DIRECTED BY: Giulio Paradisi
FEATURING: John Huston, Paige Conner, Joanne Nail, Lance Henriksen, Mel Ferrer, Glenn Ford, Shelley Winters
PLOT: Years ago, a cosmic menace known as Sateen escaped his alien captors and wreaked havoc across the stars. The forces of good and their army of birds vanquished him, but not before he reached Earth and impregnated multiple human women. The children born from those couplings would become mutants, telekinetic beings with the power to rule the world encoded in their genes. Much later, the mysterious being known as the Visitor (John Huston) dreams of a towering figure in black trudging across otherworldly sands. The figure turns into a young girl, and through this vision the Visitor realizes that Sateen’s abilities have resurfaced on Earth within eight-year-old Katy Collins (Paige Conner).
Katy’s hapless mother Barbara (Joanne Nail) recognizes the evil growing inside her daughter as well, as does the cabal controlling Barbara’s boyfriend, Raymond (Lance Henriksen). Seduced by his employers’ promise to fund his pro basketball team, Raymond agrees to impregnate Barbara with a second child in order fulfill their plans for world domination. Will Raymond succeed and help bring the world to its knees, or will Barbara exercise her right to choose (not to be an incubator for mankind’s destruction)?
Also, will the Visitor ever intervene, or will he spend most of his time wandering aimlessly to theme music that is a bit too dramatic and funky for a man who takes forever to walk down a single flight of stairs? And why is Jesus blonde and surrounded by bald children? The answers will surely surprise you, because if nothing else The Visitor is a story that nobody could ever see coming.
WHY IT MIGHT MAKE THE LIST: One might read a summary of The Visitor’s plot about a possessed little girl and dismiss it as a rip-off of The Exorcist—which it is—but what’s really special about Giulio Paradisi’s film is that it also rips off Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Birds. In a story where the Satan’s origin as an interstellar felon merits only the briefest attention, director Giulio Paridisi combines a range of ideas from across the spectrums of sci-fi, horror, and religion with such inspired fervor that he could almost be accused of originality. Yes, this is a film that steals parts of very recognizable movies and puts them together with the grace of a child forcing LEGO bricks into a jigsaw puzzle, but the uneven hodgepodge born from The Visitor’s plagiarism is utterly unique in its weirdness.
COMMENTS: From an overqualified cast whose presence could’ve only resulted from blackmail to a plot that immediately requires you to accept that Jesus Christ lives in outer space, very little about The Visitor makes sense. As with many of the so-bad-they’re-weird films, though, that incoherency is the source of the film’s charm. To sit down and explain The Visitor, either by rationalizing its production choices or clarifying its plot scene by scene, would reduce it by turning it into something knowable and common rather than the masterpiece of the bizarre that it is.
The best way to describe The Visitor is to instead just recount a few of its many insane twists, all of which are delivered with the abruptness and enthusiasm of someone making it up as he goes along. This is a movie that casts celebrated director John Huston as a second-fiddle messiah known as the Visitor, whose efforts to stop the possessed Katy Collins soon detour into posing as her babysitter and losing to her in a game of Pong. The threat posed by the girl lies in her telekinesis and a murderous pet hawk whose presence and ability to open doors is never questioned, at least until a maid played by Academy Award-winning actress Shelley Winters kills the bird with her bare hands. However, even more dangerous than Katy is the prospect of her mother, Barbara, giving birth to a son. That second child promises to usher in the end of times, but luckily Barbara lives in post-Roe v. Wade America. After getting pregnant she averts the apocalypse with a timely abortion, leaving the Visitor and his conscripted army of pigeons to take care of Katy and save the day once and for all. Of course, one may wonder why the Visitor didn’t simply take care of Katy as soon as he arrived on Earth, but the answer is clear. That would mean denying us a pretty awesome movie.
After leaving the film’s premiere, Huston reportedly walked up to director Giulio Paradisi and said, “You know what, I had no idea we were making that kind of movie. Congratulations.” Therein lies the wonderful essence of The Visitor, an undertaking so strange that even the people making it could not understand it. It veers from one crazed idea to the next without a care in the world. The results are inscrutable, but within that inscrutability lies a kind of magic. Ultimately, it’s a movie that proves that, when you don’t need to justify yourself, anything is possible.
Drafthouse Films is re-releasing The Visitor to theaters through January 2014, with a new DVD release to follow.
WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:
“…too messy and weird to have hit back in the day but too inventive and accomplished to have been rotting for so long.”–Alan Scherstuhl, The Village Voice (2013 re-release)