Quite simply, it's the best movie you'll see this November. And if you love classics from that era, you'll not want to miss The Visitor, as Drafthouse Films rolls out a remastered theatrical release in several major cities. It will also be available this January on VOD and Netflix. This strange hybrid is notorious for giving us one of Hollywood legend John Huston's final performances. He stars as an Obi-Wan type old man sent on an intergalactic mission to defeat a foul-mouthed 8-year-old girl and her pet hawk before their evil can destroy the universe. If that description hasn't sold you a ticket, I'm not sure you're even ready for the expansion of craziness that is spring boarded off this quaint idea.
A bit of history: Before the advent of the modern day Mockbuster, Italian filmmakers in the 70s played at the same conceit by making cheap rip-offs of the day's current hits. Great White is a sterling example, as it was such a perfect Jaws clone, the Supreme Court had it banned and thrown out of the country. Beyond the Door is another, working to Xerox a little of that Exorcist magic for its own financial gain. The Visitor was planned as a Drive-In B movie that would grab a hold of genre audiences hungry for another Star Wars, but as these things sometimes do, it took on a life of its own, with director Giulio Paradisi (aka Michael J. Paradise) and producer Ovidio G. Assonitis deciding to throw everything else at their disposal into the mix, making for a grand duckpress fist to the gut that knocked some moviegoers unconscious.
Today, we're looking at the 10 Essential Classics that were culled together and whip-mixed in a big bowl of holy shit for what stands as one of Italy's grand achievements in 1970s cinema. These are the films we suggest you watch before imbibing in this glorious stretch of celluloid that subverts its schlock roots to become something more than the sum of its iconic parts. Without these movies, The Visitor probably wouldn't exist.
1The Omen (1976)
Tagline: You have been warned. If something frightening happens to you today, think about it. It may be The Omen. Premise: An American ambassador learns that his child is actually the Antichrist. He must then end the child's reign of terror. The Visitor Connection: Barbara Collins (Joanne Nail) is used as a vessel for delivering evil incarnate to earth in the form of a child. Little Katy (Paige Conner) might not be the 'antichrist', but hey, close enough. And she wants (or rather, demands) a brother. In steps Raymond Armstead (a young, handsome Lance Henriksen, as if we knew there was such a thing), who has been sperm-tasked by an NWO-like cult with bringing a second evil child into our world. But the mom catches on fast, and tries to put an end to this spawning of darkness that threatens to eclipse the whole planet. It doesn't help that she is kidnapped and raped, and impregnated against her will when limp dick Raymond fails to deliver the needed seed. Will she have an intergalactic abortion? Or will she be the first mom in movie history to birth an Antichristic brood hellbent on destroying mankind?
Tagline: We are not alone. Premise: An ordinary blue collar worker has a Close Encounter with an extraterrestrial spaceship, which sends him on a cross-country mission to serve as a welcoming committee for our new visitors. The Visitor Connection: John Huston is an extraterrestrial babysitter sent to stop an ancient evil from spreading across the states. He's much too busy for a welcoming party, but he does come in peace. He lives on a planet with Christ-like Franco Nero and a bunch of baldheaded children meant to look a little like the innocent beings introduced at the end of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The movie plays to the era's fascination with UFOs and outer space, creating an intergalactic soap opera unlike anything we've seen before. Yet, it still manages to feel somewhat familiar.
3The Birds (1963)
Tagline: Nothing You Have Ever Witnessed Before Has Prepared You for Such Sheer Stabbing Shock! Premise: Birds of all kinds attack innocent citizens in a blood bath of feathers and beaks. The Visitor Connection: Katy's best friend is a killer hawk that she often sends off to do her deadly deeds. The hawk is interlocked with the intergalactic evil that plagues Katy and her family, and can only be eviscerated by three other hero birds of an undisclosed nature. Throughout the movie, Katy's little feathered friend participates in some very gruesome The Birds-like business. And the film's shocking climax owes its entire weight to the Alfred Hitchcock classic.
4Rosemary's Baby (1968)
Tagline: Pray for Rosemary's Baby. Premise: A young couple move into a new apartment building to start their life together as expectant parents. Little do they know, their neighbors belong to a satanic cult that is using Rosemary to cultivate the birth of the anti-Christ. The Visitor Connection: Its very similar to The Omen. Barbara is a very special kind of woman. She has the ability to give birth to an ancient evil that lives in a galaxy far, far away. Like Rosemary, an evil cult is behind her latest pregnancy. Unlike Rosemary, Barbara doesn't just stop at squirting out one demonic baby, but as many as she can, for as long as she can. So, essential, if she really put her mind to it, she could birth a satanic army. She doesn't though, as Jerzy Colsowicz is able to save her from this horrible fate.
5The Fury (1978)
Tagline: An experience in terror and suspense. Premise: A secret U.S. agency is collecting telekinetic and parapsychologic children for use in war situations. To rescue his powerful son, who is reported dead, an Ex-CIA agent sets out to take down the supernatural governemnet-sanctioned program. The Visitor Connection: The cult in The Visitor seems to stretch beyond the borders of the U.S., but their goal is quite similar. They want to collect a bunch of bad kids, and use them for complete world take over. They don't want to start a war, they want to be a war!
6Star Wars (1977)
Tagline: Somewhere, in space, this could all be happening right now. Premise: A young moister farmer learns the ways of the force while joining the Rebel Alliance to disarm a galactic space station capable of blowing up a planet with the help of an old man, a pirate, a princess, a dog and two robots. The Visitor Connection: The Visitor sets out to be about the intergalactic struggle between the dark and light sides of the universe. Though his name isn't nearly as catchy, Jerzy Colsowicz is an Obi-Wan like guiding force that comes to save a young child from the darkness within. Only, he does it on earth, which requires him to act as a babysitter (literally, he claims to be from an agency and everything) for Katy. John Huston is clearly molding his Jerzy archetype on Alec Guinness. And he does have an epic duel at the end. But it's his job as babysitter that brings the best line in the whole movie. Recently confined to a wheelchair, mother Barbara insures her boyfriend Raymond that Colsowicz isn't possibly a child molester. She then coyly turns to her lover and says with a straight face, "But I sure hope you're a cripple molester." Yes, that line exists in a movie.
7The Bad News Bears (1976)
Tagline: The coach is waiting for his next beer. The pitcher is waiting for her first bra. The team is waiting for a miracle. Consider the possibilities. Premise: A beer-addicted bum of an ex-minor league coach is forced to take on a team of ultra-competitive, foul-mouthed misfits for the little league championship. The Visitor Connection: If the 70s loved one thing, it was a foul-mouthed child. And Paige Conner's Katy seems to be the entire Bears team rolled into one. She's a nasty little cuss, and she gets the best lines (after the cripple molester line, of course) in the whole movie. The young actress illuminates the screen in telling a cop in charge of investigating an accident to fuck off. She's a pitch black 8 year-old bitch from Hell. Somehow, Paige excels at making her incredibly likeable at the same time. Its one of the best child performances of the time, and its great that people are rediscovering her all over again. Surely someone will try to cast her in a new movie. That seems inescapable. And it just won't be as good.
8The French Connection (1971}
Tagline: There are no rules and no holds barred when Popeye cuts loose! Premise: A short-tempered alcoholic bigot police officer takes on one of the largest drug suppliers of pure heroin in North America. The Visitor Connection: The French Connection is memorable for its iconic car chase. The Visitor tries to emulate and one-up that chase here, throwing in an attack hawk and a real-life head-on collision with a motorcycle rider. There is no CGI, and it's breathtaking to behold. For a short stretch, the movie turns into a police procedural, as the captain of the local force investigates the mysterious appearance of a gun at a birthday party. That killer bird doesn't let him snoop around too long before pecking out his eyes, causing him to roll his squad car up in a chain link fence just outside the local basketball court. There's no reason for The Visitor to suddenly turn into The French Connection, but it does, and its glorious.
Tagline: More fun than games. Premise: Two bumbling nerds team up with their uncle to save the local video game arcade. The Visitor Connection: Video games were just starting to become big business in the late 70s, early 80s, and Joysticks was one of the first movies to cash in on the premise. In The Visitor, Katy is obsessed with her new home entertainment gaming center, which looks like it only contains the game Pong. Instead of getting a light saber duel between her and Jerzy, we get a very slow moving Pong-off. Complete with an old school big screen TV (with the red, green and blue projection system). This is what Jerzy does when babysitting. Things really heat up when Katy flips the PRO switch, bringing some much needed humor to the proceedings. Jerzy doesn't win Pong, giving up just like Obi Wan. Katy strikes him down (or, rather, gets her ball past his 2-bit pipe), and he becomes more powerful than you could possibly image.
10The Bad Seed (1956)
Tagline: For little Rhoda, murder is child's play. Premise: A seemingly perfect 50s housewife discovers that her pretty, innocent-looking 8-year old daughter is a cold-blooded killer. The Visitor Connection: Katy Collins is also an 8 year-old cold blooded killer, remorseless after shooting her mother in the back (at her own birthday party, no less) and confiding her to a wheelchair for life. Katy is the quintessential bad seed, a dangerous sociopath who doesn't care about anyone but herself. She has a goal, and that goal is to eradicate the human race. Will she succeed? You'll have to see the movie to find out!
The Visitor opens in New York at the IFC Center this Friday, 11/8 and additional markets throughout November. To check for participating theaters throughout the rest of November:
The Visitor was released October 31st, 2013 and stars Mel Ferrer, Glenn Ford, Lance Henriksen, John Huston, Joanne Nail, Sam Peckinpah, Shelley Winters, Paige Conner. The film is directed by Giulio Paradisi.