Review: The Visitor (1979)

Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #782

Number of Views: One
Release Date: August 3, 1979
Sub-Genre: Sci-Fi/Mystery
Country of Origin: Italy, United States
Budget: $800,000
Running Time: 99 minutes
Director: Giulio Paradisi
Producer: Ovidio G. Assonitis
Screenplay: Luciano Comici, Robert Mundi
Special Effects: Vern Hyde, Bob Shelley
Visual Effects: Ermando Biamonte
Cinematography: Ennio Guarnieri
Score: Franco Micalizzi
Editing: Roberto Curi
Studios: Brouwersgracht Investments, Film Ventures International, Swan American Film
Distributors: American International Pictures, The International Picture Show Company, Arrow Video (Blu-Ray)
Stars: Joanne Nail, Paige Conner, Lance Henriksen, John Huston, Shelley Winters, Mel Ferrer, Glenn Ford, Sam Peckinpah, Franco Nero, Neal Boortz, Steve Somers, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Suggested Audio Jukebox ♫

[1] Franco Micalizzi “Stridulum (Part 1)”

[2] Franco Micalizzi “Stridulum (Part 2)”

It’s not easy sticking up for a movie when the entire cast and crew regard it as a steaming pile of horse shit. While generally expected to promote the ass out of any project they’ve had a hand in, there are always those for whom the experience was just too exasperating to mince words over. Take the great Lance Henriksen for example and I call to the stand Giulio Paradisi’s white-hot 1979 mess, The Visitor to defend its corner. Recently I happened across Arrow Video’s singing and dancing Blu-Ray at my local DVD crack house and had my crisp twenty pound note at the ready before you could say “remember, all that glitters is not necessarily golden”. After amusing myself for a full five minutes with its reversible sleeve art, I slid it excitedly into my player and, 99 bat-shit crazy minutes later, slid it back out again with a gormless grin spread across my face that I’d acquired during our brief flirtation.

Actually, I dedicated a little extra time to perusing the extras and stumbled across Henriksen’s introductory address right at the tip of the iceberg. Given that I dig this dude’s bones, it seemed positively unthinkable not to eavesdrop on his one-way conversation and I could barely believe my ears when I did. You see, Lance has a wide and colorful vocabulary when recalling his time working on The Visitor, not a solitary word of which is kind I might add. In short, he considers it an outright travesty and further investigation soon revealed that he’s not the only one. Indeed, the cast and crew are literally lining up to stick the boot in and even the ordinarily glowing sleeve notes headline Paradisi’s film as “a turkey made of wet cement”. To be fair, it’s clear from the pristine restoration that they have a squishy spot for this lovable train-wreck of a motion picture. And do you know what? I bloody well do also.

Your primary consideration after watching The Visitor for the very first time is likely to be that you’ve never seen a movie quite like it in all your years and, in some ways, you probably haven’t. That said, it’s quite normal to come away with a strange feeling of familiarity as Paradisi (parading under the Stateside friendly alias Michael J. Paradise) begs, borrows and steals his inspiration from a number of timeless classics. The Omen, Rosemary’s Baby, The Birds, Carrie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and even 2001: A Space Odyssey are all tossed into his cinematic stew and a number of others besides, the result being a Frankenstein’s monster of a movie quite clearly cobbled together with cheeky cash grab in mind. It’s literally all over the place from nonsensical start to equally harebrained finale and makes as much sense as Justin Bieber adding Auschwitz to his tour calendar. Here, please allow me to elaborate further by way of brief synopsis.

We begin by huddling around with a group of bald-headed children, while a blue-eyed Space Jesus (Franco Nero) warns his follicly challenged understudies about an amorphous creature named Sateen who, during a routine transfer between intergalactic jails, managed to escape and headed directly to planet earth to lay low until the heat subsided.

The threat Sateen poses to the universe is immense and only one man in the entire solar system is qualified to deliver Cosmic Christ’s disciples from evil. That man is a fearless intergalactic warrior known as Jerzy Colsowicz (John Huston) and he is swiftly packed off to Atlanta, Georgia, where he plans to transform a downtown rooftop into a runway of sorts and return this satanic sprite back to sender.

It won’t be easy as Sateen has since managed to impregnate a woman named Barbara (Joanne Nail), resulting in the birth of her sociopathic eight-year-old daughter, Katy (Paige Connor), and her womb still possesses the ability to knock out another, even more nefarious sproglet.

I’ve met some hateful children in my time but Katy makes them all look like Walton kids and our visitor will also have to contend with the pet hawk she has grown rather attached to, who does much of the foul bidding on her behalf and watches her every movement like… well a hawk I guess. If Jerzy is expecting an easy smash and grab, then he’s got another thing or two coming as his adversary has already set up a secret society led by the mysterious Dr. Walker (Mel Ferrer) and they’ve taken steps to ensure that Sateen’s malignant seed is planted.

This is dreadfully inconvenient for poor Barbara as her boyfriend Raymond Armstead (Lance Henriksen) is making in-roads to her uterus as we speak. Should he hit the target and inseminate her with a male progeny, then the plan is for Katy and her unborn brother to mate (wrong on multiple levels), thus contaminating the cosmos and ultimately causing the entire universe to implode.

To recap then, Barbara’s precious little dumpling is pure unadulterated evil, her bedfellow is similarly diabolical, and the fate of mankind hangs precariously in the balance, with only a bearded Russian immigrant standing in the way of the premature end of humanity. No pressure then.

It’s not all bad though as the forces of good have recruited a number of defenders of the realm and they’re keeping a beady eye on developments. First up is dogged police detective, Jake Durham (Glenn Ford), and he has been alerted by a number of unexplained fatalities, all of which appear to lead directly back to sweet, defenceless Katy.

Barbara’s new housekeeper, Jane Phillips (Shelley Winters), is also under no illusion that Katy is a wrong ‘un and isn’t afraid to let the little cherub know in terms by no means uncertain that she’s onto her. As for mommie dearest, well it’s a little trickier for her as we tend to love our children unconditionally, and wouldn’t dream of handing them over to some shady bearded gentleman who spends his weekends engaging in multi-dimensional warfare.

Of course, she’s mindful that Katy is somewhat troubled, and would no doubt offer her blessing on the business side of a slipper being introduced to the back of her knees in the name of necessary discipline. But she’s hardly about to sneak into Katy’s boudoir in the dead of night and shave her head in search of the mark of the devil.

In all the fracas, Raymond’s quest to sow his treacherous seed is looking increasingly doomed, as Barbara’s vagina appears to have resealed itself and there’s no time in her hectic work schedule for compromising positions, regardless of any showy marriage proposals tossed in as a sweetener. That Cosmic Christ fella could be heading for an eleventh-hour victory, you know.

Not if Katy has anything to do with it, he won’t. You see, aside from being an obnoxious little twat with as many redeeming features as cattle phlegm, she also possesses a wide range of telekinetic powers, the likes of which can make a basketball explode through unspoken suggestion alone.

Don’t be fooled by the butter wouldn’t melt look, this one would cut the spleen out of your back if she thought it contained a candy. Indeed, she’d likely cut it out for the sheer hell of it as that’s just how she rolls. If it were a toss-up between fostering her or fellow hellspawn Damien Thorne, then I’d shoot both the little fuckers while they slept (double-barrels, close range) and get a freaking Rottweiler instead.

Meanwhile, getting close enough to cock the trigger is another thing entirely thanks to the beady-eyed vigilance and murderous tendencies of her beloved pet hawk. Like the similarly rowdy raven from Damien: Omen II, it’s never too far away when tragedy strikes and shows just as much disregard for road safety.

Thankfully, our visitor is also rather a fan of birds of prey and has a flock of them on speed-dial, just in case things call for a dash of avian assistance. Peckers at the ready my little stool pigeons as I’m sensing a climactic showdown on the horizon and, given the inexplicable random events that have permeated The Visitor, I’d say literally anything could happen.

It would be fruitless to argue that Paradisi wasn’t winging it the whole time, shooting this almost uncategorizable movie. He seems so desperate to cram as many ingredients into the pot as humanly possible, that he hasn’t the faintest idea what kind of dish he’s actually preparing. It doesn’t take a degree in rocket science to suss out that the whole heaving package has been dash-slapped together, just to make a pretty penny at the box-office and should we blame him for that really? Granted, there’s not a great amount of subtlety in the manner in which he pilfers his inspiration and the word “hodgepodge” has seldom been more applicable as it is here, but beneath all the tar and feathers lies the seed of a glorious idea and he supplies ample light and water for it to bare its petals.

Henriksen may pay The Visitor little mind but perhaps it’s about time he does as his performance as sinister shaper of young minds, Raymond, is every bit as quietly menacing as his turn as Sgt. Daniel Neff in Damien: Omen II the year previous and not something he should be striking from his résumé. As for his fellow cast members, well it’s difficult to know where to start as it’s positively stuffed like a turkey with top-tier talent.

Mel Ferrer, Glenn Ford, John Huston, Shelley Winters, Franco Nero, an incognito Sam Peckinpah – all of them are predictably on-point, with Winters in particular standing tall as she steals every single scene she appears in. But it’s actually Connor’s portrayal of our pre-teen terror Katy that sticks in my mind most as she could have us signing the adoption papers with a bat of her lashes, unaware that we are, in fact, validating our own death certificates.

The Visitor has everything except for a clue what it’s attempting to say. Slick production values, grand performances, simply marvellous set-pieces, a wonderfully OTT score that pipes up whenever it sees fit, mind-boggling mystery aplenty, a streak as mean as they come only more so, oodles of tangy spaghetti sauce, and above all else, it’s a splendid advertisement for contraception. I love it when the Italians come to America as they bring with them a sense of grand misadventure and leave behind the woeful dubbing tracks. So what if none of the cast and crew had the vaguest inkling as to their brief, the main thing is that it all came together in the end, by hook or crook.

Should you elect to spend 99 of your hard-earned minutes with The Visitor, then I’m prepared to make some cast-iron guarantees before we wrap things up. It is my stern belief that you will feel all of the following emotions during your time with Paradisi’s otherworldly oddity – anticipation, bewilderment, astonishment, embarrassment, sorrow, pity, shame, frustration, disdain, indignation, fear, disgust, rage, and eventually forgiveness, acceptance, fondness, attraction, infatuation, lust, trust and, last but not least, love.

Lend yourself to its quite literally certifiable charms and you could be coming out of this with a brand spanking new guilty pleasure. Actually no, culpability shouldn’t even come into it. Is it misconduct to love your child, even though it’s a little misshapen? The last time I checked the forums, you make a conscious effort to love it all the more. That’s it decided then, first thing tomorrow I’m rushing out to get a hawk tattooed on my left buttock and an eyeball dead centre of my ass cheek dimple. Never mind the cost, Space Jesus said he’ll pick up the bill. Just so we’re clear, there’s no way I’m getting my head shaved.

Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 8/10

Grue Factor: 3/5

For the Grue-Guzzlers: Activities that The Visitor may well persuade you not to partake in for the foreseeable – basketball, ice skating, leaving a loaded gun around the house, driving home on the Interstate during rush hour, visiting a bird sanctuary, riding a stair lift, leaving the brakes off your wheelchair, trying for that second baby. The effortless standouts would have to be a pair of decidedly spiteful swooping avian attacks and, Paradisi being Italian, he cannot resist zooming in for the all-important money shots. Eyes and throats appear to be this summer’s pecking hotspots, in case you were at all curious. 

Read The Omen (1976) Appraisal
Read Damien: Omen II Appraisal
Read Piranha II: The Spawning Appraisal
Read Madhouse (1981) Appraisal

Richard Charles Stevens

Keeper of The Crimson Quill

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