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Film / The Visitor

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The Visitor is an Italian/American 1979 science fiction/horror film starring Lance Henriksen, Glenn Ford, and John Huston. Noted actors Mel Ferrer, Sam Peckinpah, Franco Nero, and Shelley Winters also appear. The film tells the surreal, hallucinatory story of a benevolent alien who has come to Earth in pursuit of a child named Katy (Paige Connor) who may be a descendant of a malevolent alien intelligence known as Zateen. The girl's hapless mother, Barbara (Joanne Nail) becomes swept up in the frightening struggle between the two entities, while her boyfriend (Henriksen) and physician (Ferrer) represent a sinister organization which has its own disturbing plans for Barbara and Katy.

The film is noteworthy for its all-star cast, some trippy visual effects sequences and for revisiting the Satanic horror tropes popularized by films of the era such as The Omen, The Exorcist, and Rosemary's Baby, but with a science fiction twist.

Received the RiffTrax treatment in 2019.

This film contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Acid-Trip Dimension: The film's bizarre opening sequence depicts a cosmic encounter between the hero Jerzy and the villan Katy in a vast, storm-filled, multicolored desert where Jerzy watches in horror as Katy slowly transforms from a towering, Grim Reaper-like figure into a menacing abomination of a little girl.
  • Alien Abduction: although it is quite explicit that they are just humans using a tricked-out semi-truck, the scene where Dr. Walker abducts and surgically impregnates Barbara visually and psychologically reflects this trope in every way.
  • Ancient Astronauts: Exposition explains that the this story is the latest battle in an ongoing interstellar war between the good forces of Yahweh and the evil forces of "Zateen." Although long-defeated by Yahweh, Zateen managed to sire a large number of offspring on the planet Earth who hold the key to his resurrection if they are not stopped.
  • Ancient Conspiracy: Raymond and Dr. Walker are agents of a cabal of wealthy men who follow Zateen and wish for Raymond to sire a brother for Katy, enabling Zateen's return.
  • As You Know: It probably wasn't necessary for Jerzy to remind his boss - who is heavily implied to be Jesus Christ himself - that they do not believe in killing children. But given that the audience already has enough bizarre stuff to figure out at this point, it was probably a bit of mercy on the filmmaker's part having him do so.
  • Big Bad: Katy, who revels in her evil powers.
  • Big Good: The Christ-like figure who cares for the strange, bald children who are actually Zateen's rehabilitated offspring.
  • The Bus Came Back: The council sends Raymond packing when they grow impatient with how long it is taking him to conceive another child with Barbara. He shows up at the end, now intent on killing Barbara for refusing to go along with the plan.
  • Chair Reveal: Katy pulls of a nasty one on Barbara at one point.
  • Chekhov's Lecture: The Big Good mentions in his story that Zateen once had an army of birds that eventually turned against him. This becomes important at the very end.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: This might quite possibly be the most incompetent cult of all time. Not only do they fail to prevent Barbara aborting her fetus, they even fail to kill her at the end and are wiped out quite easily by Jerzy and his group.
  • Creepy Child: Katy
  • Creepy Doll: For some reason, Barbara acquires a bird-shaped ornament with a voice chip that makes it croak "I'm a preeetty biiird..." in a garbled, menacing voice. Later, Detective Durham steals it from the house and it starts croaking the phrase over and over again in what is one of the creepiest and most suspenseful scenes of the film.
  • Dead Star Walking: Glenn Ford as Detective Durham. See Decoy Protagonist below.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Detective Durham, who investigates Katy's accidental shooting of Barbara. He quickly realizes that something isn't right with Katy and is intent upon figuring it out and dealing with her. But she dispatches him with an attack from her pet hawk almost immediately.
  • Every Car Is a Pinto: Detective Durham's car explodes seconds after it crashes, killing him. Possibly justified, given that a psychokinetic antichrist actively wanted him dead.
  • Eye Scream: Katy's hawk blinds Detective Durham, causing his car to crash.
  • Feathered Fiend: Katy's pet hawk. It's so menacing that it basically serves as her Dragon.
  • God-Karting with Beelzebub: A literal version, with the angelic Jerzy and antichrist figure Katy relaxing for a game of Pong together.
  • Good Girls Avoid Abortion: Completely subverted and deconstructed. Once Barbara understands that she has been abducted and forcibly impregnated, the first thing she does is reach out to her doctor ex-husband who provides the necessary service. Moreover, she does so with the explicit guidance and approval of beings implied to be the basis for Christianity's God and angels.
  • Greater-Scope Villain: Zateen.
  • Hall of Mirrors: At one point Jerzy and Katy test their powers against each other in one, which is apparently located inside an empty strip club, for some reason.
  • Humanoid Abomination: Katy appears as one of these in the opening vision sequence, and then again at the end when she attacks Barbara.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Played straight in a surprising way. Katy is seemingly overwhelmed and killed by the bird army, but at the end is revealed to be alive and well, and a happy new member of the celestial school. The film ends as a smiling Jerzy reminds his master that they do not kill children.
  • Mind Screw: The story is straightforward enough: a friendly alien comes to Earth to stop an evil one. But the numerous scenes, characters, and trippy sequences that are never explained or just flat-out don't make sense turn this into a very complicated film.
  • Mood Whiplash: The eerie and disturbing abduction scene is followed by a truly uncomfortable scene where the tow truck drivers who find Barbara unconscious in her car is played for laughs.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: John Huston as Polish Jerzy Colsowicz.
  • Off-the-Shelf FX: While cars designed for paraplegic individuals to drive do exist, the vehicle that Barbara drives following the shooting clearly isn't one, presumably for budgetary reasons.
  • One-Winged Angel: Katy ditches subtlety during the climax, attacking in a frenzied, monstrous form with glowing features.
  • Precision F-Strike: Katy has some choice four-letter words for Detective Durham when he attempts to interrogate her regarding the accident with the gun. Paige Connor was supposedly quite uncomfortable with having to speak to Glenn Ford in this way during filming.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Zateen's followers seek to resurrect him by breeding his male and female descendants together.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: The mystery of how the gun got into the gift box is never solved and everyone seems to lose interest in it after the detective who was investigating it dies.
  • Shout-Out: The film makes no effort to hide its debt to other films that have inspired it.
    • The opening sequence where a brown-robed Jerzy stares out over the landscape of a desert planet is more than reminiscent of Obi-Wan Kenobi on Tattooine in Star Wars: A New Hope. When Jerzy is then approached by a tall, black-robed figure it calls to mind Obi-Wan's confrontation with Darth Vader later in the same film.
    • The film centers on a demonic child who uses animal attacks and telekinetic powers against her foes, much like The Omen.
    • The Satanic conspiracy attempting to guide said child and gaslight her mother into obedience is a clear nod to Rosemary's Baby.
    • Katy's ability to control birds (and the bird army once controlled by her ancestory Zateen) may be an allusion to Christian lore where one of Satan's titles is "prince of the power of the air."
  • Stringy-Haired Ghost Girl: Katy acts like one of these while attempting to kill Barbara during the climax, complete with her long, blonde hair completely covering her face.
  • Surprisingly Happy Ending: Apart from Barbara getting paralyzed and a few scratches at the end, she is mostly fine. Jerzy and his group destroy the cult and manage to bring Katy to the Christ-like figure and she seems to have turned over a new leaf. It is among the happiest endings in a European horror movie and with no sequel hook either.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: At one point when being pursued by a murderous Katy, Jerzy ducks inside a hot dog stand to evade her, much to the surprise of its owner. Katy then uses her powers to crush the restaurant with a collapsing fire escape. Jerzy is seen slipping away unharmed, but the fate of the proprietor is not even mentioned.
  • Wouldn't Hurt a Child. Yahweh's forces adhere to this policy no matter how evil the child in question may seem. Human followers of Zateen, on the other hand, are not so lucky.
  • Zerg Rush: Jerzy summons thousands of extraterrestrial birds to subdue Katy and slay Raymond at the end.