The opening scene of The Visitor is exactly the kind of scene I love in late ’70s sci fi and horror films. John Huston encounters a faceless hooded figure in a desert, where the orange and grey sky indicates that it may be on another planet or in an alternate dimension. There are explosions, then a snowstorm. The figure is revealed to be a creepy young girl who looks decayed and then disappears. Unfortunately, The Visitor goes downhill from here, unless you like watching bad movies ironically.
The plot to The Visitor is not as high-concept or confusing as you might think it would be in a 1979 film helmed by a bunch of Italians and starring past-their-glory-days actors and a pre-Piranha 2: The Spawning Lance Henriksen. There was an evil dude named Zateen who was imprisoned by another dude. He escaped and went to earth, where he was killed, but not before he could mate with human women to breed evil offspring. In fact, this plot sounds pretty cool on paper and might make in interesting, even suspenseful, movie. The Visitor is not that movie. It’s almost two hours long and so much of that is taken up with vague, incomprehensible scenes that actually detract from the relatively simple plot.
Yet, The Visitor is still enjoyable if only because it is inadvertently comical. The John Huston Entrance Music, which sounds more like the theme to a gritty ’70s cop TV drama, seems inexplicably loud whenever it appears. The cinematography, from veteran Ennio Guarnieri, has been completely destroyed by the abysmal editing job of Roberto Curi. And I’m going to throw in director Giulio Paradisi (listed as Michael J. Paradise) too, because it’s just that terrible. Murky close-ups, inexplicable reaction shots, cuts between scenes without any regard to pacing, they’re all here, and more. You could create a drinking game every time there’s a shot of the Evil White Men In Suits turning their heads to and fro in unison. The dialogue is equally embarrassing. “Yeah, that bugs me, man. That really bugs me,” says Glenn Ford at one point, squinting for effect. Glenn Ford! He’s probably still embarrassed and he’s been dead for seven years.
The best part of the film is Paige Conner as Katie Collins. It’s not that we’re convinced she’s evil, it’s that she’s incredibly bitchy and/or creepy in every scene. As someone who also turned eight in 1979, she reminds me of the exact kind of bully that would have mercilessly tormented me.
There’s so much more to The Visitor if you’re willing to go the distance (and you should, because it’s surprisingly a lot of fun to watch). John Huston plays pong and goes down an endless staircase in a mall that apparently doesn’t have escalators. Shelley Winters sings “Shortnin’ Bread” and slaps Paige Conner across the face. There’s a flying bird statue with a retractable knife in its beak and a dreadful attempt to pay homage to the house of mirrors scene from The Lady From Shanghai. And if someone can explain the ice skating scene to me, I’ll be grateful. Oh! I can’t forget Franco Nero as Jesus Christ, looking more like a bad Kurt Cobain impersonator than anything else.
The worst thing about The Visitor isn’t that it’s a bad movie, even though it is. It’s that is a perfect movie for a Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode and we’ll never get to see that come to fruition.
The Visitor will be screening at TIFF Bell Lightbox tonight through January 1, through Films We Like and Fangoria. For additional screenings, check the Films We Like website.