FEARNET Movie Review: 'The Visitor' (1979)


Back in the ancient days of the late 1970s and early 1980s, there were several Italian film producers who A) pinched a lot of pennies, B) slapped together some outlandishly bad movies, and C) borrowed, lifted, or outright stole entire plots from American films. (Look up an old Jaws knock-off called Great White to see how bad things got.) Most of these films were laughable and entirely forgettable, but there were also a handful that managed to combine bad filmmaking with some pretty amusing patchwork material -- and a lot of these films had (at the very least) some scenes or ensembles that still make them amusing today.

One such example is Giulio Paradisi's 1979 wacko masterpiece The Visitor, which comes from prolific schlock-producer Ovidio G. Assonitis (his non-classics includes Tentacles, Beyond the Door, and 1974's Super Stooges vs. the Wonder Women, yes really). Here we have a 1979 rip-off extraordinaire that combines (at least) three genre films we all know and love, and it does so with some truly arcane shocks, an editorial approach best described as "WTF-worthy," some wonderfully silly dialogue, and an ensemble cast you simply have to see to disbelieve.
Most obviously a gender-switch copy of The Omen, The Visitor is (I think) about an evil little girl who is trying to help (or prevent) her mother from giving birth to either the antichrist or the savior of mankind while a whole BUNCH of barely-connected character wander through the background with their own subplots to worry about. At home we have evil Katy's wheelchair-bound mom (Joanne Nail), a goofy nanny (Shelley Winters), and an insidious stepfather (Lance Henriksen). Wandering around the periphery of Katy's messes are a concerned police detective (Glenn Ford), a caring doctor (Mel Ferrer), and a clueless grandfather who vanishes after precisely one scene. (That'd be Sam Peckinpah, believe it or not.)
And then we have John Huston, as God (I think), whose scenes seem to be outtakes from a completely different film, and one that has nothing to do with an evil little girl who throws her mother into a fish tank and tosses hooligan ice-skaters into plate-glass windows. (And these aren't the film's wackiest scenes.) The end result is an "evil kid" movie that makes sense here and there, but quickly meanders off into directions that are either narrative nonsense or super-spacey weirdness. (Huston spends most of the film on top of a skyscraper staring at things the viewer can not possibly understand.)
So it's obvious that fans of bizarre and/or bad cinema will find a lot to like here, but there's also some legitimately interesting material to be found in The Visitor. Well, on a visual scale, anyway. For a movie this bizarrely random and narratively misshapen, it does have a lot of rather slick flourishes in the cinematography and special effects departments. The opening sequence, for example, doesn't make much sense but it is truly creepy. For the most part, however, The Visitor is a bit more fun to laugh "at" than to shiver "with." The truly eclectic cast and the steady stream of weird moments prevent the film from ever becoming dull -- and the score is an absolute riot -- but it's always nice to see a weird, rare, obscure Italian horror film (that was shot in Atlanta) get resurrected -- complete and uncut -- for a new generation of b-movie maniacs.