Thursday, November 10, 2016

"No One Can Hurt You Anymore" - The Visitor (1979) - Part 3 of 3

This is Part 3 of our discussion of the epic The Visitor. You can read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

The evil cabal's plans for world domination hinge on psychic eight-year-old Katy Collins having a little brother. Her mother aims to thwart those plans by having her pregnancy taken care of by her ex-husband Sam Peckinpah. Will the forces of good, represented by John Huston and his band of mute skinheads in velour track suits, prevail?

Katy, meanwhile, is confronted by housekeeper Shelley Winters, who slaps Katy repeatedly and tells her she has her number. Katy finds out her mother has gone, so Katy runs through the streets of Atlanta. She reaches an abandoned inner city office building, where John Huston and his skinheads taunt her silently. 

When John Huston walks outside, he hides in a small hot dog stand. Katy, from the roof of the office building, uses her psychic powers to remove the bolts holding up the iron fire escape directly above the hot dog stand. The entire structure falls onto the hot dog stand, destroying it and everything inside.

However, Mr. Huston is not so easy to eliminate. He appears from behind the wreckage and allows Katy to follow him through a parking garage and into a darkened theater. When she enters, the lights come up to reveal a hall of mirrors.

Katy's reflections surround her. At first, Mr. Huston, like a vampire, casts no reflection. Later, he uses his reflections to confuse Katy, and he even fades into existence in one of the mirrors. Despite her psychic powers, Katy is no match for Mr. Huston.

Seemingly at the same time, Barbara is surprised when all the lights in the house go off. Squeaky the bird, much larger now than before, flaps its wings in her face repeatedly but causes no real damage. Barbara locks herself in a room. Squeaky flaps its wings against the outside of the door. From inside the room, Barbara watches the doorknob thump up and down, as if the bird is using the doorknob to try to enter. Then there is silence.

After a moment, the doorknob turns slowly. Barbara braces herself. The door flies open and Barbara screams at the top of her lungs.

Shelley Winters steps into the room. "I've been sent to protect you," she says. She holds up the dead bird. "No one can hurt you anymore."

As if on cue, Katy appears behind Barbara's wheelchair, yells out "Squeaky!" and pushes the chair with all her might around the house and toward a giant glass fishtank. 

Barbara smashes through the glass and into a shower of water.

Atop the skyscraper, Mr. Huston and Ms. Winters reveal they are working together. She asks him where he will take Katy. To his home, he says, a beautiful and peaceful place. She would like to go with him, but he says only the children may go. 

We next see Katy confined to a room, under observation by doctors and her mother, who appears none the worse for wear after her trip through the fishtank. The doctors say Katy will need extensive therapy.

Back on the skyscraper, Mr. Huston's friends finally arrive from outer space. In a clever visual echo of Katy's Pong game, they appear as lights projected onto the roof of the skyscraper, moving back and forth between the lit edges of the frame. Then they coalesce into a single light.

Back at her house, Barbara is surprised to hear the Pong game and to find Katy sitting in front of the projection TV, her back to Barbara. How has she gotten out of the hospital? Why is she playing Pong? She does not say, though she does ask her mother for a kiss.

When she turns around to face Barbara, however, Katy has become some kind of demon with spots of light bursting from her face. She leaps onto Barbara, strangles her, then throws her to the floor.

Unfortunately for her, Barbara falls onto a skateboard, allowing Katy to drag her more easily through the house. Katy drags her around the living room by her hair.

Katy finally drags her mother up the stairs, then kicks her down the stairs. Lance Henriksen appears upstairs, watching with approval. He ties piano wire around Barbara's throat, using the electric wheelchair lift on the stairs to strangle her. It seems the end is near for Barbara. She has survived a bullet in the spine, shattered fishtank glass, strangulation, pummeling, and falling down a staircase, but even Barbara cannot survive forever. 

On the skyscraper, the lights become a cloud, then a flock of blue birds. 

At Barbara's house, the reckoning has come. The house shakes. Wind blows. Bright lights shine through the windows. The forces of good shatter all the windows in the house. Thousands of doves arrive. One of them helpfully slices the piano wire strangling Barbara. 

The birds surround Katy, some of them flying upside-down and backward.

An artificial bird flies through the air to attack Lance Henriksen, its beak becoming a switchblade. It hovers in front of him, then plunges its beak into Mr. Henriksen's throat.

Mr. Huston steps inside to observe the carnage wreaked by the forces of good. He comforts Barbara as they watch her daughter being picked apart by the birds.

Elsewhere, Mel Ferrer and the cabal are all dead for unspecified reasons. Possibly, the butler did it.

The forces of evil vanquished, Mr. Huston returns to visit Blond Space Jesus and his flock of bald children. We see one of the bald children embrace Mr. Huston--it is Katy, who has been taken from Earth after all. He explains to Blond Space Jesus that he didn't kill her; he only killed the evil part.

A happy ending achieved, the film closes on Blond Space Jesus' beatific smile.

The Visitor is a brilliant culmination of the themes and concerns of the 1970s, expertly tied together into a single cinematic package with car chases, backboard explosions, ice skating, and bird attacks. Like Beyond Darkness, it synthesizes ideas from lesser movies, particularly The Omen, but addresses their weaknesses by adding more topical themes. In this case, The Omen and its sequels included sufficient amounts of mayhem caused by an unruly child, as well as shadowy conspiracies, but they were notably lacking deities from outer space and confrontations over 1970s video games. The Visitor fills these holes admirably to bring together two of the 1970s' greatest cultural contributions: fear of adolescent rebellion via religious panic, and gullible beliefs that the world will be saved by advanced, peaceful alien races.

Perhaps the interweaving of such resonant cultural themes should be credited to the film's producer, Ovidio Assonitis, the Greek/Egyptian movie mogul whose contributions to cinema history include other timely syntheses of the zeitgeist like Beyond the Door, Tentacles, and one of the movies titled Lambada. Assonitis  made a career out of making art out of concepts he saw were fashionable and commercial at the time. But the film would not be as effective without the eye of director Giulio Paradisi, whose quick cuts, zooms, and bright colors make even the simplest shot exciting and new. Together, Assonitis and Paradisi performed a great service for humanity, picking up the loose threads of inferior movies from the 1970s and weaving them together into an optimistic spiritual vision for the future of humanity that just might come true in some ideal future world. So long as John Huston's mysterious visitor can kidnap foul-mouthed children from our world and kill their evil parts by spiriting them away so they can live in bald harmony with Blond Space Jesus, maybe there is truly hope for us all.