Blu-ray Review: The Visitor

Originally published on So So Gay on 6 October 2014.

To quote star Lance Henriksen in the interview he gives for this new Blu-ray release of infamous 70s sci-fi film The Visitor, ‘Wow, where is the narrative in this thing?’

If you’ve ever wanted to watch a film that contains aliens, killer birds, a demonic child, a violent ice-skating dance-off, and ACTUAL JESUS CHRIST, then The Visitor is definitely the film for you. Perhaps you’ve just read that list of content and thought ‘surely those disparate collection of things can’t coherently come together as a story?’ Well, you would be correct. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact moment whilst watching The Visitor when you give up trying to follow the plot and let the unbridled insanity just wash over you. That’s not to say The Visitor isn’t an entertaining watch – it certainly touches on so-bad-it’s-good territory, which makes it a difficult film to score accurately. As Mike White, co-host of movie podcast The Projection Booth, says in the essay he contributes for the Blu-ray’s booklet: ‘Sometimes the film feels like it’s a poor adaptation of an intricate book. Other times, it feels like it was cobbled together from abandoned bits of scripts that were gathering dust in [The Visitor‘s writer, Ovidio] Assonitis’s office.’

Directed by Giulio Paradisi (second unit director on the Fellini classic, ), The Visitor depicts an inter-dimensional mission where Jerzy Colsowicz (John Huston), the alien visitor of the title, must save the soul of young Katy (Paige Conner), the devilish offspring of Barbara Collins (Joanne Nail) who is unaware she carries the genetic coding to bear children possessed with the wicked spirit of Zatine (Satan). Meanwhile, a shady syndicate of men are trying to get basketball team owner Raymond Armstead (Henriksen) – because why not – to impregnate Barbara thus furthering the demonic line.

The curious thing about the film is that it has many good qualities, not least the cast. Stalwarts like Huston and Shelley Winters (who plays Barbara’s housekeeper, Jane Philips) bring gravitas to proceedings, while Paige Conner gives a gleefully maniacal performance as 8-year-old Katy Collins – the demonic antagonist of the piece. Even with a jaded 21st century perspective, there’s still much amusement to be found in hearing profanity shoot out of a child’s mouth. It’s hard to resist a juvenile titter when Katy bluntly tells Det. Jake Durham (Glenn Ford) to ‘go fuck yourself’ after he follows her to school – perhaps it makes more impact because there isn’t actually that much swearing in The Visitor.

Paige Conner as Katy Collins
Paige Conner as Katy Collins

Where The Visitor goes so very, very wrong is its abrupt and haphazard editing, along with its fairly nonsensical plot – not to mention an abrasive and often misplaced soundtrack. Clearly rehashing elements from numerous big hits of the day, the film falls apart under the weight of far too many amalgamated ideas – yet somehow manages to remain an enjoyable riot. The sad thing about the film is its wasted potential; with a few more script revisions and perhaps a less manic director on board, The Visitor could have turned into a genuine jewel in the sci-fi/horror genre, rather than an infamous curiosity.

There are some revealing insights into the unhinged captain at the helm of this particularly bonkers ship during the interview with Luciano Comici, who was responsible for the movie’s screenplay, and is one of three new interviews included on the Blu-ray – the other two being with Henriksen and cinematographer Ennio Guarnieri. When Comici pointed out to Paradisi that he was becoming overly preoccupied with scenes featuring people on the toilet, his response was, ‘People go for a shit every day – put it in!’ Paradisi was clearly a man of the ‘my way or the highway’ persuasion.

Speaking of the bonus content, it collectively doesn’t quite run to 25 minutes and consequently feels a little sparse, which is a shame since the interviews with both Comici and Henriksen are insightful and amusing, though all too brief. Furthermore, it’s a pity there isn’t an interview with Paige Conner – surely an egregious oversight – to give her thoughts on both the shoot and end product. Unusually for an Arrow Blu-ray, this particular package is also devoid of even one audio commentary for the film. Nevertheless, what is included gives some welcome behind the scenes information for fans.

A must-see for arguably the wrong reasons, The Visitor is one of those films that needs to be seen to be believed. Like a cinematic rite of passage, to not see this film at least once would be to miss out on a unique piece of movie magic and mayhem.

The Visitor is available to buy on dual format Blu-ray + DVD from Amazon. Images courtesy of Arrow Films.

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