Monday, November 7, 2016

"That Bugs Me, Man" - The Visitor (1979) - Part 2 of 3


This is Part 2 of our discussion of the epic The Visitor. You can read Part 1 here.

We have seen John Huston, as the visitor, set in motion his plan to stop the evil Katy Collins, a sassy eight-year-old who has just shot her mother in a freak birthday accident.


As the film shifts into its second act, the audience is treated to the introduction of another character: Jane the housekeeper, played by the great Shelley Winters. Jane is introduced as a Mary Poppins figure, dressed up and carrying a large wooden birdhouse for her own collection of artificial birds. Katy takes an instant dislike to Ms. Winters, as, the audience suspects, she does to most people.

Glenn Ford follows Katy's school bus in his unmarked police car, then confronts her before school. She acts rather rude, using language not common for eight-year-olds outside of Stephen King novels, and calls him a child molester before she runs off to school with her friends.

He returns to police headquarters to find the lab reports on the gun and the wrapping paper. No leads whatsoever. His partner says the kid is weird. She almost seemed glad the shooting happened. "Yeah, that bugs me, man," says Glenn Ford. "That really bugs me." Indeed.

   

But all is not lost. On the skyscraper rooftop, John Huston is working with his skinhead mimes in track suits to prepare for the ultimate confrontation. 


Glenn Ford's detective must truly be bugged. He breaks into Barbara's house where he is startled in the rec room by an arcade game apparently called Desert Parade that emits strange sounds. Then he is attacked--or rather annoyed--by Katy's bird Squeaky. Finally, he finds a clue: the artificial bird that was supposed to be in the gift box where Katy got the gun.

As he drives back to headquarters with the artificial bird, he is unaware that Squeaky has followed him and is perched on a traffic signal. Somehow, the bird flies into the car, causing Mr. Ford to drive erratically into oncoming traffic, smashing, in a spectacular stunt, into a motorcyclist approaching from the other direction.


Finally, the bird pokes out Mr. Ford's eyes and he rolls the car down a hill and onto a baseball field, where a crowd of players rushes to him--whether to rescue him or attack him with baseball bats we cannot tell. In either case, their presence is superfluous, as the car almost immediately explodes, killing Mr. Ford and eliminating the evidence of the misplaced gift.

Katy and her mother go to a downtown Atlanta shopping mall so Katy can go ice skating. As she laces up her skates, Katy peers around nervously until she sees what she was worried about: John Huston is a few stories above on a mall balcony, watching her. In an artistically choreographed sequence that is one of the film's most revered, as Katy skates, she begins using her powers to toss a group of teenage boys this way and that across the ice.

   

Before John Huston can traverse the many long staircases leading down to the ice rink so he can help the boys, Katy has flung them through restaurant windows. 


Mr. Huston has apparently decided that he must take a more direct approach to stop evil incarnate, so he rings the doorbell at Katy's house and impersonates the babysitter sent by a service.


The ruse is successful, as Lance Henriksen and Barbara allow Mr. Huston to watch Katy for the night with only a slight hint of suspicion. In fact, the choice of Mr. Huston to pose as a babysitter was probably strategically wise, given the only other representatives of the forces of good are blond-wigged Jesus and two dozen mute skinheads in track suits.

Following the babysitting service's protocols, Mr. Huston immediately hypnotizes Katy and has her remember another world, another time. She begins to remember.

Mr. Henriksen and Barbara go to a banquet and reenact the Last Supper, and he announces he intends to marry her.


Later, as they play Pong on Katy's projection TV, John Huston tells Katy he doesn't want to kill her. He just wants to take her away when the time comes. If she doesn't come, then he will kill her.


"Go back to wherever you came from," Katy says. "This world's not for you."

John Huston replies, "It's not for you either, Katy."

Lance Henriksen is called before the cabal again. They have decided not to give him a second chance. Barbara is too strong for him. They have decided on another strategy. 

In the next scene, Mel Ferrer meets Barbara by chance in the airport, where she was going to see Lance Henriksen off, but she missed him, as the plane must have taken off early.


Mr. Ferrer tries to convince Barbara and Katy to come to his house, but Barbara is indeed strong and she refuses to go with him.

As Barbara drives Katy home from the airport, something goes wrong with the car. She notices bright lights behind her car. It appears a spaceship is behind them, but it turns out to be a tractor-trailer with a somewhat unusual number of headlights.


Fortunately, Barbara's car is equipped with a landline. She calls emergency services. A tow truck will reach them in 30 minutes.



But the tractor-trailer has stopped and is now backing up toward them. To Katy's delight, the back of the trailer opens, bathing them in white light, and a dozen men wearing white radiation suits and motorcycle helmets emerge. This sight has terrified Barbara enough to render her unconscious, and the men carry her into the truck, all while Katy smiles excitedly.

Mel Ferrer's Plan B has come to fruition--a simple kidnapping. Followed by artificial insemination. In the back of a moving tractor-trailer.

Some time later, the auto service has sent two cowardly African-American men to fix Barbara's car.


Though both men are comically wary about getting out of their truck in the middle of the urban wasteland, they talk to Katy, who is sitting in the car with her apparently drugged and unconscious mother. "Hey, mama," one of the men says, "We here to fix your car."

The next day, John Huston comes to Barbara's house to explain what is going on. He tells her she was taken by violence last night and she is now pregnant.


She believes him, of course, because if John Huston tells you you're pregnant, then you're pregnant. He says the child must never see the light of day.

Barbara looks up and Mr. Huston is gone. She wheels her chair around in circles.

Housekeeper Shelley Winters steps into the light. She has witnessed the entire exchange, and she is quite concerned.

In a marvelously edited sequence, the film cross-cuts between Barbara wildly wheeling herself through the house and Katy at gymnastics practice, swinging around the uneven bars. 

Barbara drives to the hospital. In a shot putting Scorsese's extended tracking shots to shame, the camera moves in front of Barbara as she wheels herself through the crowded hospital floor, passing all manner of Atlanta resident-- a pimp, an elderly woman in a sailor suit, two women dressed as Aunt Jemima.


To the audience's surprise, Barbara is not at the hospital to see the doctor played by Mel Ferrer, but to see another doctor entirely--played by Sam Peckinpah. He is her ex-husband Sam, the fine man to whom she referred at the beginning of the film. Mr. Peckinpah tries to calm her down and find out what is wrong.


She tells him she needs an abortion. "When?" he asks. She responds, "Right away." He agrees.


An abortion by Sam Peckinpah seems like a perfect plan for stopping the evil cabal. Will it work? Stay tuned for Part 3.


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