In media reviews you’ll often come across some variation of the phrase “the result is less than the sum of its parts.” The Visitor is not only less than the sum of its parts, it is an ambitious mess where the individual themes, plots, and character tropes are actively at war with each other in a struggle for the soul and sanity of the viewer. And that makes it an especially fun watch.
An attempt at summarizing the premise of this film best illustrates this phenomenon. Let me take a deep breath before I start. OK. On a distant planet, a space-archangel (played by Oscar-winner John Huston) receives his mission from a blonde-haired space-Jesus (Franco Nero, star of the original Django) to travel to Earth – Atlanta, the home of Echosynthetic, to be precise – and prevent a wealthy sports team owner and Satanist cabal member (Lance Henriksen, of Aliens fame) from marrying and conceiving a child with the mother of an evil Damien-esque telekinetic girl (Paige Conner), for fear that the girl and would-be son would then create a perfect spawn of Satan to rule the world.
And that’s just the premise. There’s so much going on in this sincere mashup of genres that it takes multiple viewings just to get a handle on them. Without ruining too much of the plot, get out your bingo cards and look out for the following while watching 1979’s The Visitor:
– alien contact and UFO landings (Close Encounters of the Third Kind)
– creepy evil kid with superpowers killing and maiming people (and ruining the outcome of a basketball game) with her mind (The Omen, The Exorcist)
– birds swarming and pecking people to death (The Birds)
– a creepy inanimate object trying to murder someone (Trilogy of Terror, The Amityville Horror)
– secret plots by Illuminate-types to create a super-being (The Boys from Brazil, The Star Chamber)
The Visitor also flaunts an inexplicably talented cast, including two-time Oscar winner Shelley Winters (The Poseidon Adventure), Glenn Ford (Superman, 3:10 to Yuma), and a cameo from legendary director Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs). Winters in particular shines as the maid who senses the girl’s evil intentions and attempts to thwart her scheming.
Perhaps my favorite facet of The Visitor is the overwrought-yet-funky score by Franco Micalizzi. Some of the cues sound like they were taken directly from interstitials during a “Movie for a Rainy Sunday Afternoon” from that era. The music blasts and blares, as if we’re witnessing the most epic struggle between good and evil, while John Huston carefully ambles down a flight of stairs. It really is something to behold.
All of these disparate elements add up to create a last hurrah for 1970s cinema horror and is enjoyable to watch from our 21st Century perspective, even if none of it makes any sense from within its own logic.
The Visitor (1979) is currently available on Blu-Ray from major online retailers, as well as from Drafthouse Films [www.drafthousefilms/film/the-visitor], who restored and re-released the film in 2013
Chris Frain records and performs slightly less funky and dramatic music as Pattern Language. The first Pattern Language EP, Total Squaresville, is available on Happy Robot Records at: https://happyrobotsrecords.bandcamp.com/album/total-squaresville.