Part of the joy of being a fan is finding odd and obscure gems that you end up falling in love with. For every Star Wars, there is a Starcrash. For every Batman, there is a Condorman. Here at Fandom, we like to go hunting for some offbeat and off-the-wall films and television shows that might just become your own secret treasures. Strap yourself in and expect the unexpected, because this week’s Weird Watch is the 1979 Italian-American sci-fi horror film, The Visitor. (Last week: A Scanner Darkly)
The ’70s were an insane decade for cinema. One of the most interesting facets of the era is the post-Star Wars boom that resulted in numerous low-budget sci-fi films getting made. Especially entertaining were the films coming out of the Italian market, and that’s where The Visitor hails from.
Actually, The Visitor‘s origins are a Cronenbergian chimera of Star Wars, The Omen (particularly the sequel, Damien: Omen II), Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Lucio Fulci’s The Beyond, any Alejandro Jodorowsky film, and Troll 2. It’s an ever-shifting paradox of horror, comedy (intentional and very unintentional), psychedelic trip, fantasy, and something I can only describe as an alien’s concept of how a film is constructed.
Even summarizing the bonkers plot doesn’t do this film justice. I’ll give it my best shot but it will require some gross omissions and simplifying. There’s a group of interdimensional beings who are trying to stop an evil force named Sateen (yup) from being resurrected on Earth. That can only happen if Barbara (Joanne Nail) conceives a male child. She already has one child, Katy (Paige Conner), and Katy is the baddest of seeds. She exhibits a multitude of strange powers and seems to be on the side of evil A cabal of leaders has assigned Raymond (Lance Henriksen), owner of a fictional Atlanta basketball team, to woo Barbara in order for their deity to be reborn. The benevolent space people send one of their own (John Huston) to make sure events do not allow for Sateen to reenter the world.
That’s really the absolute easiest way to approach this movie’s plot, but man does it leave out everything that makes The Visitor a diamond of an oddity. The soundtrack is astoundingly harsh, featuring lots of screeching strings and a clunky theme that gets replayed countless times. So many moments in the film are staged and lit like something out of a play, bringing this extra level of artifice that you hardly ever see in a movie. There’s a plethora of incredibly awkward performances in this movie — Paige Conner and Shelley Winters’s housekeeper reign supreme in this category — that need to be seen to be believed. This move casts Franco Nero, the original Django, as Space Jesus! There’s pivotal scenes in this movie that center around Pong!
Amidst all this utter lunacy, there’s also a visual smorgasbord of delights that deserve genuine praise. Italian director Giulio Paradisi has a knack for thinking with his eye instead of his brain, and it pays off in the film’s more kaleidoscopic moments. Of particular note is a sequence where Katy pursues John Huston’s titular visitor. There’s a lot of impressive camera work going on, culminating in a house of mirrors sequence that’s worth the price of admission.
The Visitor is one of the greatest “midnight movies” I think I’ve had the pleasure of seeing. It features the kind of unbridled creativity you can only find in exploitation cinema. There’s such a hodgepodge of wrongheadedness and genius on display that they culminate into something nearly indescribable. I could tell you all of the pandemonium that’s in The Visitor, but you really should go into this movie with as little knowledge as possible. It’s the kind of otherworldly cinema we don’t see very often these days, and even though it is profoundly terrible at times, it’s the kind of terrible that makes us love the movies on Mystery Science Theater 3000. The Visitor is transcendent moviemaking in the worst (read: best) kind of way.
Read more in our regular Weird Watch series here.