A movie can’t be saved by sheer quantity of movie stars. But 1979's insufferably dull The Visitor (Stridulum) has an extraordinary cast including John Huston, Shelley Winters, Glenn Ford, Mel Ferrer, Sam Peckinpah, Franco Nero, and Lance Henriksen. Despite their, if not best, certainly very good, efforts, this extraterrestrial Exorcist sinks under the inexperience of its director, Giullio Paradisi.
Prior to The Visitor, 46 year old Paradisi had directed two movies, one in 1970 and one in 1976, but he was well connected. He’d appeared as an actor in some of Fellini’s best movies and seems to have endeared himself to a number of people in the international film community. Maybe it was his earnestness. It’s kind of adorable how excited he clearly was to be shooting on location in Atlanta for The Visitor.
The film is crammed with establishing shots and especially tracking shots that turn from establishing shots to shots of one of the actors, confirming, yet again, yes, we really are in Atlanta. When Lance Henriksen makes love to his girlfriend, Barbara (Joanne Nail), in the chronically dashed hope of impregnating her with alien Satan, he does so with a POV shot showing Atlanta out the window.
It’s reassuring how passive Henriksen and his secret society, headed by Mel Ferrer, are when it comes to getting a woman pregnant. Good thing these guys never saw Rosemary’s Baby.
But Barbara already has one evil child, a pretty fair approximation of Linda Blair in the form of a young actress named Paige Conner.
She plays Katy, an obnoxious brat with a pet hawk. One reason this movie doesn’t succeed like The Exorcist is that there’s never a sense of normal life disrupted. Katy’s already a jerk from the beginning, alternating between petulance and violence, including a birthday party where she shoots her mother with a pistol that somehow ends up among the presents.
How the pistol got there isn’t terribly clear. It must have come from the Mel Ferrer consortium, I guess. Throughout the film, the cosmic forces presumably do battle mostly by strolling around looking smug, particularly John Huston.
He seems more or less to be God and is on hand through most of the film, at one point posing as Katy’s babysitter. If he’s God then Franco Nero is evidently Jesus, appearing in only two scenes, preaching to a classroom of bald children.
Who are are these kids? Angels? Who knows. It’s difficult to care.
Glenn Ford is in the film too briefly as a detective who actually grounds the story somewhat as he tries to investigate the weirdness of Katy. But sadly for everyone he proves no match for Katy’s little pet hawk.