Some movies achieve cult status because they are of high quality and were criminally under seen upon initial release and deserve a much wider audience. Others attain cult status for, well, very different reasons. The Visitor is one of those movies. It is totally bonkers, a mishmash of genres and all kinds of crazy.
Initially released in 1979, Drafthouse Films is giving it a platform release this fall. The cast is nearly as odd and unexpected as the movie itself: a young Lance Henriksen along with Shelly Winters and Glenn Ford and directing legends John Huston (The Maltese Falcon, Treasure of the Sierra Madre) and Sam Peckinpah (The Wild Bunch).
The crazy starts right away. A man on a distant planet tells a tale of a ship with an evil man aboard. The man, a mutant capable of transforming itself and eager to kill, found a hiding place on Earth. He procreates with women on Earth to produce more evil. Meanwhile, a good man hunts the evil one, as do his descendants.
Cut to one of the most hilarious depictions of professional sports ever put to film, in Atlanta, GA. The local team is in a close game with San Francisco. Ray (Henriksen), the owner of the Atlanta team, watches from the stands and tells a local reporter that he aims to change the team from “Losersville to Atlanta” with gobs of money.
Ray is involved with Barbara (Joanne Nail), who has a daughter named Katy (Paige Collins) about to turn 8. Katie just happens to be evil incarnate. The Visitor (Huston) travels to Earth in an attempt to stop Katy, who has a murderous hawk in her employ.
It’s hard to know what the hell is going on from moment to moment in The Visitor. You never know what is going to happen next, and it certainly isn’t dull. Barbara is somehow shot at Katie’s birthday party. A detective investigating the shooting is killed by the hawk after being brutally attacked while driving. Ray pays frequent visits to some kind of Council of Elders that implores him to impregnate Barbara (she is a “miracle” and the only woman on Earth capable of giving birth to children of “immense powers”).
So there’s a vein of conspiracy thriller (the elders) to go along with some sci-fi, horror, and the supernatural. Mostly though what it is is funny. The pulsating music feels more like something out of Starsky & Hutch. Katie swears and asks her mother to make love with Ray. There are bird attacks and a scene with Katie beating up teenagers while ice skating. It looks like the budget was $10,000.
As nutty as it is, though, The Visitor probably plays best with a crowd. One can imagine having a lot of fun laughing at it in a theater. At home, alone, you kind of wish you were watching it with a group. It would be easier to appreciate the craziness. It certainly isn’t a good movie (there should have been more of the girl actually being able as opposed to mere insinuations of her evilness, there’s no dramatic momentum to speak of, and it makes little sense), but with the right crowd, one is likely to enjoy it all the same. You can collectively wonder exactly what it is you are watching and how it got made.