Thursday, October 23, 2014

31 Days, 31 Horror Movies: The Visitor (1979)

The Visitor

If I had remembered that I had already seen The Visitor, I wouldn't have bought the damn thing.

It's not that it's completely worthless, far from it. It's got some interesting visuals and ideas swimming around in all that craziness - it's just not something I feel like I need to own. I guess that's the lesson I take away - don't buy something you haven't seen. Also, they had projector TVs in 1979, which is something I didn't know.

Also - WTF? This film is crazy! Not Nobuhiko Obayashi House crazy, but still pretty messed up. It's as if Lucio Fulci got tapped to direct an Omen ripoff as produced by Irwin Allen. It's a 'devil' movie, but with aliens instead of God and Satan. It's got Shirley Winters singing Shortnin' Bread while dressed as Mary Poppins. It's got Django as Jesus - at least I think he's Jesus. He could be my friend Greg Hyland, though, as they look(ed) pretty similar.

Greg? Is that 1994 you?

The Medium
I bought the Blu-ray used in a horror-movie binge over the summer. It's perfectly serviceable, but there's still plenty of noise, scratches and film damage. The cover is reversible, which I guess is nice. There are a handful of extras, including a fun interview with Lance Henriksen.

The Movie
After a bizarre opening sequence in which John Huston stands around in a desert while a little girl gets hit in the face with potato shavings, we get a rundown of how things stand as delivered by Jesus to a group of bald kids. No I'm not kidding. I think that opening sequence (which is pretty interesting, visually) is supposed to represent a cosmic struggle between the forces of good and evil. I think.

Could be soap flakes, I guess. But it looks an awful lot like potato shavings.

The basic point that Django... er, Jesus, is trying to get across is that there was a super-evil bad guy (Sateen - get it?) that was defeated by a super-awesome good guy and an army of birds, but not before passing his evil on by doing the nasty with women on earth. So his evil is like a genetic trait that gets passed down and occasionally expresses itself in evil offspring with magic powers, and then someone calls cosmic 911 and super-awesome good guy (The Visitor - played by John Huston) goes and does something about it. The Visitor shows up and says they've got a new sighting - it's an eight year old girl in Atlanta, Georgia.

The girl, Katy, is manifesting powers - including telekinesis and the ability to swear like a sailor. She blows up a basketball player with her mind, I think. I dunno. Her mom is a nice but bland person who is being wooed by the basketball team owner who is beholden to a weird cabal that seems to want her to have more kids. More kids like Katy.

Lance Henriksen as the basketball team owner and all around jackass. Plus some birds.

Much of the movie revolves around Katy being a dick. She 'accidentally' paralyzes her mother, Barbara, when one of her birthday presents turns out to be a handgun. She torments some boys at a skating rink, eventually throwing a couple of them out of the rink. The detective that is investigating the shooting (Glenn Ford) gets murdered by the girls pet hawk. She swears at everyone, including the housekeeper who, to be fair, does slap her an awful lot. (I THINK she's supposed to be there to guard the mother, but she's spectacularly useless at that. And she's mean enough to Katy that you're expecting some kind of retaliation, but she's left alone.)

"Why are you even in this movie?"
"I've been asking myself the same question."

When Huston shows up to confront her (and get his ass handed to him at Pong) you wonder if there's going to be some epic confrontation of psychic powers between them - but there isn't. Even later, when Katy does try to kill him, it's mostly Scooby-doo running between doorways and one loose screw on a fire escape.

There are abductions, attempted murders, weird looking houses and one epic bird attack, but there's not a lot of sense to be had. Sometimes John Huston goes to a rooftop and holds his hands up while lights appear. Sometimes Katy does gymnastics. The hawk attacks people. Sam Peckinpah shows up for four minutes and Mel Ferrer menaces in a distinguished way. It sometimes makes sense and sometimes doesn't. The end made me think Neo was going to appear and bend spoons.

"There are four lights! No, wait, it's eight."

So much of the film feels like a low-budget Italian exploitation flick - the nonsense plot, the occasionally amazing visual set pieces, the over-the-top score. And then there's Shelly Winters slapping a kid and it's all 'you got your peanut butter in my wasabi peas' - two great tastes that are WTF together.

The Bottom Line
The Visitor is a bizarre and nonsensical film that's occasionally visually arresting. It's packed with top-flight 70's actors in weird roles. It's an experience, but your enjoyment may vary significantly from scene to scene. and you may end up questioning whether it's an experience that you needed to have.

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