Monday, June 23, 2014
THE VISITOR (1979)
FRYEAN MYTHOS: *drama*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological*
I confess that I've only seen the American cut of this Italian-U.S. production, originally released in Italy under the title STRIDULUM. I suspect that the Italian cut isn't much more coherent, for the direction by Guilio Paradisi emphasizes bombastic style over substance. The script by schlockmeister Ovidio Assonitis, best for the 1974 EXORCIST swipe BEYOND THE DOOR and the 1977 JAWS ripoff TENTACLES, puts together a script that, surprisingly enough, isn't entirely derivative of 1976's THE OMEN. That's not to say that the script is any more coherent than the direction, though.
THE OMEN was predicated on the idea that a Satanic cabal was seeking to bring about the birth of Satan's child, an event patterned loosely on the Biblical Book of Revelations. Religion is approached more obliquely in THE VISITOR, taking a position more or less along the lines of "Jesus Christ was an ancient astronaut." There is an evil cabal seeking to cause an innocent young woman to beget "the spawn of Sateen," but "Sateen" is an extraterrestrial force that can confer great power on its (?) children. This cabal is opposed by some mysterious agents of goodness, who are all apparently aliens, while so far as I could tell most or all of the evildoers are Earth-people-- though I wouldn't swear to that on a Bible-- or even THE LORD OF THE RINGS.
Providing minor contrast to THE OMEN is the fact that innocent mother Barbara (Joanne Nail of FULL MOON HIGH) has already given birth to one nasty, psychic-powered child, a girl about nine or ten years old, name of Katy (Paige Conner). The "Sateenic" cabal wants one of their agents (Lance Henriksen) to wed and bed Barbara in order to produce a male child, presumably because boys are so much worse, being made of snakes, snails, etc. However, little Katy comes pretty close to outdoing THE OMEN's nasty Damien Thorn. Not only does she cripple her own mother "accidentally" in the film's first half, she later causes Barbara to be hurled through a fish-tank, a set-piece that evokes the "tricycle scene" from OMEN. In addition, little Katy injures (kills?) a bunch of bully-boys at a skating-rink, curses a blue streak at policeman Glenn Ford, and brings about Ford's death by having him attacked by killer birds. There's also a scene in which a woman is borne away by extraterrestials in a scene that "alien abduction" enthusiasts would eat with a spoon, but though Katie watches the abduction, it's not clear to me whether or not she summons it.
The forces of good are watching all this, apparently biding their time. A meditative older fellow named Jerzy (John Huston) is seen on an alien landscape at the film's opening, and he communes with various odd-looking humanoids who may be fellow aliens. This may mean that he was intended to be "the visitor" of the title, though clearly the narrative focus is on "what will Katy do next." It's not clear what Jerzy is waiting for, though he's apparently allied to Earth-woman Jane (Shelley Winters), who takes a position as a maid in Barbara's house to keep watch on Katy's movements. But Jane doesn't prevent any of Katy's tantrums, nor does Jerzy, though there's a hilarious scene when grey-bearded Jerzy shows up at Barbara's door posing as a babysitter for Katy--and is accepted at face value!
The film concludes with the forces of good finally deciding to make their move. Suddenly the killer birds that served Katy wreak havoc on the Sateenic cabal, and apparently descend on Katy and kill her-- but wait! In the film's final moments, Jerzy ushers a beatific looking Katy-- now completely bald-- into a room filled with other bald kids and one adult, who's a dead ringer for Jesus (and played by an unbilled Franco Nero).
THE VISITOR deserves its reputation for cock-eyed absurdity, but I will note that the ending shows some potential for a better theme. Whereas THE OMEN condemns its killer-child as beyond salvation, THE VISITOR does stick closer to the notion of Christian forgiveness, at least for children. For this one atom of potential, THE VISITOR scores a little higher than Assonitis' other films.