Posted in: Blu-ray, by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, DVD, Film Reviews, Horror

Videophiled Classic: ‘The Visitor’ Brings Satanic Incoherence with a Side of Bizarre

VisitorThe Visitor (Drafthouse, Blu-ray, DVD), a 1979 Italian giallo-esque supernatural horror with an American cast and a former Fellini assistant taking the directorial reigns with more imagination than storytelling discipline, is not the first Exorcist knock-off to come out of the Italian genre factory. It may, however, be the least coherent. Opening on Franco Nero as a Django Jesus in a heaven with art direction out of Logan’s Run and populated with bald children, it quickly sends John Huston as a paternal emissary (or maybe a particularly grandfatherly God, who knows?) on mission to stop Santeen from taking over Earth through 8-year-old Katy Collins (Paige Conner, more creepy Bad Seed than possessed Linda Blair). There’s also a helping of The Omen, Carrie, The Birds, and the hall of mirrors of The Lady From Shanghai (among many other films), a basketball game with an exploding dunk shot, an abduction out of UFO lore, and Glenn Ford as a police detective who gets his eye pecked out by a falcon.

Giulio Paradisi (directing under the screen name Michael J. Paradise) came up with the story, which recasts the idea of a satanic thriller as a cosmic battle, and apparently keeps rewriting as it goes along. Katy has vaguely telekinetic powers and a strange sense of humor (in a game of tag at an ice rink she tosses a couple of teenage boys out of the rink and through a plate of glass) and somehow the evil corporate cabal’s mission to have Katy’s mommy (Joanne Nail) spawn even more devil children becomes a campaign of torture that lands her in a wheelchair and worse. The cast also drops in Shelley Winters as a cranky housekeeper, Mel Ferrer as the corporate devil, Sam Peckinpah as a doctor (completely dubbed into anonymity), and young Lance Henriksen as the Ted Turner of the Apocalypse. Okay, that’s a stretch, but it does actually take place in Atlanta (though most of it is shot in Rome).

Paradisi may not have a clue about directing actors (Glenn Ford walks through his performance in a daze, though in his defense he probably read the script and ended up more confused than ever) but he has picked up a few tricks from Argento on how to move a camera and from Fulci on how to stage a supernatural freak-out. It’s not particularly gory, mind you, and the cut-rate optical effects of the cosmic finale are so slapdash they become abstract, but that kind of works for this oddball trip.

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‘The Visitor’ – In heaven, everything is fine

I confess that this is the first time I’ve tried to review a Blu-ray release via streaming video. It may not have made that much of a difference, for despite the claims of being “restored” the print was filled with minor scuffs, scratches and abrasions and the picture looked a little soft. More likely this is a preservation rather than a restoration, an HD master of a high-quality print.

The press release insists that there are interviews with star Lance Henriksen, screenwriter Lou Comici and cinematographer Ennio Guarnieri, but only Henriksen and Comici were accessible to me. Both artists describe a production where no one had any idea what was going on with the script or the story, including the director, who dismissed all queries when asked to explain. Henriksen is marvelously good-natured about remembering the experience, which he found a delight even though the film is such a mess (his story about getting direction from co-star John Huston is priceless). I did not receive a copy of the booklet that accompanies the disc.

More cult and classic releases on Blu-ray and DVD at Cinephiled

Posted in: by Sean Axmaker, Contributors, DVD, Film Reviews

DVD: ‘La Visita’

La Visita/The Visitor (Raro Video)

Pina (Sandra Milo) is a lonely beauty in a small Italian town in the north, a successful and confident professional with her own business and a lovely home she shares with a pet dog, parrot, and turtle. Adolfo (François Périer) is a bookseller in Rome who answers her personal ad. As he takes the train north, their correspondence is read over the soundtrack: the voices of two single thirtysomethings making tentative steps to making a connection.

It’s a tender, delicate beginning of a tentative romance that slowly loses its sentimentality as we learn more about the two would-be lovers, but for all the edged humor and eccentric characters of Pina’s backwater village, The Visitor is neither satire nor romantic comedy. Director and co-writer Antonio Pietrangeli working from a script developed with Ettore Scola (who became a successful director in his own right) and frequent collaborator Ruggero Maccari (whose filmography includes the original Scent of a Woman), offers a much more layered and unexpected portrait in disappointment and resigned concession.

Milo’s Pina, whose caboose is, shall we say, cartoonishly overpadded to add a comic imperfection to the actress’ beauty (she practically waddles as she hustles about the streets), is a sweet, smart, accomplished woman in a provincial town who wants nothing more than to flee this prison of a home for the sophistication and opportunity of the city and the company of a husband. She bends over backwards to overlook her date’s arrogance, gluttony, vulgarity, and unmotivated cruelty toward her helpless pets. Périer’s Adolfo puts on a show of urban sophistication that evaporates in direct proportion to the amount of wine he knocks back, and he surreptitiously measures her home and even rearranges furniture to his liking, as if already taking residence as the man of the house. Hiding behind a brush mustache and insincere grin, Périer offers up Adolfo as a neat but unattractive man who imagines himself some kind of sophisticate gracing the provincial north with his cultured presence.

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