Get your face shot off with sci-fi-horror mindblower The Visitor
Ever feel burned out on cult movies?
The Visitor will restore your faith, even if you spent decades—like I did—passing over its too familiar cover on the shelf of your video store. It’s not as if there was anyone out there championing the 1979 film, like, say, Evan Husney.
“The Visitor is one of those things where it’s never been presented in the right context,” says Husney, creative director of Drafthouse Films. “It was always marketed to be something that it wasn’t. Nobody 35 years ago was, like, ‘This is the most insane film ever made.’ Instead it was, ‘Here’s another Exorcist,’ and everyone went, ‘It sucks.’”
For Husney, the hook was the film’s cast, which features a very young Lance Henrikson sharing screen time with—get this—slumming Hollywood stalwarts like Shelley Winters and Glenn Ford, along with legendary filmmaker John Huston (as God, kind of, aka “Jerzy Colsowicz”), Franco Nero (as Jesus, kind of), and a near death Sam Peckinpah playing an abortion doctor.
“A puzzling cast,” deadpans Husney. “I think everyone sort of has this thought on their mind, like, ‘What are we all doing in this piece of shit?’ And you can see it on their faces. But none of them had any idea that they were disrupting the space-time continuum by being in this movie.”
Husney came across the The Visitor—A beyond-delirious Italian rip-off of late ‘70s horror and sci-fi blockbusters—when it was re-released on DVD in 2010.
“And then I watched it, and immediately, in the first 15 minutes, in going from the outer reaches of the universe to this eight-minute long basketball game—this superbly filmed basketball game, the best filmed basketball game I’ve ever seen—it was, like, ‘What is going on here?’ And then it just kept getting weirder.”
Indeed. That basketball game is only one of several dazzling if nonsensical set pieces in The Visitor, shot and edited with an epic sense of motion and an eye for hallucinogenic colour that makes it impossible to entirely dismiss the film—at least technically. Everything else about it is bat-shit fucking insane, mind you.
“It’s like [Lucio Fulci’s] The Beyond,” says Husney, “where you’re sort of experiencing it in the spaces between the scenes. Because you have no idea what’s going on, at all. There is a through-line. If we write everything down on Post-it notes and lay it out on the floor, and look at it from far back, we can figure out, ‘Okay, this is A to Z.’ But you never know what’s happening as it’s happening.”
The story, as it were, concerns Katie, the earthly, eight-year-old progeny of intergalactic bad guy “Sa-teen.” As per The Exorcist, The Omen, The Brood, Cathy’s Curse, or any number of the period’s evil-kid movies, Katie is an absolute cunt. She shoots her mother at one point, “by accident”, while more generally causing intergalactic havoc all over the place.
John Huston arrives to put a stop to all this nonsense, but he’s up against a sinister corporation bent on producing an even more powerfully evil brother for Katie and taking over the world, like Apple.
Husney managed to get the skinny on the film’s production when Drafthouse Films acquired and began restoring The Visitor last year. Screenwriter Lou Comici, who was hired partly to make sense of the film, and partly to keep director Michael J . Paradise (aka Giulio Paradisi) in line, told him: “I’ve done dozens of movies and this is the craziest fuckin’ experience of my life.”
When Paradisi was fired during pre-production, producer Ovidio G. Assonitis was subsequently “persuaded” to rehire the unwieldy auteur—at gunpoint.
“And the writer left and never came back, and the movie just got to be as weird as it is,” says Husney. “Out of all the reasons that this movie could be weird, I never thought it was because the producer could get his face shot off.”
The Visitor comes to the Cinematheque, starting today.