Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Visitor (1979): Wackiness foiled by pacing

The Visitor (1979)
dir: Guilio Paradisi

When I was a child, I used to be fascinated by the horror movie VHS art in the aisles. Some of them completely frightened me, like the original are for Fright Night, which had the clouds over a house turning into a vampire about to descend onto the suburban home. Whoever did that poster deserves an award for making me frightened of its contents.

Other notable VHS horror art were Black Roses (which had dimensional bubble art), April Fools Day, Gothic, TerrorVision, and today's featured film, The Visitor (shown at right). What's notable for The Visitor is the the strange absurdity of the art: a giant eyeball floating over a large city with two monster hands holding a bloody wire pulled taut between thrm. Add in the lightning strikes, and this is probably the origins of my personal fascination of using eyeballs in marketing imagery. They're fascinating, visually stunning, full of meaning, and generally kind of hypnotizing. Other people think they're creepy, but that's only when the eyeball comes in pairs, and with eyelids.

I hadn't actually gotten around to watching The Visitor because I believe the film was removed from the shelves by the time I was old enough to rent it. This year, in 2014, Alamo Drafthouse has released a remastered high-def extended full length version of The Visitor and revealed that, for all of its crazy psychotic beauty, the key art for The Visitor has almost nothing to do with the Italian ripoff content within.

The Visitor is but one in a long line of European ripoff films that featured riffs on a variety of original American titles. The horror genre was especially intent on focusing on Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist, and The Omen. Some movies would throw one or two of these films into a blender and see what comes out. Beyond the Door was The Exorcist meets Rosemary's Baby. The Devil Within Her was mainly It's Alive combined with Rosemary's Baby and would predate The Omen.

The Visitor, however, wasn't content to rip off just the four American films about. It would also include The Birds, Carrie, THX1138, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and The Holy Mountain. Basically it takes all 8 films and throws them haphazardly into a blender so you get a mismashed slurry that comes out the end.

The film opens on a Jodorowsky-esque surreal landscape that tells some story of an evil demon/spirit/God that was destroyed by a good evil/spirit/God through the use of some birds that would peck its brains out. The evil spirit also turned into a bird to kill the other birds. Though, the evil spirit died, he was able to copulate with humans, Zeus style, leaving bits of his spirit to continue popping up in random human wombs.

All of this exposition is relayed by a Jesus figure who is also the leader of a cult of bald children in some form of extraterrestrial white room. Suddenly, another figure pops his head in and says that they found the next vessel, and she JUST TURNED 8!!  Duh DUH!!!

Fairly soon, the movie then turns into a cross between The Omen, Carrie, and Rosemary's Baby, with the story of an executive trying to marry a single mother whose kid is the aforementioned vessel. The executive is under the guise of some evil outfit who is working for some evil spirit. The single mother is pregnant with another kid, who she feels is evil and is harassed into keeping the spawn. The 8-year-old, however, is an evil spirit who can make things happen with her mind just to spite everybody. But, she's also the biggest, most foul-mouthed brat in the world, even telling Shelley Winters, her new nanny, that she shoved her birthday present up her ass. Not in a The Exorcist foul-mouthed demonic way, but in a Fuck You, I'm A Spoiled Brat kind of way.

There's also a story where the second adult figure from the Jesus white room is tracking down the kid and the demon spawn in order to defeat them before they release evil into the world or something. And, a police officer is also tracking down the kid, after a birthday present bird became a gun that shot her mother, paralyzing her from the waist down.

With all of this going on, one is tempted to say this is would be a fantastic piece of gonzo trashiness, but in the Drafthouse release the pacing of The Visitor is more languid than any of its brethern. With a runtime of 109 minutes, The Visitor's crazy non-sequitorness doesn't hold up to sustained watching, instead feeling like the ultimate party movie rather than a real film. One you can talk through and then look up and see somebody get shot, or a kid swearing and then continue the conversation without having missed much because there isn't much to miss.

And, while some of the visuals are stunning (especially the opening sequences and the one featuring a discotheque lighted airport runway. It isn't sustained for too terribly long. It's a competent film that just doesn't rise to the occasion of the early and closing sequences. While individual sequences of randomness are

Overall, The Visitor suffers from too much bluster without anything substantial to connect the threads. One could easily argue that none of the other knock off blender films have much substance either, but most of those either have a strong throughline, or keep their running time blessedly short.  The constant throwing of random scenes from other films does nothing to help keep the viewer compelled to see what's next when half of the film is rendered with a slow, languorous pacing that lulls the viewer toe distraction. Yet, at a party, this is a feature not a flaw.

Is it a success? No. It's an archival piece of weirdness that should be treasured, but it doesn't live up to the trashy camp highs and lows that Drafthouse's cult has built up around it. There's a reason its cult status never followed through on creating a following.

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