You can almost imagine the scene as it played out, no doubt under the influence of hallucinogens and booze, in Rome some time in early 1978.
Fellini’s cameraman on 8 1/2 looking to become a director in his own right and Italy’s answer to Roger Corman shooting the breeze about the recent slew of fantastical, and profitable films: The Exorcist; Demon Seed; The Omen; Close Encounters; Rosemary’s Baby.
Hey let’s try our hand making one suggests Guiliano Paradisi, the wanna be director, an Exorcist knock-off maybe.
I already made one of those replies Ovidio Assonitis, schlock producer extraordinaire. It did really well and “young girls possessed by evil facing off against a messenger of God” are just the ticket but if we’re going to do this I want to spice it up. That movie Star Wars that came out last year? It made millions, let’s throw in a sci-fi angle, make this some kind of intergalactic struggle of good and evil. We can even magic up a space ship or two for the final battle.
Molto bene, where we going to film it?
Well, Roma for the interiors but for the sports set pieces and exteriors, I figure Atlanta.
Atlanta…in America? replies Paradisi, scratching his head.
Si, I have some pull with a local distributor there, I made a couple of rip-off pictures with him already. He’s going to love this one…
By all rights 1979’s The Visitor really should have sunk without trace. The plot is a stale tale of demonic possession, the soundtrack overwhelms almost every scene and the editing is at times frustrating enough to provoke, not so much walkouts, as genuine stampedes towards the doors of any theatre it plays.
Paradisi does, however, have three trump cards he plays to perfection. Being a student of Italy’s golden age of cinema the director knows a beautiful shot when he sees one; the cast for some inexplicable reason brims with old Hollywood talent; and in Katy Collins, the devil spawn at the centre of the piece, he’s conjured up one of cinema’s truly great villains.
Katy, played by a gifted 8-year-old called Paige Conner, is the revelation that holds this whole preposterous piece together. Rather than playing the role like a samizdat Rhonda from The Bad Seed who you know is rotten from the first moment you lay eyes on her, Conner mixes venom with tenderness and will as often as not elicit whimpers of empathy from an audience.
Take for instance the ice skating scene that marks the midpoint of the film. Katy is minding her business at the local ice rink. She soon realises that God’s messenger (or something; the plot is so porous it’s difficult to keep track) embodied by John Huston is watching her. She starts to vamp around the ice rink and soon attracts the scorn of a large group of teenage boys who decide to teach her a lesson. One by one then two by two she takes on these older bullies and bests them all. The scene climaxes with her throwing a pair of them (in slow motion, naturally) out of the rink and through plate glass windows. After each of these dispatches she stops and stares up at Huston, a wry and knowing smile locked on her lips.
Or how about the birthday party that begins with her on best behaviour, perfectly charming to all her guests and ends with her shooting her own mother in the back; or the heart-warming scene a few days later with mother and daughter snuggling in bed, Katy all the while cradling the phone, trying to reunite mum with new boyfriend. Or there’s the time when she’s quizzed by local detective Glenn Ford. She disarms him with the cutest shake of the head and immediately follows by barking profanities that might shame a sailor.
The film is filled with moments like these. Katy as beguiling little girl one minute, monster the next, then just as easily reverting back to innocent child. The whole effect keeps the viewer on edge and provides a solid core to what is otherwise a wild mess of a film
If Paradisi had had the wit to end his set pieces more comprehensively or hold just slightly longer on scenes that are integral to the plot The Visitor would be a stone cold classic and Katy Collins would hold a deserving place in anyone’s pantheon of great movie villains.
The Visitor – directed by Giulio Paradisi (1979)
The spawn of an interstellar Satan arrives on Earth and threatens the fabric of the cosmos. Only John Huston, Shelley Winters and Franco Nero as Jesus can stop her.