’70s killer kid flick turns up the surrealism
Note: The Visitor Blu-ray is available directly from Arrow and is locked to Region B
Some people enjoy inscrutable, oblique films. Italian director Guilo Paradisi’s The Visitor certainly falls under that category, utilizing a script that barely makes sense. A fever dream of a movie, The Visitor is about a young girl with telekinetic powers caught in a struggle between a Christ-like figure and the Devil… and her pet hawk or something. The cast is extraordinary for this kind of trashy B-movie material, featuring Mel Ferrer, Glenn Ford, Lance Henriksen, John Huston, Sam Peckinpah, and Shelley Winters. The excellent cast is almost entirely wasted by a nonsensical plot. A pastiche of much better films like The Exorcist and The Omen, the only thing going for it is a small supporting role by Shelley Winters and a shockingly strong performance by Paige Conner, the 8-year-old girl at the center of everything.
The filmmakers behind The Visitor (originally known as Stridulum) were not particularly concerned with a coherent narrative, so rehashing its details here are a waste of everyone’s time. A young girl in Atlanta, Katy Collins (convincingly played by child actress Paige Conner), is the only daughter of Barbara Collins (Joanne Nail). The movie uses a bizarre opening scene to introduce the idea of cosmic space men, apparently stand-ins for Jesus and the Devil, having come to Earth to secure control of special children with latent psychic powers. Barbara is the only woman on Earth that can have these gifted children. Barbara fears her own daughter’s powers, as Katy is a cruel and bratty child that likes using her powers for no-good. She is a terror, manipulating adults around her and intimidating them.
There is a power struggle over Katy’s future, as Barbara’s paramour Ray (Lance Henriksen) secretly represents one of the cosmic sides. Their desired goal is for Barbara to have a son, hoping for another super-child like Katy. Barbara hates the idea of having another child, having had a terrible time mothering Katy. That conflict drives much of The Visitor’s sluggish and confusing narrative.
It’s hard to completely characterize how wacky this movie turns out, culminating in a visually wild battle with doves. The SFX include lame rip-offs from Close Encounters of the Third Kind and other popular 1970’s movies. The Visitor includes many capable Hollywood veterans, but Shelley Winters alone puts in a real effort. Everyone else is on autopilot, collecting a paycheck. The biggest failures are Joanne Nail and John Huston. Both seem lost in their characters, making it up as they go along. Occasionally terrible movies can be so bad, they can be fun to watch as a source of amusement. The Visitor is not one of those films.
The Visitor is a trashy B-movie from the 1970s you can only enjoy with like-minded friends in a group setting. It has very few redeeming qualities and is a Sci-fi relic that should stay buried. Unless you plan to watch it heavily inebriated, avoid The Visitor.
This HD transfer was originally struck by American distributor Drafthouse Films. Arrow Video has licensed that master, giving it a new video encode with superior compression parameters. The Visitor was a messy Italian production and its cinematography was likely very poor from the beginning. This is a middling presentation at best from spotty film elements. It is almost certainly not struck from the original camera negative, resulting in a film print with occasional damage. There has been no serious film restoration, though the inconsistent picture quality indicates some of the film is in better condition.
The actual 1080P video is presented at a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The Visitor runs 108 very long minutes, encoded in AVC at an average video bitrate of 30 Mbps. Die-hards will want to know Arrow Video did slightly improve on the American Drafthouse Films’ presentation, using a BD-50 instead of a meager BD-25. It is still not a flawless video encode, but this is very rough film stock replete with heavy grain. The worst-looking parts are the soft optical shots, using several generations of film.
The film scan is an older one from the DVD era, lacking excellent high-frequency content such as fine detail. Some halos intrude on occasion and there are hints of filtering. My hunch is that this HD transfer was originally intended and struck for an older DVD release. The mushy grain is usually a solid indicator of that happening. Its shadow structure is limited, revealing almost no delineation.
The English-language audio comes in a fairly terrible-sounding 2.0 PCM soundtrack. Preserving its monaural mix, the patchy audio has scratchy high frequencies and limited dynamic range. For a film only released in 1979, this has some of the poorer recording fidelity I’ve heard on Blu-ray. No attempt has been made to restore the audio’s magnetic tapes, it is filled with audible hiss and background noise.
The musical score by Franco Micalizzi sounds badly dated, a synthesizer score that wails at all the wrong times. It instantly dates the movie and I felt the movie itself would have been improved by a new score. Some of this poor audio rating is due to the terrible score.
English SDH subs are included by Arrow Video, displaying in a white font when needed.
Arrow Video doesn’t break the bank for The Visitor, including the same special features from the American BD. Arrow does include a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Erik Buckman. A 28-page collector’s booklet has a new essay on the film, describing its sheer weirdness. A DVD has been included as well.
Interview with Lance Henriksen (09:03 in HD) – The veteran actor fondly recalls how bad the movie was and his struggles with the director.
Interview with Screenwriter Lou Comici (09:08 in HD) – Nothing about this movie was developed in the normal manner, as evidenced by this illuminating interview with its screenwriter.
Interview with Cinematographer Ennio Guarnieri (04:25 in HD)- Translated to English by subs, we learn the director and cinematographer both came from commercials.
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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.