Have you ever watched a movie that you knew was horrible, yet you still loved everything about it? We all have and it can leave us trying to figure out what it was about it that made it so appealing. Was it the music? The acting? Or maybe it was just because it was so crazy that we enjoyed it for the unique entertainment value. Such is what I experience with The Visitor (1979).
The cast list is a veritable who’s who from Hollywood circa the late 70s/early 80s. We have Mel Ferrer, Glenn Ford, Lance Henriksen, John Huston, Sam Peckinpah, Shelly Winters and Franco Nero as Jesus Christ. What more do you need to convince you that this movie needs to be in your collection? If you are looking for a plot, brace yourself because it is all over the place. The script had a beginning in common sense, taking on the overall concept of exorcists battling an evil little girl. However, by the time director Giulio Paradisi got his hands on the film, there is little wonder why anyone comes away from this movie confused and asking what it all meant.
Producer Ovidio G. Assonitis claims that the original intent was nothing more than a basic horror movie. However, screenplay writer Luciano Comici claims confusion from the very beginning. Essentially, director Paradisi tried infusing a lot of ideas that might have worked for a European audience but would never be understood by the common American moviegoer. Comici tried telling him but Paradisi, who had only directed nature television shows and commercials prior to this, would not listen. The end result was a movie chopped up by the Hollywood censors to the point of seeming disjointed. However, cast members have stated that they never really understood what was going on in the first place. Despite all of this, several actors pushed hard to appear in the movie as they really had faith in the project, at least from what they read in the script, which seemingly never made it to the big screen. John Huston really wanted to play the lead role of Jerzy Colsowicz. He was quoted as stating that it was either going to “be a marvelous movie or a piece of shit.” The jury may still be out.
So what is The Visitor about? Well, you have a young girl named Katy Collins (Paige Conner, Little Darlings) living in Atlanta who appears to be evil and disturbed. Her mother, Barbara (Joanne Nail, The Gumball Rally) senses something is wrong. She’s also resisting the advances of Raymond Armstead (Lance Henriksen, Aliens and The Terminator), who is part of a mysterious group of men headed up by Dr. Walker (Mel Ferrer, The Hands of Orlac). There’s an intergalactic being we come to know as Jerzy (John Huston, director of The Maltese Falcon and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre) who is sent to Earth by intergalactic beings (or is it heavenly beings) to stop her (or so we think at first). After a gun is discovered in one of Katy’s birthday presents and accidently goes off, paralyzing her mother, a police detective (Glenn Ford, Superman The Movie) begins to investigate. Along the way, we have crazy bird attacks, a maid played by Shelly Winters (who knows who the girl really is), and an appearance by Katy’s father, Dr. Sam Collins (Sam Peckinpah, actor/writer/director). And did I mention that Katy is odd beyond belief and curses like a sailor? How about Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as himself in a basketball scene filmed at The Omni in Atlanta? And we can’t forget Franco Nero (Django) in an uncredited role as an intergalactic Jesus Christ figure.
This movie is all over the place, so no description really does it justice. There are creepy scenes followed by out-of-place late 70s disco music. We have a script that seems as if it was being rewritten daily (which, no surprise here, it was). Actors who wanted to be there, like Huston, and others who were impossible to deal with, like Peckinpah, resulting in even more script rewrites. There are also visuals present in the film only for the visual aspect. They really don’t go anywhere and the only thing they add is more confusion.
So, all that said, I loved The Visitor. I know, it makes no sense to like the movie. It is bizarre and lacking any real cohesion. But it is just crazy enough that it succeeds in entertaining you, provided you are in the right frame of mind and prepared for an experience. The movie was a failure at the box office in 1979 and, after an early VHS release in edited form, it was quickly forgotten. Thankfully, Drafthouse Films took notice of a 35mm print that was making the midnight movie circuit. Now, it is available for all to see in a restored Blu-ray version I highly recommend. Watching Lance Henriksen’s interview pretty much sums up what most people think of it. Yet, like most train wrecks, you can’t turn away. Check out the trailer and add the Blu-ray to your collection.