The Visitor and the madness of cult films

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What makes a great cult film? A fascinating host of characters who you can dress up as at a yearly convention? A complicated plot that takes a number of viewings to understand? Or is it seeing a faker than fake bird produce a hidden blade from its beak and stab Lance Henrikson in the neck?

Cult films are something of a phenomenon, as Ovidio G. Assonitis explained when he spoke at the Great Northern Creative Festival. 

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, cult films should have “enduring appeal to a relatively small audience”, and be “non-mainstream”, but it isn’t as simple as that really.

There are generally two sorts of cult film. The first sort is genuinely good films which, for whatever reason, were misunderstood upon release and didn’t do well at the box office. Films that fall into this category include The Rocky Horror Picture Show, A Clockwork Orange and Donnie Darko.

The second, and much more baffling types of cult film are those truly terrible films, which by some minor miracle get latched onto by a small group of rabid fans.  The kind of people who see through a films many flaws and find a real charm and ‘so-bad-its-good’ appeal.

The Visitor,  based on a story written by Assonitis, is a cult film that sits firmly in that second category.  The 1979 sci-fi horror flick is a true cinematic experience. Despite its plot leaning heavily on other, more successful 70’s horror films, it’s a truly unique spectacle.

The film is directed by Giulio Paradisi (credited as Michael J. Paradise so as to appeal to American audiences more). He is best known for his numerous B-movies which tended to blatantly rip off major films of the time.  An example of this would be his 1977 production, Tentacles.  Which essentially took everything from Steven Spielberg’s box-office smash Jaws, but replaced the titular shark with a giant octopus.  Already you can see why this film has garnered such cult status.

Unlike many of Assonitis’s projects at the time, The Visitor actually boasted a cast featuring some reasonably notable names, including the aforementioned Lance Henrikson, who would go on to feature in many of James Cameron’s biggest films. Legendary director John Huston, whose films include cinematic classics The Maltese Falcon and The Man Who Would Be King, also features prominently. Lord knows why.

This film is made (or ruined some would argue) by the utter madness that is the films plot… The Visitor is essentially a story of an ancient warrior from a distant world, who comes to earth to prevent the evil Sateen (who’s definitely not any relation to Satan), from spreading his evil across the world.  Sateen has taken the form of an eight-year old girl Katy, and his plot involves getting Katy’s mother pregnant so she can deliver a devilish baby boy in Sateen’s image.

As you can imagine this leads to some utterly cringe worthy dialogue, a staple of any good cult film, where Katy says to her mother’s potential suitor “You and momma could make love and give me a baby-brother.”, but that can be forgiven for sheer amount of wild wacky moments this films throws at you.

To be clear this is in no way a good film, it’s awful.  But whether it’s intentional or not, The Visitor is just so entertaining.  There’s such a charm to its madcap, randomly put together plot.  One minute you’re at a basketball game where the ball explodes in actual Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s hands, the next we’re at a child’s birthday where the mother is ‘accidentally’ shot in the back and lest we forget Lance Henrikson’s death scene.  He meets his maker by way of a switchblade wielding bird and not just any bird, but literally the fakest bird ever seen on screen. That is no exaggeration.

It really is a fascinating piece of film.  You can’t take your eyes off the screen because there’s literally no way of knowing what’s going to happen in the next scene.  Say want you want about the film, but you can’t deny that the team behind it are doing all they can to entertain you.

The Visitor could possibly be the cult film to end all cult films. It certainly ticks all the cult boxes.  You need to go out of your way to see this film.  You’re guaranteed to see something you’ve never seen in film before and you’ll probably never see again!

Words by Daniel James Morris

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