The Visitor (1979)
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The Visitor (1979)

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Children with incredible powers are definitely en vogue at the moment with franchises like ‘The X-Men’ and ‘Mortal Instrument. Some attempts to bring this brand of fiction to television have been made, albeit not as successfully as seen in ‘Alphas’ and ‘Heroes’ but the concept remains strong and continues to be a staple in the portion of entertainment that encompasses comic book and graphic novels. The reason for this domination that stretches back more than half a century is simple; we as a species laud ourselves as the top of the evolutionary ladder and by extension often believe there are many potentially spectacular abilities that reside within our genetic essence that are, of yet, Untapped. In 1979 a story by Greek author, Ovidio G. Assonitis, adapted to a screen play by Luciano Comic was brought to life by Italian filmmaker Giulio Paradisi took these themes in a brilliant direction. Paradisi was relatively new to feature films, particularly intended for distribution here in the States and the team of Comic and Assonitis were primarily known or their teleplays frequently found in the crime series of the time. With their opus ‘The Visitor’ they told a story that was admittedly a patchwork of familiar themes and constructs yet was blended in such a novel way as to attract a cast far beyond what was normally found in the science fiction offerings of the era.

Aside from her rather preconscious predilection for language beyond what is generally considered proper for her age and gender, Katy Collins (Paige Conner) seems to be a normal eight year old girl. Looks and be deceiving especially when they are to be used as the foundation for a story of this nature. This child is about to become the focal point between the eternal and ultimate forces of good and evil. Lying within her frail form is a source of power exceeding anything in the sphere of human understanding. The precise details of the source and extent of this force is the story line and is presented in quite an expert fashion. The mysterious shroud enfolding this little girl begins with an enigmatic faceoff between a pair of hooded figures in a desert. Shifting to traditional hippy-esque man with long, flowing blonde locks (Franco Nero) is Messiah worthy glory. He is speaking to a room full of children all devoid of hair. He describe the scene just glimpsed revealing it was a conflict of a spiritual nature between the authors of good, Yahweh, and Sateen ancient name of God and the embodiment of evil respectfully. As Christ-like figure explains Sateen managed to elude Yahweh escaping to where he fathers a child through a human woman, Barbara (Joanne Nail). The result of the unholy congress was young Katy.

The nature of Katy’s supernatural lineage is not unknown, at least by those that have dedicated their lives to interpreting portents of these celestial conflicts. A rich and powerful man, Raymond Armstead (Lance Henriksen) has become privy to portions of this covert knowledge, sufficient to formulate a plan to gain power beyond any that might oppose his will. His reprehensible plot is to conceive a child by Barbara, preferably a son, that when paired with Katy will engender a child that will contaminate the universe with the pure essence of evil. By this point a few alarm might begin to sound. Thoughts of ‘rip-off’ may fill your mind but as you continue to watch you will discover this is far from the case. True, there are distinct plot points previously utilized by some well-known supernaturally based movies as ‘The Omen’ or perhaps’ ‘The ‘Exorcist’ have been copied into the fabric of this story. I can’t deny the underlying validity of such observations but a deeper consideration of the film will reveal that these comments do not fully describe the nature of this film. If you were to go to the best restaurant, the artistic platform of a great chef, you would not dismiss his culinary masterpieces because they use ingredients commonly found in other kitchens. The quality of the components is crucial but how the artistic expression is manifest is ultimately the deciding factor. What the talented men did in blending these familiar themes, archetypes and tropes is what made this film an artistic wonder.

Standing between the malleolus millionaire and the salvation of all that is good is Jerzy Colsowicz (John Huston) and elderly man with an understanding of the unrelenting forces engaged in potentially apocalyptic battle. This is another case of the façade not truthfully presenting what lies beneath. Ages ago he battled Sateen, an intergalactic evil overlord but not before the entity spread his evil essence throughout space. This engendered a race that possessed unimaginable psychokinetic abilities, the example most pertinent here being Katy. Now there is a cabal of men devoted to tracking them down a preventing the creation of an interbred spawns that would destroy the universe. One of the elements here that is undeniably outstanding is the list of actors brought in to portray the opposing sides. As a detective brought in as the secular investigator is Glenn Ford in the role of Detective Jake Durham, whose moniker invokes images of murky nights typical found in the forty’s crime thrillers. The medical contingent required to sir a touch of demonic possession vide is Dr. Walker, expertly played by veteran leading man and journeyman actor, Mel Ferrer. As if this wasn’t sufficient to interest film aficionados, two of the greatest filmmakers in American cinema lent their talents in front of the cameras to this production; Sam Peckinpah and the previously cited Mr. under any circumstances gathering a cast of this diversity and exceptional abilities would be a cinematic treasure. When presented against an enigmatic and textured story makes for a unique example of filmmaking.

Some might have a superficial reaction that this is just another try at Italian horror. That category, pioneered by men like Dario Argento had its own distinctive flavor not at all found here. If anything there is the surreal effect embraced by Federico Fellini. These were but a few of the illustrious influences that help mold the directorial styling of Mr. Paradisi. Although at the nascent portion of his career and not in the league of these iconic auteurs he is on his way to standing on the shoulders of these giants to craft his own cinematic visions. Admittedly there is not much in the way of original plot points the thematic content s perfused with a tapestry of ideas that will continue to occupy your mind for a considerable time after the final credits roll by. This remains the most impressive part of the film; how it reaches into the recesses of your mind conducive to reexamining ideas you have taken for granted for many years. We have all been exposed to films portraying the eternal battle between the absolute manifestations of good and evil. Innumerable religions are founded on the embodiments of these intrinsically irreconcilable forces typically by imbuing the qualities in distinct entities; the embodiment of good and evil; God and Satan. The message embedded here is cocooned in the guise of science fiction although a cursory appreciation of the film’s scope will disclose this is little more than the veneer. Ultimately you will need to revisit this film several times before you can begin to glean what it has to offer. Thankfully the sheer quality of its crafting will compel you to want to fir the enjoyment it provides and the mental challenge it provides. For many years this film has held a cult classic status and was somewhat difficult to find. Now the movie has been rereleased in high definition making this a must have addition to your Blu-ray collection.

Interviews With Star Lance Henriksen, Screenwriter Lou Comici And Cinematographer Ennio Guarnieri
Theatrical Trailer
16 Page Booklet

Posted 03/01/2014

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