Tuesday, November 05, 2013

The Visitor, Because Life Wasn’t Weird Enough Without It

Atlanta is a sinful city, where every damn street is called Peachtree.  A cosmic warrior has come to straighten things out here.  He will do battle with the pre-pubescent girl who has made the world such a crummy place in the ever-so strange 1979 Italian-produced sci-fi knock-off, The Visitor (trailer here), directed by Giulio Paradisi as Michael J. Paradise, which has been re-mastered and re-released by Drafthouse Films.

In a dimension “beyond imagination,” a mysterious old man seeks out the remnants of the evil Sateen, a demonic entity he vanquished eons ago.  Evidently, some of his old foe’s essence ended up on earth, specifically within Barbara Collins’s ancestors.  She is one of the rare carriers who can give birth to his malevolent offspring.  Unfortunately, she already has one child, the dreadful little Katy.  Her boyfriend Raymond Armstead is pressuring her to get married and have more children, because he is part of an apocalyptic secret society that frequently holds awkward board meetings devoted to promoting evil.  Collins resists, ostensibly for the sake of her freedom.  However, she is also instinctively against anything Katy is for.

You might think the bad guys would do anything to protect the birthing abilities of the only woman who can deliver Sateen’s bad seeds.  Well, obviously you are not part of an international satanic cult.  Poor Collins is shot, partially paralyzed, run off the road, and attacked by a falcon.  Yet, despite all the stress, her skin remains remarkably clean and radiant.  As Armstead and Katy plot against her, the gaunt Jerzy Colsowicz arrives to do battle with Sateen’s spawn.  That’s right, it’s a frail septuagenarian versus an eight year-old, so get ready to rumble.

It goes without saying The Visitor is a strange film.  Everyone compares it to The Omen and Close Encounters, but Paradisi/Paradise probably rips-off The Birds more than anything else. For whatever reason, bird attacks seem to be the weapon of choice for good guys and bad guys alike. It is just plain baffling anyone thought this film could cash in on the late 1970’s sci-fi craze, but it boasts a truly once-in-a-lifetime cast, including John Huston (the John Huston), Lance Henriksen, Glenn Ford, Franco Nero (uncredited as the Christ-like figure), Shelley Winters, Switchblade Sisters’ Joanne Nail, Mel Ferrer, Sam Peckinpah (the Sam Peckinpah), and future Libertarian radio talk show host Neal Boortz.  Get your head around that ensemble.

Frankly, Huston looks rather bemused in each of his scenes as Colsowicz and it is a good bet he never saw bothered to watch the finished product.  Ford and Winters soldier through like the old pros they are, playing the cop and the nanny, respectively.  Eventual fan favorite Henriksen also shows an early affinity for scenery chewing as Armstead.  In truth, aside from maybe Huston and Nero, nobody really phoned The Visitor in, but it is anyone’s guess what they thought they were doing in this convoluted, New Agey plot.  There are times the film appears to be conceived as a showcase for Atlanta’s modernist architecture, which makes as much sense as any other explanation.

Visitor’s special effects are crude and confusing, even by 1970’s standards, but in its straight-forward dramatic scenes, the picture looks surprisingly slick.  Naturally, even the music “borrows” from another film, but it must be conceded Franco Micallizzi’s riff on Strauss’ “Zarathustra” is oddly catchy, in a funky (arranger) David Matthews-Kudu Records kind of way.

If you don’t get The Visitor by now, you’re on your own.  If you enjoy completely cracked cult cinema, this is your catnip.  Impressive in its way, it demands to be seen to be believed.  Recommended for those who can appreciate the sheer defiant spectacle of it all, The Visitor screens this weekend (11/8 & 11/9) at the IFC Center in New York.