Thursday, December 19, 2013

Stridulum (The Visitor) (1979)

Seen: At the Brattle Theatre in Cambridge, on 35mm.

Well, when Drafthouse Films digs up a weird forgotten movie and pushes it into the cult film sphere, I do generally take note. The Visitor is certainly ripe for cult stardom, a forgotten bit of 70s ultra-weirdness from Italy that inexplicably stars John Huston. Set primarily in Atlanta, GA, the film follows Barbara Collins (Joanne Nail), a single mother who's beginning to suspect that her daughter Katy (Paige Conner) might just be completely evil. Also, telekinetic. And psychic? Probably. I KNOW this sounds crazy, and Barbara doesn't want to believe it, but then Katy "accidentally" shoots her in the spine, paralyzing her. And the little angel is showing an awful lot of 'tude lately. And magic. Meanwhile, an old dude from space (John Huston) is searching for Katy, presumably to kill her to prevent her from taking over the world or whatever. And Barbara's boyfriend Lance Henriksen is oddly obsessed with getting her pregnant. It's gonna be a weird few weeks, THAT'S FOR SURE.

Ok. First of all I have to say: this movie is fucking RAD and not in the "ironically funny" way. It's just a really awesome, bizarre film. At my screening I sat next to two dudes who were obviously there to have a good time, they were ready to laugh, and they guffawed hysterically throughout the entire movie, even though most of it isn't actually funny. These guys were literally laughing at scene transitions, like they thought it was hilarious that a scene would end and a new one would begin? At first I thought they had never seen a weird movie before, so they were laughing out of surprise, but then I thought maybe they just had never seen a movie at all before and this was a wonderfully novel experience for them. I have no idea, I did not understand where they were coming from, but it was incredibly distracting and made me really angry for most of the running time, and so I feel like I need to watch this again as soon as possible without any loud, laughing idiots in the room.

Anyway. I really dug The Visitor. It's a fantastic combination of imaginative storytelling, ostentatious visuals, a strong cast, and a dash of off-kilter camp. It's a bit dated in some of its more psychedelic elements, but of course I loved that, and the effects are honestly impressive. (And there are so many freaky birds! My god, birds are terrifying!) Its remarkable opening shot depicts a hooded figure in an orange desert expanse, with a liquid-smoke sky, and it is breathtakingly beautiful. Then you have this super-fancy house that most of the action takes place in, with a grand staircase, a biomorphic swimming pool, and super modern decor. And sometimes Shelley Winters is snooping around, singing to herself and ever-prepared to be mean to a little girl, which I kind of loved. The soundtrack is dark but kind of fun and synthy, whic is basically the tone of the whole movie.

There are definitely some silly moments- the melodramatic close-ups, the at-times off dubbing- but I was just really into this movie the whole time. It's a strange story, fusing demon-child paranoia with outer-space mythology, all wrapped up in a "heaven vs hell"-type narrative. It's a legitimately interesting story, partly because it's so weird and party because it's so scary. I was genuinely worried for Barbara, who not only has to put up with a possibly matricidal daughter but also experiences a serious violation to her own body in the bad guys' quest to get her pregnant so she can produce more telekinetic spawn. I really liked Joanne Nail in the role, she's sympathetic and vulnerable without being useless, and she anchors the story as all these larger-than-life figures fight it out around her. Paige Conner is the real star, though, slinging around slurs and tearing up her house and staring coolly at everything, and it's just great. Definitely up there with my favorite evil-child performances. I mean, did you SEE her take out a bunch of bullies at the ice skating rink?

So there you go, The Visitor is amazing. Weird and wonderful and inventive, and I really want to watch it again. Because, like, wtf was happening in that space nursery? Was that Jesus? And what was up with John Huston's trippy light show? And how the hell did the gun get into Katy's gift box? Can she willfully transmute matter? Oh man! The possibilities!


Pair This Movie With: Obviously The Bad Seed comes to mind! And I've never seen Rosemary's Baby but probably that too. Or The Omen?


  1. You've never seen Rosemary's Baby? I KNOW you would dig that one.

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