I think that as long as a steady stream of low-budget Italian b-movies from the 60s through 80s continues to be re-discovered and released on DVD, my kind of discerning film junkie will never lack for entertainment. Or at least something to gawk at. Same thing, really.
Although we all remember the Leone westerns and Neorealist war films, Italy’s primary cinematic export throughout most of the 20th century has been weird, derivative schlock, these odd ripoffs or mashups of other. And we just keep finding more of the buggers! Almost every week, someone finds a lost print of something so batshit insane and gloriously bad that successful DVD companies make a tidy living off of releasing them to a ravenous fanbase. And late last year, Drafthouse Films dropped a doozy, a 1979 oddity called The Visitor.
Describing The Visitor is like describing a dream you had. But not the normal dream with the tunnel made of watermelon, the weird dream you get after you have a midnight snack of a feta-cheese and pastrami burrito and pass out on your kitchen floor. John Huston (JOHN FUCKING HUSTON!) stars, or at least is featured as Jerzy, a space-going Christ figure who comes to Earth to find the last surviving descendant of Sateen, an ancient evil who battled Commander Yaveh when the universe was young. Dispatched by Franco Nero (FRANCO FUCKING NERO!), who is literally playing Jesus Christ, by the way, Jerzy’s job is to watch over Katy Collins, a kind of space anti-christ with telekinetic powers and a Southern accent despite the fact that the film doesn’t take place in the south and neither of her parents have any kind of accent. I guess it’s part of being a child of the Space Devil or something. But of course, Sateen has his own agents, namely Lance Henricksen (LANCE FUCKING HENRICKSEN), Katy’s father in law, who has been tasked with creating another space-antichrist by knocking up Katy’s mom.
All sounds fairly straightforward right? Badguys, good guys, little girl to fight over, fate of the universe at stake, etc. But The Visitor is anything but straightforward. The film opens on what I’m assuming is an entirely symbolic confrontation between Jerzy and Katy starting at each other on an alien landscape, before Katy is engulfed in what looks like some kind of grated cheese storm. From there, we cut to a series of scenes held together with logic so flimsy you could make a sexy negligee out of it, and almost no sense of buildup or forward momentum whatsoever. Want an extended basketball sequence, rife will slow motion and culminating in Katy exploding Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s ball in mid dunk? This movie’s got that. How about John Huston standing on a rooftop making weird faces at lights in the sky? You’re covered. Cameo by Sam Pekinpah (SAM FUCKING PECKINPAH!)? Yep, that’s in there. The film has almost no consistent internal logic or narrative thrust, just strung together haphazardly like weird, off-putting Christmas tree lights.
It has all the earmarks of a fly-by-night production, an auteuristic vision gone horribly out of control due to lack of oversight. I’m sure at some point, in someone’s head, be it the director or the producer, the writer, whoever, this all made some kind of quantifiable sense. But if that comes off in the final result I’ve yet to see how. What it ends up feeling like is some weird mashup of Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a shambling, demented Frankenstein-esque monstrosity that any sane society would trap in an old windmill and burn to death.
And yet, I don’t hate it. In fact I think part of me might just love it. For all its faults, the film at times has the kind of delirious, trippy quality of a Jodorowsky movie. The visuals, especially in that opening scene, are incredibly striking, and it’s all set to a magnificently “70s” disco/orchestral score. There’s little touches of technical cleverness, like the entirely in-camera effect of Katy’s eyes glowing.
But moreover, I think I love this film for how much is doesn’t work, and yet how all of its inspirations and sources come together to make for a delirious mashup of genres and moods and ideas. It’s one of those rare film experiences where you know that at any point anything could happen, this insane rollercoaster of sights and sounds. Granted, it’s an old, rickety rollercoaster operated by meth-dealing carnies, but a ride’s a ride.
I’d be hard-pressed to find another film quite like The Visitor. Oh sure, I could show you a lot of GOOD movies, but a lot of the times, I find movies like this interesting and worth looking at regardless of whether or not they actually -work- on any real level. The Visitor does not work, in any way shape or form. The characters have no depth, the mythology is really just Christian lore but given a space twist and the laziest name-changes ever, and it never really goes anywhere or does anything with the concepts it lays down. And yet, I’m still proud to say that I own a copy. As an oddity, a conversation piece, hell even as an example of how auteurism and personal vision can run totally off the rails, I find it interesting. And really, what other movie can you name where the director of the Maltese Falcon is dispatched by Django to protect the space-antichrist from Weyland Bishop?