The opening sequence of The Visitor promises a much trippier, "out there" film than what follows. John Huston (in the first of many confusion-inducing casting choices) appears in front of an optically-rendered psychedelic landscape, clad in an Obi-Wan Kenobi robe. Suddenly, he is swept up in a snowstorm and the vision of a little girl with creepy eyes emerges in front of him, before she is subsumed again in the blizzard. Next, we are taken to what is presumably some kind of outer-space classroom (or just a greenhouse filled with lots of cushy white sofas). Django's Franco Nero, looking like a bleach-blonde Jesus, dumps a load of exposition onto the bald-headed children who are his pupils: an evil mutant named Sateen (you know, like "Satan" but not) escaped years ago and mated with humans to try to spread his evil on Earth; John Huston, it turns out, is Commander Ya-way (you know, kind of like one of the names of God), who has been tracking down Sateen's spawn and stopping their evil plots ever since.
After that Jodorowskian intro, the film suddenly takes a distinct left turn. I don't mean to suggest that the storytelling normalizes -- the flick is still pretty nutso throughout -- but instead of serving up a slab of stoner sci-fi, the Italian filmmakers (led by director Giulio Paradisi, aka Michael J. Paradise) go for bourgeois horror. Clearly intended as The Omen meets Rosemary's Baby -- but, you know, with space devils instead of regular ones -- The Visitor also freely grabs elements from The Exorcist, The Fury, The Birds, and whatever else seemed usable.
As the 8-year-old "bad seed" Katy Collins, Paige Conner plays one of the creepiest kid villains to grace the silver screen. Whether beating up boys at the ice skating rink, pestering her mother Barbara (Switchblade Sisters' Joanne Nail) to give her a baby brother, or just practicing gymnastics, Katy radiates pure, selfish evil.
Barbara, to her credit, is not unaware that something is up with Katy. When her wealthy boyfriend Raymond (Lance Henriksen) tries to persuade her to get married and have kids, she repeatedly turns him down and replies that she's afraid something inside her would turn the kid evil. Which... yeah... nailed it.
But, you see, Raymond can't give up that easily. A corporate committee of Sateen-lovers, headed by Mel Ferrer's Dr. Walker, has hired Raymond to make an alien-devil-baby. In what is essentially the John Cassavetes role from Rosemary's Baby, Henriksen is appropriately creepy, but his character is frequently side-lined amidst Katy's constant hijinks.
At her birthday party, Katy opens one of the presents and there is a gun inside. Did someone plant the gun in there, or did Katy manifest it with her powers? We never find out, but Katy starts waving the dad-blasted thing around and Mommy ends up with a paralyzing bullet in her spine. When Glenn Ford (yes, the Glenn Ford who was in freakin' 3:10 To Yuma!!) shows up as a police detective who questions Katy's innocence in this affair, you can immediately sense his screen time is about to be cut short.
The weird guest spots don't end there. Once Barbara is wheelchair-bound, Shelley Winters (!!?!?!?!!?!!) shows up as an astrology-spouting housekeeper named Jane, who knows perfectly well what kind of child Katy is and somehow has the strength to repel her. Meanwhile, Sam Peckinpah -- hot off directing Convoy -- makes a brief appearance as Katy's father, a doctor who consults Barbara about getting an alien-devil-baby abortion.
The Visitor is a bizarre film, and it's easy to understand why Drafthouse Films -- the company that reissued both the unsettlingly moody Wake In Fright and the goofy genre novelty Miami Connection -- would want to add it to their catalogue. A bit too well-made to be "so bad, it's good" and a bit too dumb to be viewed as batshit visionary, The Visitor can conceivably satisfy genre fans of all stripes. But folks looking for a straightforward narrative should probably steer clear.
The AVC-encoded 1080p 1.85:1 transfer has its strong moments and its weak ones. Shots with titles or optical effects have obviously been pulled from a print that has seen better days: dirt, scratches, and splices are extremely noticeable and more than a little distracting. It's kind of a shame that the film opens with a prolonged series of optical effects, because it gives a bad first impression. Once we get past that sequence, the clarity gets a lot better, with the footage pulled from either a higher quality print or a negative. It's not pristine; you still get some dirt and other specks, but the color and the amount of fine detail is much more in-line with what you would expect from a newly remastered HD film. I did not see Code Red's 2010 DVD of The Visitor to compare, but unsurprisingly this is a big step up from VHS.
The DTS-HD MA 2.0 mono audio shows its age and its low-budget origins. The dubbed dialogue is discernible and the Moog-y score by Tarantino favorite Franco Micalizzi is atmospheric and fun. The disc also sports English SDH.
While seemingly not as extensive as the bonuses on Code Red's 2010 DVD (which I have not seen), Drafthouse has cooked up some decent goodies.
- Visiting Lance Henriksen (HD, 9:02) - An entertaining, self-effacing interview with Henriksen where he admits he had trouble figuring out what the movie was about when they were making it, and not just because the director refused to speak English.
- Writing The Visitor with Lou Comici (HD, 9:10) - Another entertaining, illuminating, somewhat gossipy interview where one of the English-speaking screenwriters talks about all the unworkable ideas that director Paradisi tried to wedge into the script and many of the other tensions within the creative team. He also reads the original opening narration from the screenplay.
- Ennio Guarnieri: Director of Photography (HD, 4:26) - Guarnieri is green-screened in front of some of the effects-heavy shots from the film. He mostly discusses the techniques used to achieve the effects within the film.
- Trailers - The re-release trailer for The Visitor, which was edited by Hobo With A Shotgun's Jason Eisener, plus trailers for many of Drafthouse's other re-releases and their movie subscription club, Drafthouse Alliance.
- A colorful booklet featuring Zack Carlson's interview with co-writer/producer Ovidio Assonitis and a download code for a digital copy.
Not for everyone, but genre and exploitation fans should find plenty to enjoy in this daffy rip-off of '70s horror's greatest hits. Recommended.
Justin Remer is a filmmaker, oddball musician, and frequent wearer of beards. Check out his random movie thoughts on Twitter: http://twitter.com/bottomofqueue