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Friday 9 November 2012

Burl reviews The Visitor! (1979)

Ha ha, it’s Burl here to tell you about a really rather unusual movie! It’s called The Visitor, and whatever other genres you might place this one in, and there are many, it fits very nicely in a personal genre of my own, Movies With Weird, Amazing Casts! This picture’s got John Huston, Glenn Ford, Shelley Winters, Mel Ferrer, Lance Henrikson (who played a similar role in the superficially similar Damien: Omen II around the same time), and featuring the director of The Killer Elite, Sam Peckinpah (!), as a casual doctor, plus Franco Nero from Die Hard 2 as Jesus Christ, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar from Fletch as himself, and with a special appearance by right-wing jibber-jabberer Neal Boortz, who plays an ill-fated ice skater and has his name misspelled as “Bortz” in the credits! Ha ha!
It also fits nicely into the genre of Movies I’m Sort Of Glad I Saw The Shorter, More Incoherent Version Of! Ha ha, I just watched my VHS copy, but there is a DVD out there with the full meal deal on it, apparently! It’s ten minutes longer and letterboxed, but somehow VHS was good enough for me on this one - it was a cover I looked at with intrigue many a time in the video store, but never rented! And, naturally, it’s a Multiple Genre Movie; aside from the ones already listed, this is a horror picture, a religious fable and a sci-fi head trip!  
It’s crazy clown time for sure! Huston plays an elderly space hobo who planet-hops about in colourful Bruno Bozzetto animations! He’s concerned in a sort of beatific way about a mean little girl in Texas, who is some sort of diabolical telepath in addition to being naturally unpleasant! Meanwhile, the girl’s mother is under pressure to marry Lance Henrikson, and is paralyzed in a terrible freak accident involving a mysterious loaded gun! Soon Inspector Glenn Ford is on the case, and Shelley Winters appears as a housekeeper who strolls about singing the most menacing rendition of “Short’nin’ Bread” possible! The little girl tells Glenn Ford to go fuck himself, and calls Huston a bastard multiple times!
Then we get some Omen deaths! Glenn Ford is attacked by a bird in his car, has his eyes gorily pecked out, crashes through a chain link fence and rolls down an incline, and is trapped by the chain link as the car burns and explodes! Yowch, ha ha! There are some other strange incidents, a few odd dream sequences or something, a growing conspiracy plot involving Mel Ferrer, his butler, and a roomful of grim-faced Satanists in suits; and a counter-plot co-orchestrated by Huston and Jesus, and staffed by a horde of bald-headed children who live on a rooftop! Huston shows up at Lance Henrikson’s house in the guise of the world’s oldest babysitter, and he and the girl have a confrontation that plays like Obi Wan Kenobi facing down Regan from The Exorcist!
There’s more, but you get the idea! I realized part of the way through that the movie was actually scaring me a little, and I realized that was because it had created a world in which absolutely anything could happen! By the time John Huston gurns insanely at a series of coloured, flashing shapes, Mel Ferrer is found dead with slime on his face and the house fills with killer birds, you really know you’ve seen something!
There are all sorts of little treats on offer! The Winters/Huston pairing is one of them, and was cleverly imported straight from Tentacles! As well, there’s some lovely cinematography courtesy of Ennio Guarnieri, who shot movies for Fellini, Wertmüller and De Sica! There’s a shot of a truck on a highway that might be the most beautiful I’ve seen! It’s not a good picture, but it’s weird, and sometimes weird is enough! I give The Visitor two and a half exploding basketballs!
PS: I saw the movie again recently, this time in a theatre! I was better able to appreciate the fine cinematography of Guarnieri, who, don't forget, also shot Pasolini's Medea, De Sica's The Garden of the Finzi-Continis, Wertmüller's Swept Away and Fellini's Ginger and Fred! Ha ha!

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