4 Shots From 4 Films: Special Lance Henriksen Edition


4 Shots From 4 Films is just what it says it is, 4 shots from 4 of our favorite films. As opposed to the reviews and recaps that we usually post, 4 Shots From 4 Films lets the visuals do the talking!

Today, Lance Henriksen is 80 years old!  In honor of this day, here are….

4 Shots From 4 Films

Dog Day Afternoon (1975, dir by Sidney Lumet)

Near Dark (1987, dir by Kathryn Bigelow)

Dead Man (1995, dir by Jim Jarmusch)

Mom and Dad (2017, dir by Brian Taylor)

Lisa’s Way, Way, Way, Way, Way, Way, Way Too Early Oscar Predictions for January


It’s a new year and that means that it’s once again time for me to do something spectacularly stupid.

Below, you’ll find a list of Oscar predictions.  However, this is not a list of what I think will be nominated on January 13th.  No, instead, these are my predictions for the upcoming year.  This the first installment of my monthly predictions for which 2020 films will be nominated next year at this time.

Just in case it’s not already obvious how foolish this is, consider the following: Last year, at this time, no one had heard of Parasite.  Maybe a handful of people knew that Noah Baumbach’s next film was going to be called Marriage Story.  There were vague rumors about 1917 and there were still serious doubts as to whether Scorsese would ever finish putting together The Irishman.  In short, trying to predict the Oscars 12 months out is impossible.

Needless to say, I haven’t seen a single one of these films listed below so I can’t tell you one way or the other whether or not they’re going to set the world on fire.  Instead, what is listed below is a combination of random guesses and my own gut feelings.  You’ll notice that there are a lot of big names listed, Spielberg, Anthony Hopkins, Ron Howard, and Glenn Close.  Yes, all of them could very well be Oscar contenders.  At the same time, they’re all also a known quantity.  They’ve all got a good track record with the Academy and, as of right now, that’s all that I have to go on.

You may also notice that I’ve listed several films that will, in just a few weeks, be playing at the Sundance Film Festival.  Again, it’s not that I know anything about these films that the rest of the world doesn’t.  Instead, it’s simply a case of I looked at the list of Sundance films, I read the plots, and a few times I said, “That sounds like it could potentially be a contender.”  After all, it seems like at least one nominee comes out of Sundance every year.  Why shouldn’t it happen again?

My point is that you shouldn’t take these predictions too seriously.  Some of the films and performers below may be nominated.  Some definitely will not be.  But, next year, we will at least be able to look back at this list and have a laugh!

So, without further ado, here are my Oscar predictions for January!

Best Picture

Dune

Hillbilly Elegy

The Many Saints of Newark

Minari

News of the World

Respect

Tenet

The Personal History of David Copperfield

The Trial of the Chicago 7

West Side Story

Best Director

Paul Greengrass for News of the World

Ron Howard for Hillbilly Elegy

Christopher Nolan for Tenet

Steven Spielberg for West Side Story

Denis Villeneuve for Dune

Best Actor

Bradley Cooper in Bernstein

Tom Hanks in News of the World

Lance Henriksen in Falling

Anthony Hopkins in The Father

Michael Keaton in Worth

Best Actress

Amy Adams in Hillbilly Elegy

Glenn Close in Four Good Days

Jennifer Hudson in Respect

Elisabeth Moss in Shirley

Amy Ryan in Lost Girls

Best Supporting Actor

Willem DaFoe in The Last Thing He Wanted

Richard E. Grant in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

Mark Rylance in The Trial of the Chicago 7

Forest Whitaker in Respect

Steven Yeun in Minari

Best Supporting Actress

Glenn Close in Hillbilly Elegy

Vera Farmiga in The Many Saints of Newark

Tilda Swinton in The Personal Life of David Copperfield

Marisa Tomei in The King of Staten Island

Helena Zengel in News of the World

The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Unspeakable (dir by Thomas J. Wright)


So, here’s a few good things about the 2002 film, Unspeakable.

First off, Jeff Fahey plays the governor of New Mexico.  Any film that presents us with a world where Jeff Fahey can be elected governor of an actual state has to be worth something.  Seriously, I’ve long thought that the country would be more interesting if actors were elected to run each state.  Here in Texas, for instance, there was a movement to draft Tommy Lee Jones a few years ago.  (Personally, I’d rather live under Governor McConaughey.)  Steven Seagal (agck!) apparently wanted to run for governor of Arizona and, of course, Cynthia Nixon actually ran up in New York.  There’s always a chance of Alec Baldwin running for something and, of course, Arnold Schwarzenegger actually did govern California for two terms.  Val Kilmer, I should add, came close to running for governor of New Mexico, where this film is set!  Personally, I’d vote for Jeff Fahey over Val Kilmer,  It’s the eyes.

Another good thing about Unspeakable is that it features Dennis Hopper playing a crazed prison warden who rambles about how much he enjoys sending people to the electric chair.  “I am God!” Hopper says at one point and you have to enjoy any scene that features Dennis Hopper saying, “I am God!” in a southwestern accent.

Another fun thing about Unspeakable is that it features Dina Meyer and Lance Henriksen as scientists!  Meyer invents this weird little headband thing that allows her to look into your mind and see your thoughts.  Let me repeat this for those of you who might have missed the significance: DINA MEYER HAS INVENTED A MACHINE THAT ALLOW HER TO SEE EXACTLY WHAT IS HAPPENING IN SOMEONE’S MIND!  If that wasn’t amazing enough, there’s also the fact that no one seems to be that impressed.  In fact, no one really cares.  Everyone just kind of shrugs it off.

Meyer and Henriksen ask for permission to test their invention out on death row inmates.  Sure, why not?  It’s not like Warden Hopper cares what happens to the inmates, right?  Meyer discovers that one of the inmates is innocent!  Unfortunately, no one cares.  Gov. Fahey, who is also Meyer’s former lover, refuses to commute the sentence because he’s got an election coming up and voters love the death penalty.  And so, that innocent man goes off to the electric chair.

But wait!  There’s a new prisoner on death row.  His name is Jesse Mowatt and he’s played by Pavan Grover, the doctor who wrote this film.  It turns out that he is America’s most prolific serial killer!  He’s murdered hundreds of people, all because of some weird issue he has with religion.  Anyway, it’s pretty obvious that this killer has a date with the electric chair but first, Meyer gets to use her amazing-invention-that-nobody-cares-about on him.  What she discovers is that this serial killer might be a demon-possessed monster who can use his mind to drive other people to do things like rip their faces off.  Or maybe he’s just really clever.  He does definitely have super strength and beats up any guard that comes near him.  It never occurs to the guards to use handcuffs on him or anything.  That’s just the type of prison that it is.

Anyway, I appreciated the film’s anti-death penalty theme but the film still got a bit too heavy-handed for my tastes.  Pavan Grover wrote himself a pretty good part but he doesn’t really have the screen presence necessary to do the whole irresistible sociopath thing.  Still, I appreciate any movie that features Jeff Fahey as a governor.

FAHEY 2024!

 

Horror Film Review: Mom and Dad (dir by Brian Taylor)


Mom and Dad, which was released earlier this year, is the story of many things.

It’s a story of the suburbs, the perfect place to buy a home and raise your family.  Nice lawns, big houses, friendly people, and plenty of buried resentment.  It’s a place that can either represent a new beginning or the death of all of your childhood dreams.  It all depends on how you look at it.  Mom and Dad opens with a suburban mom leaving her newborn in a car that has been strategically parked on the railroad tracks.

Mom and Dad is also the story of a family.  The Ryans may seem like they have it all but one only needs to look at their morning routine to see that things aren’t as perfect as they may appear.  Teenager daughter Carly (Anne Winters) is dating a guy who she knows her parents dislike.  Her younger brother, Josh (Zackary Arthur), is something of a brat.  Carly’s father, Brent (Nicolas Cage), is stuck in a monotonous job while her mother, Kendall (Selma Blair), had to give up her career to raise two children who don’t seem to appreciate her at all.  On top of all that, the grandparents (one of whom is Lance Henriksen) are coming over later for dinner.  The Ryans are a family who spend more time looking at their phones that actually talking to each other.

Mom and Dad is also the story of static.  It’s not just the metaphorical static that makes it difficult for the Carly to understand her parents.  It’s also a very real static, a hissing and popping noise that suddenly comes over radios, pa systems, and televisions and which, for reasons that are never really made clear, fills parents with rage.  When a parent hear the static, they suddenly become obsessed with killing their children.  Kendall’s sister attempts to smother her newborn while a group of new fathers gather in the hospital, shaking with rage as they stare at their babies.  Elsewhere, parents gather outside the high school, waiting for their kids to get out of school so that they can kill them.

As for Carly and Josh, they find themselves locked in their basement while, outside, Brent and Kendall plot their demise.  What makes all of this particularly disturbing (and, at times, darkly humorous) is that it’s not like the parents turn into glass-eyed zombies.  Instead, their personalities remain largely the same, except for the fact that they’re now obsessed with killing their children.  When Brent and Kendall discuss wanting to murder their children, they speak about everyday frustrations.  Brent wants to murder Carly because he caught her hanging out with her boyfriend.  Kendall wants to kill her son and her daughter because she feels like she’s had to give up her entire life just to be their mother.  The static didn’t drive Mom and Dad crazy.  Instead, it just really reminded them that sometimes, children can be a real pain in the ass to deal with.

When it was initially released, the film got a lot of attention for a scene in which an enraged Brent sledgehammers a pool table while singing The Hokey Pokey and yes, it is a classic Nicolas Cage scene.  That Cage goes totally and gloriously over-the-top as Brent shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone.  (For the record, I always enjoy a good Nicolas Cage freakout.)  Even better though is Selma Blair, who is as subtle as Cage is wild.  When Kendall talks about everything that she’s sacrificed to be a stay-at-home mom, it’s a poignant moment.  She may be trying to kill her children but you still feel for her.  Cage is, as usual, entertainingly bizarre but Blair actually gives the film some unexpected depth.

It’s a wild and deeply subversive film and definitely not for everyone.  It also features a wonderful third act twist and one of my favorite endings of the year.  Mom and Dad has its flaws but, for those who like a little satire with their horror, it’s definitely worth seeing.

A Movie A Day #269: The Horror Show (1989, directed by James Isaac and David Blyth)


For the crime of having murdered over a 100 people, “Meat Cleaver Max” Jenke (Brion James) is sentenced to death and sent to the electric chair.  Even though everyone thinks that Max was electrocuted, his electricity-fueled spirit is still alive and pissed off.  If this sounds familiar, that is because it is the exact same premise that was used in Destroyer.  The only difference is that Max is not haunting a prison and killing a film crew.  Instead, he is living in a basement and seeking revenge on Lucas McCarthy (Lance Henriksen), the cop who arrested him.

Lucas is already tightly wound.  There is a scene where Lucas is watching as his family laughs uproariously at a late night comic who is telling a not very funny joke about then-Vice President Dan Quayle.  When Lucas thinks that he sees Max on TV, he pulls out his gun and shoots the screen.  His wife, son, and daughter will probably never laugh at another joke about any vice president.  Soon, Lucas is seeing and hearing Max everywhere.  Max says that he is going to tear Lucas’s world apart and he means it.

That The Horror Show is going to be a mess is obvious from the opening credits, where the screenplay is credited to Alan Smithee.  The credited director is visual effects specialist James Isaac but most of the film was reportedly directed by David Blythe.  Isaac stepped in when Blythe was fired by producer Sean S. Cunningham.  Full of false scares and scenes where people go down into the basement for no reason other than to become Max’s latest victim, The Horror Show is usually boring, except for when it is violent, gory, and mean-spirited.  There are moments of strange attempts at humor that do not seem to belong.  In the middle of all the carnage, there is a subplot about McCarthy’s son (Aron Eisenberg) ordering case after case of Nestle Quick.  Did Nestle pay for the product placement?  Were they happy to be associated with a movie where Lance Henriksen has a nightmare that his daughter (played by DeeDee “sister of Michelle” Pfieffer) is pregnant with Max Jenke’s baby?

The Horror Show provided both Lance Henriksen and Brion James with rare starring roles and they did their best what they had to work with.  Also keep an eye out for veteran tough guy Lawrence Tierney as the warden who supervises Max’s execution.

A Movie A Day #185: Emperor of the North Pole (1973, directed by Robert Aldrich)


Emperor of the North Pole is the story of depression-era hobos and one man who is determined to kill them.

The year is 1933 and Shack (Ernest Borgnine) is one of the toughest conductors around.  At a time when destitute and desperate men are riding the rails in search of work and food, Shack has declared that no one will ride his train for free.  When Shack is first introduced, the sadistic conductor is seen shoving a hobo off of his train and onto the tracks.  Shack smiles with satisfaction when the man is chopped in half under the train’s wheels.

A-No.1 (Lee Marvin) is a legend, the unofficial king of the hobos.  A grizzled veteran, A-No. 1 has been riding the rails for most of his life.  (The title comes from the hobo saying that great hobos, like A-No. 1, are like the Emperor of the North Pole, the ruler of a vast wasteland).  A-No. 1 is determined to do what no hobo has ever done, successfully hitch a ride on Shack’s train.  He even tags a water tower, announcing to everyone that he intends to take Shack’s train all the way to Portland.

If A-No. 1 did not have enough to worry about with Shack determined to get him, he is also being tailed by Cigaret (Keith Carradine), a young and cocky hobo who is determined to become as big a legend as A-No. 1.  Cigaret and A. No. 1 may work together but they never trust each other.

Like many of Robert Aldrich’s later films, Emperor of the North Pole is too long and the rambling narrative often promises more than it can deliver.  Like almost all movies that were released at the time, Emperor of North Pole attempts to turn its story into a contemporary allegory, with Shack standing in for the establishment, A-No. 1 representing the liberal anti-establishment, and, most problematically, Cigaret serving as a symbol for the callow counter culture, eager to take credit for A-No. 1’s accomplishments but not willing to put in any hard work himself.

As an allegory, Emperor of the North Pole is too heavy-handed but, as a gritty adventure film, it works wonderfully.  Lee Marvin is perfectly cast as the wise, no-nonsense A-No. 1.  This was the sixth film in which Marvin and Borgnine co-starred and the two old pros both go at each other with gusto.  Carradine does the best he can with an underwritten part but this is Borgnine and Marvin’s film all the way.  Marvin’s trademark underacting meshes perfectly with Borgnine’s trademark overacting, with the movie making perfect use of both men’s distinctive screen personas.  As staged by Aldrich, the final fight between Shack and A-No. 1 is a classic.

Even at a time when almost every anti-establishment film of the early 70s is being rediscovered, Emperor of the North Pole remains unjustly obscure.  When it was first released, it struggled at the box office.  Unsure of how to sell a movie about hobos and worrying that audiences were staying away because they thought it might be a Christmas film, 20th Century Fox pulled the movie from circulation and then rereleased it under a slightly altered name: Emperor of the North.  As far as titles go, Emperor of the North makes even less sense than Emperor of the North Pole.  Even with the title change, Emperor of the North Pole flopped at the box office but, fortunately for him, Aldrich was already working on what would become his biggest hit: The Longest Yard.

Keep an eye out for Lance Henriksen, in one of his earliest roles.  Supposedly, he plays a railroad worker.  If you spot him, let me know because I have watched Emperor of the North Pole three times and I still can’t find him.

 

20 Horror Icons Who Were Never Nominated For An Oscar


Though they’ve given some of the best, iconic, and award-worthy performances in horror history, the actors and actresses below have never been nominated for an Oscar.

Scarlet Diva

  1. Asia Argento

Perhaps because of charges of nepotism, people are quick to overlook just how good Asia Argento was in those films she made with Dario Argento.  Her work in Trauma especially deserves to be reevaluated.  Outside of her work with Dario, Asia gave great, self-directed performances in Scarlet Diva and The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things.

2. Jamie Lee Curtis

“Prom Night!  Everything is all right!”  Did you know that Jamie Lee Curtis received a Genie Nomination for her performance in Prom Night?  That could be because, in 1980, there weren’t that many movies being produced in Canada but still, Jamie was pretty good in that film.  And, of course, there’s a little film called Halloween

3. Peter Cushing

The beloved Hammer horror veteran did wonderful work as both Frankenstein and Van Helsing.  Personally, I love his odd cameo in Shock Waves.

4. Robert Englund

One, two, Freddy’s coming for you…

5. Lance Henriksen

One of the great character actors, Lance Henriksen gave one of the best vampire performances of all time in Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark.

David Hess, R.I.P.

6. David Hess

In just two films — Wes Craven’s Last House On The Left and Ruggero Deodato’s The House On The Edge of the Park — Hess defined screen evil.  If nothing else, he deserved an Oscar for composing The Road Leads To Nowhere.

boris-karloff-1939-the-man-they-could-not-hang

7. Boris Karloff

As our own Gary Loggins will tell you, it’s a crime that Boris Karloff never received an Oscar nomination.  He may be best remembered for Frankenstein but, for me, Karloff’s best performance was in Targets.

8. Camille Keaton

Yes, Camille Keaton did deserve a Best Actress nomination for I Spit On Your Grave.

Kinski and Butterfly

9. Klaus Kinski

The notorious and talented Klaus Kinski was never nominated for an Oscar.  Perhaps the Academy was scared of what he would do if he won.  But, that said, Kinski gave some of the best performances of all time, in films for everyone from Jess Franco to Werner Herzog.

Christopher Lee Is Dracula

10. Christopher Lee

That the amazing Christopher Lee was never nominated is a shock.  Though he will always be Dracula, Lee gave wonderful performances in films of all genres.  Lee always cited the little-seen Jinnah as being his best performance.

 

11. Bela Lugosi

The original Dracula, Lugosi never escaped typecasting.  Believe it or not, one of his finest performances was in one of the worst (if most enjoyable) films of all time, Ed Wood’s Bride of the Monster.

12. Catriona MacColl

This English actress gave three excellent performances in each chapter of Lucio Fulci’s Beyond Trilogy, with her performance in The House By The Cemetery elevating the entire film.

13. Daria Nicolodi

This Italian actress served as a muse to two of the best directors around, Dario Argento and Mario Bava.  Her award-worthy performances include Deep Red and, especially, Shock.

Near-Dark-Bill-Paxton

14. Bill Paxton

This great Texas actor gave award-worthy performances in everything from Near Dark to Aliens to Frailty.  RIP.

15. Donald Pleasence 

Dr. Loomis!  As good as he was in Halloween, Pleasence also gave excellent performances in Roman Polanski’s Cul-de-Sac and a nightmarish Australian film called Wake in Fright.

Roger Corman and Vincent Price

16. Vincent Price

The great Vincent Price never seems to get the respect that he deserves.  He may have overacted at times but nobody went overboard with as much style as Vincent Price.  His most award-worthy performance?  The Witchfinder General.

17. Giovanni Lombardo Radice

The greatest of all the Italian horror stars, Radice is still active, gracious, and beloved by his many fans.  Quentin Tarantino is a self-described fan so it’s time for Tarantino to write him a great role.

HenryPortrait

18. Michael Rooker

To many people, this great character actor will always be Henry.

19. Joe Spinell

This character actor will always be remembered for playing the lead role in the original Maniac but he also appeared in some of the most acclaimed films of all time.  Over the course of a relatively short career, Spinell appeared in everything from The Godfather to Taxi Driver to Rocky to Starcrash.  He was the American Klaus Kinski,

20. Barbara Steele

Barbara Steele has worked with everyone from Mario Bava to Jonathan Demme to David Cronenberg to Federico Fellini.  Among her many excellent performances, her work in Black Sunday and Caged Heat stands out as particularly memorable.

black-sunday

A Movie A Day #30: Prince of the City (1981, directed by Sidney Lumet)


220px-prince_of_the_city_foldedIn 1970s New York City, Danny Ciello (Treat Williams) is a self-described “prince of the city.”  A narcotics detective, Ciello is the youngest member of the Special Investigations Unit.  Because of their constant success, the SIU is given wide latitude by their superiors at the police department.  The SIU puts mobsters and drug dealers behind bars.  They get results.  If they sometimes cut corners or skim a little money for themselves, who cares?

It turns out that a lot of people care.  When a federal prosecutor, Rick Cappalino (Norman Parker), first approaches Ciello and asks him if he knows anything about police corruption, Ciello refuses to speak to him.  As Ciello puts it, “I sleep with my wife but I live with my partners.”  But Ciello already has doubts.  His drug addict brother calls him out on his hypocrisy. Ciello spends one harrowing night with one of his informants, a pathetic addict who Ciello keeps supplied with heroin in return for information.  Ciello finally agrees to help the investigation but with one condition: he will not testify against anyone in the SIU.  Before accepting Ciello’s help, Cappalino asks him one question.  Has Ciello ever done anything illegal while a cop?  Ciello says that he has only broken the law three times and each time, it was a minor infraction.

For the next two years, Ciello wears a wire nearly every day and helps to build cases against other cops, some of which are more corrupt than others.  It turns out that being an informant is not as easy as it looks.  Along with getting burned by malfunctioning wires and having to deal with incompetent backup, Ciello struggles with his own guilt.  When Cappalino is assigned to another case, Ciello finds himself working with two prosecutors (Bob Balaban and James Tolkan) who are less sympathetic to him and his desire to protect the SIU.  When evidence comes to light that Ciello may have lied about the extent of his own corruption, Ciello may become the investigation’s newest target.

prince-of-the-city

Prince of the City is one of the best of Sidney Lumet’s many films but it is not as well-known as 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon, Network, Serpico, The Verdict, or even The Wiz.  Why is it such an underrated film?  As good as it is, Prince of the City is not always an easy movie to watch.  It’s nearly three hours long and almost every minute is spent with Danny Ciello, who is not always likable and often seems to be on the verge of having a nervous breakdown.  Treat Williams gives an intense and powerful performance but he is such a raw nerve that sometimes it is a relief when Lumet cuts away to Jerry Orbach (as one of Ciello’s partners) telling off a district attorney or to a meeting where a group of prosecutors debate where a group of prosecutors debate whether or not to charge Ciello with perjury.

Prince of the City may be about the police but there’s very little of the typical cop movie clichés.  The most exciting scenes in the movie are the ones, like that scene with all the prosecutors arguing, where the characters debate what “corruption” actually means.  Throughout Prince of the City, Lumet contrasts the moral ambiguity of otherwise effective cops with the self-righteous certitude of the federal prosecutors.  Unlike Lumet’s other films about police corruption (Serpico, Q&A), Prince of the City doesn’t come down firmly on either side.

(Though the names have been changed, Prince of the City was based on a true story.  Ciello’s biggest ally among the investigators, Rick Cappalino, was based on a young federal prosecutor named Rudy Giuliani.)

Prince of the City is dominated by Treat Williams but the entire cast is full of great New York character actors.  It would not surprise me if Jerry Orbach’s performance here was in the back of someone’s mind when he was cast as Law & Order‘s Lenny Briscoe.  Keep an eye out for familiar actors like Lance Henriksen, Lane Smith, Lee Richardson, Carmine Caridi, and Cynthia Nixon, all appearing in small roles.

Prince of the City is a very long movie but it needs to be.  Much as David Simon would later do with The Wire, Lumet uses this police story as a way to present a sprawling portrait of New York City.  In fact, if Prince of the City were made today, it probably would be a David Simon-penned miniseries for HBO.

image-w1280

Harbinger Down Goes International


HarbingerDown

Kickstarter, GoFundMe, Indiegogo are just a couple of ways the general public have been able to crowdfund things they really like. Crowdfunding has even entered film production with a film set for release being one of my more anticipated films of 2015.

Harbinger Down is the brainchild of Practical FX artists Alec Gillis and Tom Woodruff, Jr. As more and more studios begin to rely heavily on CGI-effects for their films the practical effects and make-up FX industry has taken a major hit. We’ve already seen practical effects master Rick Baker announce his retirement from the industry and many smaller effects studios either close shop or sold to larger studios.

The film by Gillis and Woodruff, Jr. looks to bring back practical effects as not just a viable option for films looking to create fantastical creatures and effects, but also show that practical effects is an art form that lends a certain level of realism to those very fantastical ideas.

From the look of the trailer it looks like Harbinger Down takes some inspiration from two classic scifi horror films of the past with Alien and John Carpenter’s The Thing. With legendary genre veteran Lance Henriksen headlining the ensemble cast, Harbinger Down is something genre fans deserve.

Horror Film Review: The Visitor (dir by Giulio Paradisi)


The_Visitor_1979_film_poster

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.

Franco Nero as Jesus in The Visitor

Franco Nero as Jesus in The Visitor

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.

This is where Jerzy lives.

This is where Jerzy lives.

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.

Beware the Crows

Beware the Crows

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!

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