Heaven knows why Code Red opted only recently to send us a check disc of a title they released way back in November 2010. But send one they did, hence this belated review.
An atrocious religious sci-fi horror thriller, The Visitor (1979) was filmed mainly in Atlanta, Georgia (near where co-producers FVI once had their headquarters), with interiors partly shot in Rome. Egyptian Ovidio G. Assonitis produced and co-wrote the film. A globetrotting wheeler-and-dealer with business connections in Europe, Asia, and North America, Assonitis has enjoyed a long career on the fringes of the industry, including a brief run as CEO of Cannon Pictures, though well after that company's glory days had passed. Shortly before directing this, Assonitis made the terrible yet still entertaining Jaws rip-off Tentacles (1977), a movie featuring Shelley Winters and John Huston, who also turn up here.
The Visitor (Italian title: Stridulum) is similarly derivative, with elements obviously pilfered from The Exorcist, the first two Omen movies, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Unlike those films, however, The Visitor is confusing, pretentious and inept at the same time, and almost unbearably boring despite a few visually interesting ideas.
Nevertheless, Code Red's DVD is well above average, and is of the 108:37 international version, not the shorter, 90-minute U.S. cut. Shot for 1.85:1 projection, The Vistor is presented in 16:9 enhanced widescreen, and comes with the kind of exhaustive extra features one associates with Blue Underground and similar labels.
The almost incomprehensible story begins with a mystical but interesting prologue, with an alien, or maybe God, but going by the mortal name of Jerzy Colsowicz (John Huston), witnessing some kind of vision. The vision seems to indicate that the evil forces of Sateen (read: Satan), a mutant with "a primal urge to kill," have set their sights on eight-year-old Katy (Paige Conner, who resembles a blonde Linda Blair). After briefly conferring with another alien, possibly Jesus Christ himself (an uncredited Franco Nero), with Jerszy interrupting JC's lecture to a group of bald-headed children, the Old Man hops on the next flight (from where?) to Atlanta.
Katy is the daughter of Barbara Collins (Joanne Nail), a single mother in a serious relationship with Raymond Armstead (Lance Henriksen), the fabulously wealthy owner of a professional basketball team. (But not one in the NBA. An elaborate stadium sequence that introduces the characters pits his "Atlanta Rebels" against the "San Francisco Miners.") However, very early on it is established Armstead is trying to hustle Barbara into marrying him on orders from his mysterious sponsors. Dr. Walker (Mel Ferrer) and his board of directors are very anxious for Armstead to marry Barbara and produce a male child, a half-brother for Katy. Their ultimate aim appears to be to mate the two children and create a super-race of evil. Or something.
Katy is certainly a little monster, spouting four-letter words and having temper tantrums ad infinitum, all the while subjecting her hapless, understandably distressed mother to more painful "accidents" than Lee Remick endured in The Omen. It seems the filmmakers' intention was to make Katy a sympathetic victim of alien and/or demonic possession, but the character is instead merely repellent. And Conner's Georgia twang while telling people like police Det. Jake Durham (Glenn Ford) to "shove it up your ass" makes the character even more grating.
Jerzy shows up as Katy's unlikely babysitter - Would you trust your eight-year-old with John Huston, Noah Cross from Chinatown? - though for most of the movie he watches Katy from the sidelines, something like a guardian angel. After Katy puts Barbara in a wheelchair, Jane Phillips (Shelley Winters) is employed as the family maid. She takes an instant dislike to Katy, though mostly fusses around the house like a Jewish Butterfly McQueen. She even sings, "Put on the skillet! Put on the lid! Mama's gonna make a little shortenin' bread!" while polishing the brass.
Elsewhere, Jerszy gathers the forces of good (if uniformly bald) atop an Atlanta skyscraper. A good hiding place? Surely not! Katy, for her part, does her best to kill off as many take-the-money-and-run guest stars as inhumanly possible, usually with the help of Katy's nasty pet falcon. Glenn Ford's detective character, for instance, appears solely to be killed spectacularly within a reel of his introduction. (The budget and schedule were apparently too tight to wait for Ford's cold sore to heal. His lower lip is caked with mud pie-like makeup in a vain effort to hide it.) However, his character's gruesome death is admittedly well executed with good stunt work. Like most of the name actors, it's unlikely Ford spent more than a couple days on the picture.
But by far the strangest star cameo is by yet another director slumming between projects. Sam Peckinpah has a one-scene part as Sam Collins, Barbara's obstetrician ex-husband. He doesn't look it, but the Wild Bunch director was by this time high on cocaine and booze nearly 24-7 and probably for this reason had trouble remembering his lines. All his dialogue was dubbed in postproduction by somebody else.
Assistant director and actor-turned-director Giulio Paradisi, billed here as Michael J. Paradise (!), aims for the stars but too often his efforts are thwarted by the terrible script and budgetary limitations. A few visual flourishes not without merit are undercut by the way the picture was made, with Hollywood talent obviously coming and going for a day or two, and the rest of the movie filmed around their hurriedly-shot appearances, Huston being the only "name" in the cast with a sizable role.
Video & Audio
Presented in English only with no subtitle or alternate audio options, The Visitor has been given a strong 16:9 enhanced widescreen transfer of the long 108:37 cut. The picture looks pretty good throughout with decent color and contrast though the mono audio is a bit off. Music and sound effects tend to drown out the dialogue. I had to turn the volume way up on my monitor to hear it clearly.
Supplements include a short 4:3 documentary about the film featuring Nail, Conner, production coordinator Stratton Leopold, and producer Assonitis. If that doesn't satiate one's interests there are two audio commentary tracks, one each with Nail and Conner. Also included is a 4:3 trailer designed to sell the picture at the Cannes Film Festival, as well as gobs of trailers for other Code Red titles.
Die-hard genre films might like The Visitor more than I did, and it's hard not to be curious about a religious sci-fi horror picture featuring two great American directors and several major Hollywood stars. I found it pretty insufferable, but am grateful for the effort Code Red has put into its release. Rent It.
Stuart Galbraith IV's audio commentary for AnimEigo's Tora-san, a DVD boxed set, is on sale now.