creepy way, and how its all settled with the least expected deus ex machina and everyone being friends whose not human. It's content sieved through its structure makes it even more stranger, undercutting the logic of certain moments, causing one to be left in an unexpected position of what will happen. But it says something about the strictness of the rules for this and how high the bar is positioned in my blog that this is a minor Bronze of the rankings. It really says how more strange the films that get higher than this in the ranking are.
A Cinema of the Abstract movie?
Absolutely. This is the kind of film that the moment I hear of it I wanted to see it. That's it's been brought back from obscurity for people to see, relished upon, is a great thing, and the film didn't disappoint. In fact I was legitimately blown away by the film in its madness. Writing this, I have an utter glee in thinking about The Visitor¸ enjoying myself writing this review more than some of the others despite liking most of the films for this season, which says good things about this film in the long run.