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.