31 Days Of Horror #17: The Visitor (1979)
I have just finished watching The Visitor and I have no idea what the hell I just watched, or why I liked it so much. It’s a sci-fi riff on The Bad Seed, it’s a religious horror wearing a shiny new spacesuit, it’s The Omen meets The Birds meets Fire In The Sky. It’s bonkers, star-studded, and borders on the brilliant at times.
If I tried to fully explain the plot to you then I fear that my brain would try to escape via my ears, so please excuse me for providing this briefest of summaries. Paige Conner is a young girl, sweet enough to her mother (Joanne Nail) but powerful enough to secretly deal with anyone she views as a problem. Lance Henriksen plays the man hoping to be her stepfather, John Huston is a man trying to keep track of her activities, and Shelley Winters is a woman who comes in to help around the house after a bizarre accident renders the mother paralysed. The cast also includes Mel Ferrer, Glenn Ford, Sam Peckinpah, and all-too-brief moments for Franco Nero (portraying a Christ-like figure).
Adapted from a story by director Giulio Paradis and Ovidio G. Assonitis, The Visitor does actually attempt to create a coherent, intriguing, mythology to sit as a backdrop for everything that occurs. The script by Luciano Comici and Robert Mundi excels when stringing together the main storyline but falls down when jumping between numerous scenes that feel confusing and disjointed. These scenes include, but are not limited to, exchanges between Lance Henriksen and a board of interested parties who are judging him on his ability to get Nail to marry him, and scenes in which floating lights move around in the night sky.
Paradisi doesn’t do enough to smooth over these potholes, perhaps because he saw connections in his own story that weren’t obvious to viewers, but he keeps everything moving along at a brisk pace, somehow keeping it all intriguing enough and lively in between the more obvious horror movie moments. The intense, often dream-like, visuals are accompanied by a decent, VERY ’70s, score from Franco Micalizzi, and it’s hard not to admire the conviction with which it’s all done.
Conner is okay in the main role, better when she has to look sweet and innocent than when she has to act mean and tough, and Nail is an enjoyable presence, even as her character starts to realise that things aren’t alright and struggles to keep calm, and Henriksen plays his role with earnest, viewers only really being reminded of his motives in the scenes that show him explaining his current status. Huston is involved in many of the film’s strangest moments, and he goes along with it all gamely enough, and Winters has a couple of fun interactions with Conner, admitting to her that she knows what is going on and confronting her about her behaviour.
If you’ve seen films such as Zardoz, Xtro, Prey (the Norman J. Warren movie), and The Brother From Another Planet, I recommend you giving this one a go. Even if you end up hating it, which is entirely possible, you will be unable to deny it as a unique and interesting piece of work.
DIRECTOR: GIULIO PARADISI
WRITER: LUCIANO COMICI, ROBERT MUNDI,
STARS: PAIGE CONNER, JOANNE NAIL, LANCE HENRIKSEN, JOHN HUSTON, SHELLEY WINTERS, MEL FERRER, GLENN FORD
RUNTIME: 97 MINS APPROX