Thursday, November 3, 2016

"What is the Purpose of Your Trip?" - The Visitor (1979) - Part 1 of 3

Our next movie will be the accomplished Italian cautionary tale The Visitor from 1979.  This star-studded, mind-expanding epic was a sensation in my Universe-Prime in the late 1970s. Unlike some of the films we discuss here, The Visitor has received acclaim in your universe, but that acclaim arrived long after the initial release of the film. Still, many of your universe's critics fail to understand this film. Reviewer lovecraft231 writes on IMDB, "Even by the standards of Italian genre fare the plot makes no sense, it contains a largely inappropriate score, and is so unapologetic about the movies it's stealing from." Also on IMDB, utgard14 writes, "Nonsensical Italian-made claptrap that combines '70s fascinations with the occult and aliens. It's an awful movie that rips off many better movies." On Rotten Tomatoes, reviewer Jay Nixon writes, "Badly directed, photographed, written and acted....A real stinker."

These negative "opinions" ignore the objective fact that the Visitor is a visionary work of art that succeeds in doing nothing less than pointing the way forward for humanity's next evolutionary step.

The film's opening shot shows a meditating John Huston in a rust-colored robe sitting on a dirt plain while the sun rises rapidly in the distance. A silhouette appears far away and grows rapidly as it moves closer. A snowstorm engulfs the figures. The wind blows the robe of the silhouetted stranger away, revealing a young girl caked in asbestos. She fades away, leaving Mr. Huston alone on the empty plain.

The next scene serves as exposition, and what better expositor in a film than Franco Nero as blue-eyed, blond-wigged Space Jesus? He tells the classic story of a spaceship carrying the evil prisoner Sateen, who had been captured by Commander Yahweh after an unfathomably massive battle that killed hundreds. Sateen escaped on a scout ship. "And soon he found a hiding place, on the planet...Earth." Sateen was a mutant with psychic powers and the ability to transform into an eagle. Though killed by Commander Yahweh's army of birds, Sateen was able to pass his spirit on to future generations because he mated with human women.

Space Jesus is explaining the backstory to his own army of bald children when John Huston enters with bad news. Sateen has been incarnated again, this time as a girl named Katy Collins who will be turning eight years old.

Indeed, Katy Collins is causing trouble already in the city of Atlanta. We watch an NBA game between the Atlanta Rebels and the San Francisco Miners. The Rebels are the home team and they are down in the last quarter of the game until the star player on the San Francisco team is sidelined by an ankle injury. The Rebels pull ahead but something mysterious is going on. The sidelined player, Abdul, looks around suspiciously and watches a young girl walking around the arena.

During the game, the radio announcer takes his microphone and walks over to the owner of the Rebels, Lance Henriksen. The announcer is doggedly curious about the source of all the money funding the team. How is Mr. Henriksen getting all this money? He doesn't have a background in sports ownership, so how is it possible? In an offhanded remark to get the announcer off his back, Mr. Henriksen says the money comes from God.

Abdul, back in the game, gets the ball and jumps to take a shot, but the backboard suddenly explodes in a shower of sparks. This is not an ordinary backboard explosion of the type that might be seen three or four times in a typical basketball game, however. Katy Collins has used her psychic abilities to destroy the backboard and Abdul's ability to win the game for San Francisco.


The crowd goes wild. The courtside reporters dust off their typewriters and start banging out the amazing story. Abdul’s medical condition is unclear.

After the game, Lance Henriksen celebrates by sleeping with his girlfriend, Barbara, under a bearskin rug. She uses the opportunity for more exposition: Seven and a half years ago, she was divorced from "a fine man, a very fine man." She can't marry Mr. Henriksen because there's something terribly wrong. It's Katy. She is Katy's mother, and she knows something is scary about Katy. Barbara doesn't want more children.

Barbara returns home to find Katy and her pet bird Squeaky playing Pong--very poorly--on a projection TV. Katy says that one of these days she will kill her babysitter, who is sleeping next to her in a chair. Katy resents her mother for leaving her alone. She says she wants a baby brother. Barbara gasps.

John Huston arrives at the airport from Blond Space Jesus's place, which is apparently accessible via Poland based on Mr. Huston's Polish passport. "What is the purpose of your trip?" the customs agent asks. "I'm a visitor," Mr. Huston replies, so the agent stamps his passport with no further questions.

Mr. Huston and his friend, a skinhead in orange velour, climb a staircase to the top of one of Atlanta's tallest skyscrapers. A dozen lower-ranking skinheads in gray track suits join them, carrying suitcases. Mr. Huston inspects his troops wordlessly. His plan is beginning to unfold.

The other side's plan is also beginning to unfold. Lance Henriksen is escorted through a mansion by a butler as he visits a diverse cabal of 11 white men and 1 black man, all in suits. Their leader, played by Mel Ferrer, here bearing a remarkable resemblance to Christoph Waltz, explains that failing to marry Barbara and have a child with her is a very serious problem. "We feel compelled," the leader says, "to reveal to you our real motive." Because she carries the genes of Sateen, Barbara can give birth to children of great power. The cabal’s ultimate goal is a baby brother for Katy.

At Katy's eighth birthday party, she is surprised to see that John Huston has crashed the celebration. She backs away from him in fear.

Opening her presents, she is thrilled to find a loaded pistol. 

(I must admit being surprised at this turn of events, as in my universe loaded firearms are traditionally given to children on their ninth birthday.)

As any child would, Katy excitedly points the weapon at the birthday guests and then tosses it onto the table to show her mother. Unexpectedly, it discharges and the bullet strikes Katy's mother in the back.

Barbara is brought in for emergency surgery and one of her doctors is revealed to be the head of the cabal hell-bent on providing Katy with a baby brother. Tense scenes of surgery are intercut expertly with shots of Katy performing gymnastic routines. "I will be perfect," Katy says before telling her gymnastics instructor that her mother will never be able to walk again.

Meanwhile, the police investigate the shooting. Chief detective Glenn Ford examines Barbara's palatial estate, where the shooting occurred. Mr. Ford walks around the Sea World-style pool on Barbara's property, searching for clues. 

Downtown, Mr. Ford calls in the attendees at Katy's birthday party. He is trying to understand how one of the gifts was switched with a loaded weapon, but nobody has any answers. He is at a dead end.

With Barbara shot, the film moves into its second act. Who will be Katy's next victim? Will she get the baby brother she so desperately wants? Read Part 2 to find out.