Color, 1979, 108m.
Directed by Michael J. Paradise (Giulio Paradisi)
Starring Mel Ferrer, Glenn Ford, Paige Conner, Lance Henriksen, Joanne Nail, John Huston, Shelley Winters, Sam Peckinpah, Franco Nero
Arrow (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL), Drafthouse Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), Code Red (DVD) (US R0 NTSC) / WS (1.85:1) (16:9)
Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Mount Everest of insane '70s Italian movies. Yes, there's plenty of stiff competition out there with all the eccentric cash-ins on Hollywood hits like Tentacles' octopus vs. killer whale showdown or Starcrash's tinker toy space antics. But nothing, absolutely nothing, compares to the delirium of this inscrutable mash-up of The Fury, The Omen, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Carrie, Star Wars, and Rosemary's Baby. Hard to imagine? Now take a look at that cast list and try to remember that this is indeed a real movie.
Not surprisingly, this was chiefly the handiwork of Ovidio G. Assonitis, the shameless producer who brought you the most successful Exorcist copy (Beyond the Door) and whose films were usually trimmed down significantly for stateside release. This was no exception to that rule, but we'll get to that in a minute. Our tale begins in some otherworldly realm where a messianic blond guru (Nero) sits around telling bald alien kids the story of Sateen, a "moo-tahnt" galactic villain intent on spreading his destructive force throughout the universe by procreating as much as possible. Enter Jerzy (Huston), who informs us that he's just had a vision showing him the latest of Sateen's descendants: Katy Collins (Conner), an eight-year-old living in Atlanta, Georgia whom we first see watching a Hawks basketball game at the now demolished Omni Coliseum. Katy's mom, Barbara (Switchblade Sisters' Nail), is a chipper type happy to let her daughter ice skate and play Pong all day, but an evil corporation run by Dr. Walker (Ferrer) is intent on unleashing Katy's diabolical power and enlists her husband (Henriksen, basically reprising his role in the previous year's Damien: Omen II) and a bitchy nanny (Winters) to make sure Barbara spawns another child to accompany Katy on her dark mission. Of course, this is accomplished by getting her impregnated by some aliens in the back of a truck. Glenn Ford shows up long enough to act kindly and get mutilated by a hawk, Katy spews profanity and blows up basketballs, Barbara gets used and abused in a wheelchair and sent hurtling into a fish tank, and Jerzy chases Katy around when he isn't standing on the roof of a building performing alien light shows. Of course, it all ends logically with a gory attack by a huge flock of birds and a spacey denouement that would've made L. Ron Hubbard very happy.
What does all of this mean? No one seems to know for sure, but it's an incredible amount of fun if you give up any hope of following the story and just allow yourself to be assaulted by one feverish scene after another. Even director Sam Peckinpah pops up for one groggy bit as Barbara's doctor dad who offers to help her get an abortion. Of course Sam was too out of it to actually learn his lines, so he had to be shot from weird, underlit angles and completely rewritten and dubbed in post to pull together something resembling a coherent scene. Perversely, the film actually has a lot of technical prowess and boasts some incredibly beautiful moments of surreal horror and fantasy, such as Huston's dreamlike opening scene standing in a desert surrounded by colorful clouds as he confronts the sand-covered spirit of Sateen's progeny, and the disco-tinged score by the always wonderful Franco Micalizzi (Violent Naples) will lodge in your head for days. While most of the actors seem to be collecting a paycheck or humbly submitting to some form of blackmail, Conner is actually very good and, had she been in a more rational film, might be remembered as one of the screen's greatest evil kids. On a side note, The Visitor is also significant as the film that began a brief but steady stream of unique Italian horror films shot in Georgia, followed by the likes of Cannibal Apocalypse and City of the Living Dead. This is due to the fact that it was co-financed by Film Ventures International, the notorious Atlanta-based '70s indie distributor of films like Beyond the Door II and Grizzly who got capsized over the lawsuit involving Great White and whose founder, the still-missing Ed Montoro, fled the country with most of its cash.
The title with the longest gestation period in Code Red's history, The Visitor was initially licensed in 2007 but took over three years to make it to DVD in late 2010. Surprisingly, the same year saw the emergence on the midnight circuit of a longer European print of the film containing about seven minutes of footage chopped out by Film Ventures for its general release. Much of this consisted of Franco Nero's role which sets up the entire narrative! In the more widely-seen version, Nero just pops up for a couple of shots with no dialogue or explanation whatsoever. This longer cut also features an extended version of the Peckinpah sequence as well as additional footage during the climactic bird attack. Anyone who ran into this on VHS or television was definitely surprised to find that there actually is a story here, though that doesn't necessarily make it any less insane. Anyway, this extended cut made its English-language worldwide debut on DVD in dynamic anamorphic transfer; colors are rich and psychedelic, black levels are dead on, and detail is as good as standard NTSC will allow. That DVD (which is quite scarce now) contains a very entertaining featurette, "Revisiting The Visitor," cut in breakneck style by Damon Packard (director of the equally mind-bending Reflections of Evil). Conner (who looks gorgeous and still has her charming Southern accent) and the still-lovely Nail carry the bulk of the interview footage here, talking about everything from Huston's fatherly presence to Winters' sadistic pleasure in slapping children for real on camera. Assonitis also pops up for two brief interludes in which he tries (and fails) to synopsize the plot and lists dubious facts about the film's financial history. Also, Atlanta production manager Stratton Leopold appears long enough to tell a funny story about Assonitis covertly stashing all the payroll cash in a fake ceiling in his office. Both of the actresses seem proud of the film (or at least its longer cut) and come off as very charming and witty. They both appear for separate commentary tracks, with Conner and moderators Scott Spiegel and an uncredited Jeff Burr handling one and Naill with Beat the Geeks' Marc Edward Heuck on the other. Some of the material overlaps with the featurette, but you also get a lot of extra enthusiastic anecdotes. No one seems to know much about the film's mysterious auteur, a TV commercial vet named Giulio Paradiso (credited here as Michael J. Paradise), but you get a lot of dirt on all the other actors. Apart from the usual batch of Code Red horror trailers (Beyond the Door, Horror High, etc.), the disc also has the very long Cannes promotional trailer. (You can also watch a fun fan-made trailer here.)
In early 2014, Drafthouse Films issued the film both on Blu-ray and DVD following a limited theatrical reissue(!) of the longer European cut in 2013, with Arrow Films following suit with a dual-format U.K. release in October. Both are sourced from the same excellent HD master, which is wildly colorful and looks about as good as a film with such a heavy amount of diffusion and optical effects can allow. The mono track is DTS-HD on the U.S. and LPCM on the British, sounding essentially identical, with optional English subtitles. Both feature the same four video supplements, which don't overlap at all with the Code Red disc. First up is an amusing Lance Henriksen interview (9 mins.), in which he recalls the insanity of the shoot and the random story elements injected with little justification. ("...And then birds came into it for whatever reason"). Then screenwriter Lou Comici has a 9-minute piece about getting recruited for "a rip-off of The Exorcist" with an "out-there director" who needed to be reined in, including some pretty extreme-sounding scenes that understandably didn't make the final cut and an unbelievable saga about the helmer's firing and rehiring (with the involvement of firearms). Finally, cinematographer Ennio Guarnieri chips in with a four-minute interview (in front of the nuttiest blue screen effects you'll ever see), also affirming that special effects and the actors took precedence over coherence. A genuinely stupefying experience, this one belongs in every single American and British video library without exception.