How does one even begin to review THE VISITOR?
Attempting a plot summary won't do, because that way lies madness. If I were to tell you who is in it that won't help either, because there's no way the mixture of star turns this movie features could possibly help you get a feel for how insane this film is. I could say it's from Ovidio Assonitis, who gave us TENTACLES - a daft Italian film about a monster octopus, and BEYOND THE DOOR - a daft Italian OMEN ripoff that gets more incoherent as it goes. Incoherent, now there's a word we can use to describe the film under review here. Mind you, that's a word we can also use to describe quite a lot of Italian exploitation cinema of the 1970s. But if any single movie can be described as the apotheosis of 1970s Italian incoherence, it is indeed, THE VISITOR.
In a galaxy far, far away (I think) John Huston awaits a dark shape that turns into a little girl while the sky turns the colour of tea being tipped into a glass of water. We cut to Franco Nero as Jesus addressing a room full of bald children. Enter John Huston looking vaguely normal. Just as we expect him to tell Mr Nero to get back to the psychiatric ward and leave the paediatric oncology patients alone we realise we are still on the other planet / galaxy / dimension / whatever. Jesus Franco (oh what delightful unintentional subtext) has been relating the raison d'être of everything we are about to watch, so we had better have been paying attention. In fact let's rewind and watch it again.
Sateen, Yahweh, flock of ravens, three survived, escape ship fell to earth, Sateen's genes, power of evil, etc etc. Got it? Never mind, we are in Atlanta about to embark on a tour of the city's highlights thanks to some sort of deal the film-makers made with the mayor and made sure to point out in the very first caption onscreen. There's a basketball game that goes on for too long, then we meet Lance Henriksen, who has been assigned by Mel Ferrer and his gang of evil lawyers (?) to get his girlfriend Joanne Nail pregnant. She carrying the genes of Sateen you see, and while she already has a foul-mouthed hawk-wielding daughter, a son is needed to...I don't know - fulfil a prophecy or something? Joanne doesn't want to get pregnant so when her daughter gets a gun for her birthday the little girl shoots mother in the back and paralyses her.
Joanne seems remarkably chipper for someone who will never walk again. Soon she's back home in her wheelchair while John Huston arrives from...I don't know...space? He's brought a group of bald men with him who proceed to erect some white sheets in a pleasing arrangement on top of a skyscraper. I still have no real idea why. Mr Huston is here to stop / get the little girl & defeat the bad guys. I think. The daughter goes ice skating and flings some men around.There were meant to be elephants in this scene as well because the director thought people liked them.
Shelley Winters turns up as the anti Mrs Baylock and proceeds to serenade everyone with a traditional Negro folk song. John Huston arrives at the house, announces he's the babysitter and everyone believes him. Some more stuff happens that's so out there I really can't assemble it into any kind of logical sequence anymore, and I've only just watched the film. It all ends with...oh, but that would be telling. Actually it wouldn't but I can't actually remember. I think Jesus pops up again and the reason for the bald children is explained. Kind of. But actually not at all, really.
Plotwise THE VISITOR is an unbelievable mess, acting-wise it's an unbelievable display of name stars giving their all to something where no-one could possibly have had any idea what was going on. There's an interview with one of the screenwriters in here that's possibly the highlight of the disc, in which you get the feeling he had to write the script based on the gesticulations of a madman who couldn't communicate in any known language. And yet despite all this, the direction is really rather stylish. Immense care has been taken to compose shots for dialogue scenes that would otherwise be utterly disposable. The other planet is rather trippy. So are some effects in the sky we get to see at the end (I wasn't sure what was happening). Lance Henriksen gets attacked by a flock of birds & I'm sure the wooden one we see pecking at him is intended to be wooden. But why?
Arrow's Blu-ray looks excellent. There's an interview with Lance Henriksen which is almost as funny as the screenwriter one and definitely worth a watch. There's also a subtitled interview with DP Ennio Guarnieri which is rather more serious.
Crazy, incoherent and trippy, THE VISITOR nevertheless makes you wish there had been more films made like this, because whatever pioneering new form of film-making it was, it needed an awful lot of refining before it could be considered a viable entertainment medium. As it is you'll probably only be able to make it all the way through THE VISITOR's nearly two hour running time once. But you'll be showing bits of it to your friends forever.
Arrow Films released the unique cinematic experience that is THE VISITOR on dual format Region 2 DVD and Region B Blu-ray on 6th October 2014