The Visitor (1979)
September 14, 2015 10:33 AM - Subscribe

The soul of a young girl with telekinetic powers becomes the prize in a fight between forces of God and the Devil.

I'm not sure any review quote can adequately sum up what I just watched, so... I'm skipping that part of this post. Have at it!

Voting for the next movie will be open until Friday. Let me know if you'd like to volunteer to select the films from our list for next time.
posted by naju (10 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
This movie is pretty insane. Unfortunately, it sags a little in the second half but it picks up for a great finale. This is one that I would think most people would consider "so bad it's good," since it's really odd in ways that are unintentionally humorous. Like every time that "Stridulum Theme" starts up and the camera gives us a super-dramatic close-up of a character's face: it's funny the first time, but by the fifth time it's hysterical. The scene where the girl shoots her mom at the birthday party is also one of the most weirdly hilarious things I've seen in recent memory.

I do think this was a great find for Drafthouse Films, and I'm glad they gave it such a nice restoration. I remember seeing the iconic VHS box cover as a kid in the video store many times, but for whatever reason I never picked it up. It was a real treat to finally see it on the big screen.
posted by tomorrowromance at 11:31 AM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah, that music. Never appropriate, always perfect. Disco stabby bird!
Fun movie! Definitely strange.
As a Canadian, I did enjoy that the basketball game between the Atlanta Rebels and San Francisco Miners was decorated with huge Canada flags. They thank the Omni in the credits so I assume they filmed thereā€¦ did The Visitor predict that the Atlanta Flames (based out of that stadium) would be sold to Calgary a year later?
posted by rodlymight at 6:29 PM on September 14, 2015 [2 favorites]

I just watched this one a second time to get a better handle on the randomness (I have a feeling that the two-days-later rewatch will become part of my standard strategy for Strange Club...) but still I find myself undecided about this movie. Its lineage is clearly that of a certain vein of schlocky 60s/70s sci-fi/horror, but it also seems to have higher aspirations, reaching towards the same midnight-movie nirvana as Ken Russell orJodorowsky. The first scene in particular seems to promise a completely different kind of movie than the one it turns into at times, but all the same it keeps dipping back into acidhead surreality ("IiIiIi'M a pReT-tY bUrRrRrD...") and it never quite stops feeling uniquely and memorably weird.

It's hard to reconcile the film's amazingly careless disregard for realism (e.g. the utterly unbelievable car crash + explosion scene. I hope Glenn Ford was paid well for his time.) with the clear evidence of there being semi-serious authorial intent (the juxtaposed cuts between Katy's gymnastics practice and Barbara's physical therapy), which makes it hard to tell whether the film is a deliriously good kind of bad, or just sort of kitschily bad. As mentioned above, the score really adds to this mismatched feeling, lurching from moods like "kung-fu blaxploitation" to "NFL highlights reel" to "3M industrial training film" to "Richard Strauss goes disco", sometimes all within the same sequence. The music itself is inexplicable, and its usage in the film even more so.

I will admit to being disturbed by young Paige Conner's performance as Katy; Although I didn't believe in her for one second as a authentic psychic spawn of Satan, I could believe that she was a real-life terror of a child star. That kind of dead-eyed sociopathy in such a young kid can't be faked, can it? The scene 2/3 of the way through the movie where she jumps out from behind Barbara with the phone ("IT'S FOR YOU MOMMY!") and starts nuzzling and kissing her face while begging Lance Henriksen to give her a baby brother, that was where I went from just being annoyed by her precociousness to being genuinely unsettled.

Other notes:

According to the IMDB listing, the Franco Nero character at the beginning and end is supposed to be Jesus Christ. Is this just IMDB contributors putting us on, or was that literally the filmmakers' intention?

IMDB also includes a credit for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, presumably in the basketball scene, but I didn't spot him anywhere. The player who shares some meaningful glares with Katy (say, what was that about?) before she sabotages his winning dunk is named "Abdul" but it's definitely not Kareem. Again, I suspect that IMDB is trolling us here.

In addition, I also refuse to believe that "Ovidio Assonitis" is the name of a real writer/producer, and not an imaginary colorectal disorder.
posted by Strange Interlude at 8:14 PM on September 15, 2015 [2 favorites]

It also occurs to me that this is the second movie involving an obviously fake-looking bird that John Huston has gotten himself mixed up in.
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:11 AM on September 16, 2015 [1 favorite]

I honestly don't even know where to start talking about The Visitor, so I'll just follow up on Strange Interlude's suggestion that there is a seeming aspiration toward to the Jodorowskyian. Culturally, I guess we're kind of teetering on the edge of the '80s New Age here, and I feel like The Visitor is at times very sincerely making a Spiritual Statement. What is that statement? I don't know. But the movie does, or at least one person involved in its making did (it's probably not the same person who created that crazy death trap at the end). A similar vibe is at play in the infamous Galaxy of Terror, made just a few years later; ostensibly just an Alien rip-off, Galaxy is full of weird-ass sci-fi ideas and philosophies well beyond what one might expect of latter-day grindhouse fare, though it is mostly known as the movie where a woman orgasms herself to death while being attacked by a giant worm.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:29 PM on September 16, 2015 [2 favorites]

This morning, I realized that there's an interesting parallel between this film's vision of an army of birds arriving to vanquish evil (or in Franco Nero's words: "fatally wound [it], in the brain.") and the similar one had by Laura Dern's character in Blue Velvet:

"I had a dream. In fact, it was the night I met you. In the dream, there was our world and the world was dark because there weren't any robins, and the robins represented love. And for the longest time, there was just this darkness. And all of a sudden, thousands of robins were set free, and they flew down and brought this Blinding Light of Love. And it seemed like that love would be the only thing that would make any difference. And it did. So I guess it means there is trouble 'til the robins come."

I've often wondered about whether parts of David Lynch's work were partially inspired by scenarios from schlocky sci-fi and horror films he had seen, so I wouldn't say it's a stretch to speculate on whether The Visitor might be one of those secret inspirations.
posted by Strange Interlude at 7:12 AM on September 17, 2015 [3 favorites]

Are we supposed to believe in astrology as part of the explanation of the plot? There seems to be little attempt to have any coherent theory underlying the story and maybe that's the movie's greatest strength.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:14 AM on September 18, 2015

For the vote we're in a tie between Morvern Callar and My Winnipeg. If you haven't voted, help us out and be the tie-breaker!
posted by naju at 9:51 AM on September 18, 2015

On second thought, that would sort out the next two movies pretty nicely. whynotboth.gif
posted by naju at 10:20 AM on September 18, 2015

Announcements. Morvern Callar is up next, followed by My Winnipeg in October. Plus a surprise.
posted by naju at 1:11 PM on September 18, 2015 [1 favorite]

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