BLU-RAY REVIEW: THE VISITOR / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: GIULIO PARADISI / SCREENPLAY: LUCIANO CORMICI, ROBERT MUNDI / STARRING: MEL FERRER, LANCE HENRIKSEN, GLENN FORD, JOHN HUSTON, SHELLEY WINTERS, PAIGE CONNER, JOANNE NAIL / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW
Giulio Paradisi’s undeniably bonkers sci-fi-/horror mash-up The Visitor has both confounded and infuriated critics and befuddled and bemused audiences since it was originally released in 1979. The general consensus is that it’s utterly impenetrable, meaningless, pointless and entirely lacking in a coherent or cohesive narrative. But that’s not necessarily true. The film’s actually got a fairly straight-forward story, but the telling is compromised by Paradisi’s willfully random direction and singular approach to narrative structure. What was clearly intended to be a cheap rip-off of the likes of The Omen and Close Encounters ends up as a clumsy, maddening, but oddly diverting spectacle which aches to be art house but ends up as mostly artless.
So where to start? In broad terms the story concerns young Katy Collins (Conner), an eight-year-old girl imbued with the mysterious powers of the hostile extraterrestrial intelligence known as Sateen. Katy/Sateen is determined that the alien gene should be allowed to thrive on Earth and she tries to persuade her mother Barbara (Nail) to conceive another child with her partner Raymond (Henriksen). This involves crippling her mother with a gun at her birthday party, throwing lots of teenage boys through windows at an ice rink and using foul Exorcist-y language at suspicious detective Jake Durham (Ford). Meanwhile, a mysterious bearded ‘visitor’, Jerzy Colsowicz (Huston), a Universal force for good, has arrived to try and stop Sateen’s evil power spreading across the world and Raymond himself is under the thrall of a sinister syndicate which has its own plans for world domination.
On its own terms it sounds like a decent, if derivative, story. But Paradisi won’t just let it unfold in its own way, he tries to throw it off course with perverse incident, obscure imagery and bafflingly ambiguous characters. Franco Nero turns up as a beaming, blonde, bearded Jesus Christ figure, spreading joy and hope amongst a bunch of bald child extras and Huston’s benevolent exorcist is God by any other name. It seems that Paradisi, aware he was being asked to bandwagon-jump then-popular genre movie types, decided to try and make something little bit different but in doing so he created a film which, if not exactly a car crash, is certainly a nasty accident at the side of the road.
Yet despite its extraordinary idiocy and moments of sheer inanity, The Visitor is oddly watchable and punctuated by genuinely memorable moments, not least a well-staged scene where Ford’s cop is attacked by birds (a Hitchcockian motif repeated throughout the film) and a strangely disturbing denouement where a now-crippled Barbara is brutalised by both child and father.
The Visitor isn’t the difficult, nonsensical disaster it’s often been written off as; it’s intriguing, inventive, desperately frustrating and occasionally spectacularly-silly. Nicely spruced-up by Arrow for this new Blu-ray release it’s a brave, if foolhardy attempt to put a new spin on ideas and concepts which were being done to death at the tail end of the 1970s. It’s real cinematic curio, an oddity well worth visiting.
Extras: Souvenir booklet, interviews with Lance Henriksen, screenwriter Lou Comici and cinematographer Ennio Guarnieri.