Do you want to see a strange horror film?
Just check out The Visitor, a 1979 Italian film that has recently been re-released by Drafthouse Films and occasionally shows up on TCM. In many ways, The Visitor is a total and complete mess. But, as is so often the case with Italian horror films, that very messiness — combined with some genuinely imaginative narrative and directorial choices — serves to make The Visitor into one of the most memorable films that you (possibly) have never heard of.
Like many of the Italian exploitation films released in the 70s and 80s, The Visitor is a rather blatant rip-off of a successful American film. What makes The Visitor unique is the amount of different movies that it rips off. The Visitor takes films that you would assume had no connection and mixes them together to create something wonderfully odd.
Much like Close Encounters of the Third Kind and 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Visitor opens with the idea that intergalactic beings have been visiting Earth for centuries and are subtly influencing the development of humanity. The Visitor literally opens with Jesus Christ (played by Franco Nero!) sitting on a satellite and telling a version of the creation story to a bunch of bald children. He explains that, long ago, he battled an evil intergalactic demon known as Sateen. Sateen (who, the film implies, is better known on Earth as Satan) was eventually blown up but his genes were spread throughout humanity. The bald children surrounding him are the descendants of Sateen. Whenever one of them is born, Jesus sends an old man named Jerzy Colsowicz (played by director John Huston) to Earth so that Jerzy can bring the child to the satellite. Of course, whenever Jerzy isn’t kidnapping kids for Jesus, he spends his time hanging out in a psychedelic dimension.
Yes, you did read that correctly.
Once you get past the intergalactic part of the story, The Visitor is a pretty obvious rip-off of both The Omen and Damien: Omen II, with the main difference being that the demon child here is not a cherubic little boy but instead is a rather bratty 8 year-old little girl named Katy (Paige Collins). However, Katy is not the Antichrist. Instead, her job is to mate with a male child who also has Sateen’s genes and then her baby will be the Antichrist. In order to get this male child, Katy is pressuring her mother (Joanne Nail) to have sex with businessman Raymond Armstead (Lance Henriksen, who was also in Damien II: The Omen) so that Katy can have a half-brother to mate with. (Ewwwwwwww!) Raymond is a follower of Sateen and, adding to the film’s already odd feel, he also happens to own a basketball team.
(So, along with everything else going on, The Visitor also features a lot of basketball footage, which I guess would be exciting if I knew anything about basketball.)
Despite being a pretty powerful figure in the Sateenist hierarchy Raymond is not the head Sateenist. No, the head Sateenist is played by Mel Ferrer, an actor who was once married to Audrey Hepburn and who will be familiar to anyone who has ever watched an Italian horror film. (You can spot Ferrer in Zombie Holocaust, for example.) Ferrer and the other Sateenists are all old, distinguished looking white men who spend all of their time meeting in an ornate corporate boardroom.
So, Jerzy comes down to Earth to, with the help of a nanny played Shelley Winters, try to kidnap Katy but, for some reason, he doesn’t just do that. Instead, he spends most of his time just watching Katy do destructive things.
Much as in The Omen, anyone who gets too close to discovering the truth about Katy ends up dying an elaborate and bloody way. Often times, their death involves black crows, who the film suggests might actually be all of those little bald kids in animal disguise. So is Jesus sending those crows to kill people? Seriously, this movie is weird.
Meanwhile, Katy’s mom is having doubts about both Raymond and her daughter. She even goes and talks to her ex-husband, an abortionist who is played by yet another film director, in this case Sam Peckinpah. Katy gets annoyed with her mom and, after happening to come across a gun hidden away inside of a birthday presents, shoots her in the back and leaves her paralyzed.
And did I mention that Katy is telekinetic, much like Carrie? That’s right! During my favorite scene, Katy goes skating at the local mall’s ice rink and, after a group of boys bully her, she uses her powers to send those bullies flying all over the mall. Oddly enough, nobody seems to notice this chaos. Except, of course, for Jerzy who just stands off in the corner and watches without doing anything…
Seriously, I love The Visitor. Along with being surprisingly well-acted and visually inventive, the film is just so weird! In many ways, it epitomizes everything that I love about the old Italian exploitation films. While it is rather shameless about ripping off other movies, the film still brings its own unique spin to everything.
Normally, I’d say that The Visitor is a good film for Halloween but you know what? Anytime is a good time for an Italian horror film!