Code Red // 1979 // 108 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Daryl Loomis (Retired) // November 19th, 2010
I am a pretty bird!
If I were to describe a movie starring John Huston (Candy) as an interplanetary warrior battling an eight-year-old girl and her pet falcon for the fate of the universe, you'd rightly think I was making some stupid joke. Yet, here I am, describing just that. Some movies are so strange that they have to be seen, regardless of quality. The Visitor, featuring one of the greatest casts in exploitation film history, has some pretty special moments. It's not good by most measures, but it's crazy and funny enough for two solidly entertaining hours.
Eons ago, the noble and true alien warrior, Yaved (John Huston, Candy), battled the intergalactic criminal Sateen. Before he was captured, however, Sateen managed to spread his seed across the galaxy, creating a lineage of violently telekinetic children bent on spreading chaos on their home worlds. Ever since, Yaved has made it his mission to hunt down and capture these children to turn them into warriors in the fight against evil. This brings us to Atlanta, GA, where an especially mean little girl named Katy (Paige Conner) spells trouble for everyone except a cabal of old white men who want to exploit her powers.
Keep in mind that, as convoluted as that sounds, this information is delivered to us in a meandering, Dune-style monologue by a Christ-like figure played by Franco Nero (Django). That's right, Django basically plays Jesus. It's only the first of many strange qualities that give The Visitor, also known as Stridulum, its dubious charm.
The most baffling thing is the cast. I'm used to seeing the occasional washed-up American actor in Italian exploitation films, but this is ridiculous. The great director Huston aside, we have Shelley Winters (Night of the Hunter), Glenn Ford (Experiment in Terror), Mel Ferrer (Eaten Alive), and Sam Peckinpah (director of The Wild Bunch); all of whom somehow agreed to appear. With Italian heartthrob Nero, Joanne Nail (Switchblade Sisters) and a young Lance Henriksen (Pumpkinhead), this is an amazing array of talent. Talent, though, whose scenes nearly all involve getting a tongue lashing from a rather non-threatening child.
Truthfully, Paige Conner actually does a good job with what she has to work with. Aside from her scene cussing out Glenn Ford and calling him a child molester, in which she does not look comfortable delivering language like this, she clearly enjoyed her large role. Insofar as The Visitor rips off The Omen, Katy is no Damien, but she's trying, which is more than can be said for most of her more experienced costars. If you can trade good performance for unintentional comedy, The Visitor has a lot to offer and has rightly developed a cult following. Of the many choice moments, a few of my favorites:
The Falcon. I was excited when I saw the "Bird Handler" credit, because it can only mean one thing: bird attacks! Normally, you only get one scene, but in The Visitor, the falcon is Katy's primary weapon.
The Basketball Game. In an interminably long basketball scene featuring the San Francisco Niners against "Atlanta's Basketball Team," we meet Katy and Atlanta club owner Lance Henriksen. Katy displays her telekinetic abilities by making the ball explode before the pivotal shot. Nobody in attendance seems to find this odd.
John Huston Plays Pong. In order to meet Katy, our hero knocks on her mother's door and poses as the babysitter, and she lets him in. Parents, when a 70-year-old man come up to you and says, "I'm here to watch your daughter," just say no. They leave Katy with him and, after Huston convinces Katy that she's born of another dimension, they sit down to a game of video tennis. He is surprisingly good; Katy, always the brat, cheats to win.
I could go on, but seeing it in action is way weirder than I can say. It's almost mesmerizing, as we wait to see what could possibly come next. Eventually, when what comes next is Sam Peckinpah as an abortion doctor, you'll know you've seen something special.
Code Red sent a screener for review, but the disc is actually quite good. Presented for the first time in the U.S. in its uncut version, the transfer is excellent from top to bottom, far better than any video copy that has ever existed. Plus, the movie makes slightly more sense, but just slightly. The sound is a fairly rich mono track that makes all the senseless dialog easy to understand, yet impossible to decipher. Extras include two overly-effusive commentaries and a featurette with current interviews with the cast and crew.
Guilty, but it's still worth experiencing.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Code Red
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 108 Minutes
Release Year: 1979
MPAA Rating: Not Rated