1979, dir: Giulio Paradisi (as Michael J. Paradise)
Every now and then, you sit through a film and just marvel at the sheer absurdity of what you are witnessing on-screen. Recently. I had the pleasure of watching a film that did just that. That film is Giulio Paradisi’s cult classic, The Visitor from 1979. You know you are in for a treat when within the first 5 minutes of a film you are treated to Franco Nero (Django, Street Law) as a cosmic, golden locked Space Jesus preaching to a group of children with shaved heads in what looks like a fancy patio. If that hasn’t already sold you, then you need to have a good hard look in the mirror. If that doesn’t sound like your kind of thing, let me tell you more.
I won’t bore you with you a detailed synopsis of this masterpiece. All you need to know is that John Huston (The Maltese Falcon, Jaguar Lives!) stars as Jerzy, a heroic peacekeeper sent to Earth to save the world from the evil Katy Collins, a potty mouthed 8 year-old girl with tremendous powers played by Paige Connor (Little Darlings, Fast Food). Katy is more than just a child, she is the manifestation of an evil force by the name of Sateen (clever name there chaps). To make matters worse, Mel Ferrer (Eaten Alive, The Antichrist) playing as Dr. Walker, leads an evil underground group that has enlisted Raymond Armstead, played by Lance Henriksen (Aliens, Pumpkinhead), to impregnate Katy’s mother Barbara, played by Joanne Nail (Switchblade Sisters, The Gumball Rally) so she can give birth to another powerful offspring. It’s a tale of good and evil, but with alien forces instead of God and the Devil. Still not sold? Wait! There’s much more to tell!
I have merely scratched the surface of the plot. There is much more to ingest. For instance, there’s the detective, played by Glenn Ford (Superman, 3:10 to Yuma) who gets a bit too close to Katy as well as the new housekeeper played by Shelley Winters (Alfie, The Night of the Hunter) who not only has a love for stuffed birds, but also may or may not play a big part in the galactic wars. Oh and legendary director Sam Peckinpah (Straw Dogs, The Wild Bunch) has a small role of Barbara’s ex-husband (he struggled so much on set that he was later re-dubbed). As you can see, there are quite a few acting heavyweights involved with this beautiful mess of a film. Speaking of beautiful, some of the imagery we are treated to is genuinely breathtaking. The work of the art departments and effects teams, which includes the likes of Ermando Biamonte (Runaway Train, The Pumaman), Vern Hyde (Army of Darkness, Evil Dead 2), Franco Vanorio (Beyond the Door 2, Piranha Part 2) and Giancarlo De Leonardis (Hannibal, The Last Emperor) is shot beautifully by Ennio Guarnieri (Arabella, Invasion). That combined with Franco Micalizzi’s (Violent Naples, Cop Hunter) score help make The Visitor a truly wonderful thing to behold. Of course, most of the visuals are dated by modern standards, but they sure are wonderful and are by no means crude.
I think overall, it’s the major “WTF” factor that really makes The Visitor the perfect watch for a Friday evening with friends. If you have ever wanted to see a basketball blow up in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s face, this is the film for you. If that’s not your bag, how about the idea of a bird attacking the eyes of Glenn Ford as he driving down the freeway? Seriously, there are moments that will shock you as much as they confuse you. I haven’t been so gobsmacked with a film for such a long time. Countless times I asked myself how and why certain things happened, not that I was complaining of course! It’s seriously got to be seen to be believed. The story is often confusing with so many minor sub-plots thrown in. Just when you’re starting to make sense of it all, you get a cosmic sucker punch. Not only that, but nearly every American horror film of the time is referenced or plagiarised. Fans of films like The Omen, The Exorcist and The Birds may or may not be impressed with what they see. I suggest those of you who hold your films too close to your heart to be very careful with this one. Those like myself, who love seeing the Italians cashing in and ripping off popular cinema will definitely get a kick out of some of the story lines, characters and set pieces.
Admit it. You want to see this film as soon as possible right? Well, folks in the UK can now easily get their hands on this from Arrow Video. Now, I have often questioned Arrow’s choices of titles, but when they release gems like this, I can often forgive them for re-releasing older titles in steelbook form, or releasing a film that is already widely available uncut in the UK. From what I can gather, this is the same print that Drafthouse Films released last year. I have to say that The Visitor looks and sounds great. It’s definitely the best the film has and will probably ever look. In terms of extras, The Arrow release is identical to Drafthouse release. You get interviews with Lance Henriksen, the screenwriter Lou Comici (Walker, Texas Ranger, Outback Bound) and Ennio Guarnieri. The history of the film is almost as crazy as the final product! Not only that, but there is a reversible sleeve with artwork by Eric Buckman a booklet and of course a trailer. Oh and there is also an easter egg for those who are a little more eagle-eyed! It’s the typical finished product. It would have been nice to have more special features, but don’t let that put you off what is a beautifully presented mind trip of a film.
For those looking for a stand alone experience with Italian cinema, you can pick up the dual format Blu-Ray and DVD combo from Arrow Video.