July 11th, 2014

THE VISITOR (1980) * ½

The prospect of John Huston and Sam Peckinpah working together is enough to tantalize any cinema lover into watching The Visitor. Sadly, Huston and Peckinpah are in FRONT of the camera, and not behind it. The director was one Michael J. Paradise, and the sloppy, incoherent results are quite the opposite of his namesake.

Lance Henriksen stars as the owner of the basketball team who reports to a shadowy organization who runs… something. They tell him he’s got to get his wife pregnant so he can move up in the pyramid scheme. (I guess it’s one of those Scientology deals.) Since his wife is played by Joanne Nail from Switchblade Sisters, Lance is more than game.

But Joanne already has one kid, and the brat is a nut. Not only that, but she has the power to order birds to kill people. John Huston is an alien who is trying to stop the tyke and convert her to the side of good in the name of Space Jesus, played by Franco Nero.

You know you’re in trouble when Franco Nero as Space Jesus can’t even save your movie.

The Visitor is an oddball mishmash of The Omen, The Birds, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Rosemary’s Baby. And because the film is drawing from so many disparate sources, half of the time, you don’t even know what’s going on. (Take for instance the exploding basketball scene.) Heck, I don’t even know if the filmmakers had a clue.

This was recently given a theatrical rerelease and has been touted by many as a neglected cult classic, but to be perfectly honest, it’s a fucking boring mess. Sure, there are some bizarre scenes, but they are few and far between. There’s a funny scene where the chick freaks out and starts throwing people through the air at an ice rink, and a scene at a birthday party that’s pretty weird. And yet these moments of randomness aren’t necessarily weird because of their goofiness, it’s because none of the other characters (except for maybe Glenn Ford, who plays a detective) really think twice about it.

If anything, The Visitor is worth enduring just to see the cast trying to maintain their dignity. I’m not sure how they coaxed Peckinpah to be in this. I do suspect they enticed Huston to show up on the promise there would be some big game hunting in between takes. I know this because he’s dressed head to toe in khaki safari garb (minus the hat).

It’s also sort of fun seeing Henriksen in an early role and Nail playing a leading lady. And of course Shelley Winters pops up to embarrass herself as an ill-fated maid. Seeing all these people together is odd and may put a smile on your face, but it doesn’t come close to salvaging the picture or anything.

You know at the end of movies where they show a still of a character and there’s a title card that lets the audience know what happened to them? I wish The Visitor had a similar epilogue. Only this epilogue would tell us what each actor bought with their respective paychecks. John Huston: Bought a new hunting rifle. Franco Nero: Added a new sun roof on his guest house. Sam Peckinpah: Invested in a crate of hundred year-old Scotch. Shelley Winters: Subscribed to the Duncan Hines Cake of the Month Club.