5 Absolutely Insane Things About ‘The Visitor’
Drafthouse Films is doing terrific work with its re-releases of old, lost cult classics and undiscovered gems. Now another film lost in time is getting some nice exposure, with a release across Drafthouse theaters in America. With the Canadian release now on its way (which is co-presented by Fangoria), here’s another chance at seeing just why it took over 30 years for The Visitor to get seen properly in America. The number of absolutely insane, off-the-wall things going on in this film could be infinite, so for now here are five especially crazy aspects of The Visitor.
1) The Cast
The Visitor was one of many European productions going on in the 70s that used recognizable American actors to boost its appeal to audiences. The most classic example of this would be when Sergio Leone used Clint Eastwood in his Man With No Name Trilogy. But this is the farthest thing from a Leone film, and director Giulio Paradisi (credited as “Michael J. Paradise” to look more American) got one hell of a cast together. For starters, the protagonist is played by John Huston. Yes, that John Huston. And he’s joined by Shelley Winters, Glenn Ford, Lance Henriksen and Franco Nero (more on him later). But the demented cherry on top belongs to Sam Peckinpah, who pops in for a cameo as an abortionist(!). With a cast like this, and so many Hollywood legends, it’s baffling to think that The Visitor went unnoticed for so long.
2) The story (or what you can make of it)
The plot of The Visitor is an incredibly convoluted one, and there’s no way you can follow along without feeling like you’re still trying to catch up with what’s on screen. Huston plays an intergalactic space warrior who, as it’s explained in a monologue that sounds like someone describing an acid trip, spends his life hunting down descendants of some evil entity. Huston finds one on earth in the form of an 8 year old girl named Katy (Paige Conner).
Katy’s mom Barbara (Joanne Nail) turns out to have been given some…power by..uh…whatever Huston hunted down so that any child she has will carry some of the evil superpowers that this…thing gave her. It’s all a bit fuzzy in the details. Barbara’s boyfriend, played by Henriksen, is a wealthy owner of a basketball team. To make this point apparent, there’s a completely unnecessary and long scene of a basketball game thrown in. The first twist comes when Henriksen is actually just a plant by some sort of evil cult, who have given him lots of money to woo Barbara into having a son with him. See, this cult knows Barbara’s ability to pass telekentic and evil powers on to her offspring, so they want her to have a son for some sort of nefarious purpose. Once again, the details get a bit fuzzy here.
Winters shows up as a new maid for Barbara and Katy, and despite being hired by Huston as protection for Barbara she does jack shit. Winters appears to know how ineffective her character is as well, telling Katy that she’s done nothing to protect her mother. Ford has a brief role as a police investigator who tries to understand one of the film’s many plot holes. Needless to say, when Ford leaves the film, so does any concern with said plot hole.
The script is clearly some sort of mish-mash with a lot of classic and popular aspects of films at the time, a sort of bizarro attempt to lure audiences in. Hitchcock is one clear influence (mainly The Birds and Psycho). Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen, and The Exorcist are other major influences for the film as well. Despite so much of the film’s story getting lifted from horror movies, The Visitor never feels like it belongs to one genre. It really just defies any attempt to easily label it.
3) Django is Djesus
I really have nothing much to explain here. Just look. Remember that monologue I talked about where the backstory of Huston’s character is explained? That monologue is delivered by Franco Nero, who looks like this:
Why does he look like that? Because he’s playing Jesus. And he’s delivering this monologue in some weird, new age-y area to a bunch of bald children. None of this is ever explained or expanded on. Django is Christ, and heaven looks like a doctor’s office for kids with leukemia. Any questions? Fuck you, deal with it.
4) This scene
The first moment when you can tell something is really wrong with The Visitor comes around the thirty minute mark. Katy is having a birthday party, and starts getting gifts handed out to her. To start things off, John Huston is just hanging around in the background with no one aware of him or how disturbing it is that he’s snooping on an 8 year old’s birthday.
Katy appears to be the only one that can see him, and this causes her to freak out. While opening presents, she comes across her Aunt Susan’s gift. After letting out a wide-eyed stare of glee, Katy runs off into the corner to open her present while everyone else wonders what the hell is happening.
And what, exactly, did Aunt Susan get Katy for her birthday?
A gun, of course! And Katy loves it
She runs toward her mother, screaming “Look Mommy!” before throwing the gun on the table.
When the gun lands, it goes off, shooting her mother directly in the back.
Barbara turns around to look at her daughter while in complete shock
And we get what might be the absolute perfect reaction from Katy:
And if that’s not surreal enough, the next scene crosscuts between Barbara getting treated by doctors while Katy performs gymnastics. It’s the first moment of unintentional surreal brilliance in The Visitor, and far from the last.
5) The theme music
The theme song for The Visitor repeatedly pops up, but hilariously none of the film’s cues can match how over the top the music is. The song, which sounds like the entrance theme for a children’s comic-book hero, gets used on many of the film’s landscape shots. It might have been fine for a major city, but this is Atlanta in the late 70s. And the theme doesn’t really work the image of John Huston ambling on-screen. The theme is perfect 70s cheese on its own, and thankfully Drafthouse Films have a free sampler of the soundtrack you can download on the film’s website.
Like I said, there’s so much more I can say about The Visitor. The way its heroes are completely ineffective, the hilarious use of a wheelchair elevator as a Chekov’s gun, the free-form editing, the assortment of side characters, and the batshit insane finale. Instead I’ll let people discover for themselves how confusingly fascinating The Visitor is. It’s truly unpredictable cinema.