Any film that opens with a conversation between Jesus Christ and a room full of bald children has got to be worth watching, right? The Visitor combines stunning imagery with devilish set-pieces, blessed with a top-notch cast including John Huston, Mel Ferrer, Shelley Winters and Franco Nero as Jesus. That's right, Jesus! Who could ask for more? The first exchange sets the scene perfectly. When Jesus asks a mysterious stranger (The Visitor), "Has it happened again?" The Visitor replies, "Her name is Katy Collins and she will be eight years old". Then, quite brilliantly, an overzealous soundtrack kicks in, rocking the TV speakers for all their worth. Be warned. It won't be the last time this happens.
A bizarre mix of The Exorcist, The Omen and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, The Visitor certainly has its fair share of haters, humorously dubbed ‘a turkey made of cement’ by one critic. Yet despite all this, it has become something of a cult classic in its own right. That's why we can look forward to this newfangled Blu-ray release courtesy of Arrow Film. "Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. But we must have that power." I'm not going anywhere with that line of dialogue, I just really like it.
Before we move on, however, let's get back to that delirious musical arrangement. It's almost as though they lifted the soundtrack from a 70s exploitation picture starring Pam Grier. There's genius at work here because it encourages you to pay close attention even when nothing is happening on screen. There's a 'nail biting' scene half way through the movie where one of the main characters is undergoing a delicate surgical procedure. It should be tense and terrifying stuff, but there's one small problem. For some reason the scene plays out to - what could be - the theme tune from an 80s cop show. It's completely out of place but ridiculously entertaining all the same.
The Visitor is the ultimate experience in B-movie madness from Ovidio G. Assonitis, producer extraordinaire and director of Beyond the Door and Tentacles. I've yet to witness either one of these films but I have high hopes for any man brave enough to call his movie Tentacles. Described by various sources as “one of the most mind-altering cinematic experiences of the 1970s” and “the Mount Everest of insane ‘70s Italian movies", The Visitor brings together an astonishing ensemble in an intergalactic tale (where the budget will allow it) about a demonic girl and her pet hawk. She has a pet hawk. Obviously. She's evil. Evil people can do anything. Especially children. On this evidence, sanity up and left with the introduction of Jesus Christ: Super Teacher.
At first glance, Katy Collins (Paige Conner) is just like any other 8-year-old girl, but appearances can be deceiving. Let's stop right there, okay? Katy Collins makes Regan Macneil look like the embodiment of virtue. When asked how her mother is, Katy shrugs her shoulders and skips away saying, "Well she won't die, she'll just never walk again." What's more, she likes to while away the hours playing on her mother's stair lift. The girl has Daddy issues, clearly. As it turns out, Katy is the Earthly incarnation of an ancient evil by the name of Sateen – an intergalactic supernatural entity that was vanquished light years earlier.
Paige Conner is wonderful as the demonic offspring. She plays the part like she's auditioning for an American toothpaste commercial; it really is fascinating stuff. It's a shame she didn't go on to do anything else of note. Katy possesses tremendous powers making her capable of great destruction. Powers that some are keen to eradicate, and some are keen to harness. Loosely translated, we're subjected to an endless array of memorable characters, none of which outstay their welcome. Glenn Ford (Superman's Earth papa) keeps the movie from going off the rails for a short time, even if he is saddled with what can best be described as 'stoner dialogue'. Lines like, "Yeh, that bugs me man, that bugs me". Still, he certainly is a pretty bird. That might be a spoiler. Just saying...
John Huston's otherworldly hobo is a cross between Ben Kenobi and any number of characters played by Christopher Lee. He's sent to Earth by Jesus (still funny) to capture the demon child. In order to get close to Katy he takes on the dubious task of babysitter. The oldest and creepiest babysitter known to man, I might add. You wouldn't leave your child with this weirdo, and yet, nobody ever suspects him of wrongdoing. Well, I say that. There is an interesting conversation that takes place after the parents leave the house. Basically, they suspect the new babysitter of being a child molester, but don't threat, it's not about to ruin their date or anything. Some people really do deserve what's coming to them.
The set pieces are infrequent but they do hit the mark from time to time. The ice-skating sequence in particular is unintentionally hilarious, but it's wonderful stuff if you're in the right frame of mind. The Visitor is mostly incomprehensible but strangely compelling at the same time; much like a road traffic accident you just can't take your eyes off. For the record, in my notes I ended with the words, "Brilliantly crap". That sums up the movie perfectly. In fact, I'm not sure what I've been banging on about for the past few minutes. I haven't even mentioned the presence of Shelly Winters (no-nonsense nanny) and Lance Henriksen. Any film starring Lance Henriksen has got to be worth your time, surely? Man's Best Friend is one of my favourite horror movies. No kidding.
Much loathed and misunderstood, The Visitor is fabulously loopy from start to finish. With commendable cinematography, editing, special effects, production design and stunts, a crazy musical score and big names to boot, there's so much to enjoy from this 70s oddity. It's not a good movie by any stretch of the imagination, but it's certainly compelling. Brilliantly crap indeed.