visitor

The Visitor (1979)

| March 4, 2014 | 0 Comments

To call The Visitor (1979) unique is both an enormous understatement and an outright lie. In it, director/co-writer Giulio Paradisi (who served as assistant director on Fellini’s 8 ½) cobbles together scraps of narratives from a half dozen other movies and tempers them with his own half-formed notions of proper cinematic storytelling. And in doing so, he serves up a science fiction thriller that casts John Huston (director of The Maltese Falcon) as some sort of intergalactic/transdimensional warrior who embarks on a quest to capture an 8-year-old girl with an evil pet hawk and the powers of an ancient space demon at her command. Logically, then, Huston travels to Atlanta, Georgia where he becomes the girl’s babysitter and he plays Pong with the spawn of space-Satan. No, seriously. I couldn’t make this up.

Of course, that description is overly simplistic. In fact, no description of the film, lest it provides you a detailed overview of every scene could suffice. After all, my synopsis above mentions nothing of the shadowy corporation that’s trying to get Lance Herikson to impregnate a woman with the ability to produce other space demon babies. Nor does it tell of how foul-mouthed that little girl is or how she shoots her mother in the back with a pistol that she had in her possession because… well, that’s never actually adequately explained but whatever.

Truly, The Visitor is a film so wildly ambitious, operating on its own terms and according to some indecipherable internal logic that it simply begs to viewed again and again, if for no other reason than to pinpoint that piece of the puzzle that’ll allow you to make sense of it all at last. And yet, as I acknowledged above, the film is still somehow highly derivative. It’s not a stretch at all to draw comparisons to The Omen, The Birds, Rosemary’s Baby, or The Fury, and in fact, the write-up on the back of the film’s home video release from Drafthouse Films explicitly draws those very comparisons.

How can such a hodgepodge of other people’s ideas constitute something original, you may wonder? It’s all in how Paradisi awkwardly pieces them together (in a way I’m sure I couldn’t begin to describe without another four or five viewings) and tempers them with cryptic, non sequitur-heavy dialogue. A perfect example of this is found in a line uttered by Lance Henrikson while in bed with the little girl’s mother. He tells her, “We’re always talkin’ about talkin’ about talkin’, but we never talk.” What that means, I’m not sure, but it sure sounds heavy!

Then the protagonist shifts three or four times throughout as characters die or become irrelevant. Shelley Winters, Glenn Ford, Mel Ferrer, and Sam Peckinpah pop up along the way as players in the supporting cast. And the whole narrative is oddly predicated on a lengthy expositional monologue in the opening of the picture, delivered by some sort of space Jesus (played by Franco Nero of all people) to a class full of tiny monks. It’s a weird, wild picture in almost every way, and the only way I feel I can give you a sense of what you’re in for is to throw a bunch of this crap at you in the same way the film does: rapid-fire and without context.

If you’re into the odd, the far-out, the surreal, or the extreme, this is a picture for you if there’s ever been one, by God. But let it be known that this is also a film with the ability to stir the less open-minded viewer into a rage, as the film defies all long-accepted forms of cinematic storytelling. So don’t be surprised when your friends or significant others storm out of the room in frustration.

You can check The Visitor out on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Download from Drafthouse Films, in conjunction with Cinedigm. The transfer on the Blu-ray release is wonderful. While by no means free of scratches or debris, I fell in love with the transfer’s revival roadshow aesthetic. What do I mean by that? As someone who avidly seeks out screenings of older sci-fi and horror films on 35mm in the Chicago area, I actually found The Visitor’s presentation here to meet the standards I hold for a great theatrical print of a film its age. It’s got no noticeable discoloration, clear and dynamic audio, and just enough wear in the visual elements to give you the sense that you’re watching a print that’s had a life of its own without being too distracting. Also, I have to say that the film’s grain structure is beautifully maintained in the transfer, something that to me is more important than being debris-free.

What’s more, you wouldn’t expect a release of an obscure title such this to include any special features whatsoever, but Drafthouse put forth that extra effort you look for in a Blu-ray release and secured interviews with star Lance Henrikson, screenwriter Lou Comici, and cinematographer Ennio Guarnieri (Swept Away (1974)). The release also includes the theatrical trailer and a 16-page booklet in addition to a digital copy of the film. I found the interviews incredibly refreshing in that Henrikson and Comici have little positive to say about the film itself, contrasting most cast/crew interviews which offer nothing but blind praise. Comici’s experience behind the scenes amounts to a screenwriting nightmare, while Henrikson, although he fondly recalls his time on set with John Huston, looks back on the film incredulously. He closes his interview laughing, having been able to describe it only as “crazy and bad.” Crazy it most definitely is, but bad I’d say is in the eye of the beholder, for in its unbridled lunacy The Visitor makes for a compelling, if occasionally indecipherable, viewing experience.

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).
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