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Beware 'The Visitor'

Drafthouse Films brings space oddity to screens tonight

By Richard Whittaker, 6:52PM, Fri. Nov. 1, 2013

Cousin It quickly realized he shouldn't have taken his Tesla coil into the photo booth: Madness in Drafthouse Films brain shredder The Visitor
Cousin It quickly realized he shouldn't have taken his Tesla coil into the photo booth: Madness in Drafthouse Films brain shredder The Visitor

Space Jeebus. A room full of Avatar Aang imitators. Exploding basketballs. Creepy birds. Drunk Sam Peckinpah. Demon kids doing gymnastics. And it's probably Alec Guinness' fault.

The Alamo's distribution wing Drafthouse Films acquired 1977 head scratcher The Visitor early this year, and are releasing it just as the last of your Halloween sugar rush is crashing. If you caught the trailer released this week, you may think that you have the slightest grasp of what is going on. You are wrong. Nobody's credentials explain The Visitor. It is to mainstream science fiction what Miami Connection is to new wave Kung Fu.

It's 1977, and Star Wars has become a huge international success: Due, in part, to Guinness and Peter Cushing adding some headliner heft. Two years later and director Giulio Paradisi tried to play the same gravitas game. He grabbed not only Glenn Ford and Shelley Winters for his supernatural sci-fi thriller The Visitor, but also directing legends Sam Peckinpah and John Huston.

Let's get this right. Peckinpah, arguably the 1970's greatest chronicler of damaged masculinity (The Wild Bunch, Straw Dogs.) Huston, just on the cusp from the battle-scarred bravado of The Man Who Would Be King into becoming the aging bull who shot Prizzi's Honor and the intolerably haunting James Joyce adaptation, The Dead.

Guinness had arguably modeled his beard for Obi-Wan Kenobi on Huston's tightly manicured facial hair. Here, as an aging interstellar demon hunter, Huston tries to emulate some of Guinness' hard-worn mysticism. Peckinpah is beyond rescue in his part as a gin-addled gynecologist, so pie-eyed drunk that most of his lines are delivered in half-light, profile, and dubbed. Never has a doctor more clearly been leaning on a patient's wheelchair to stay upright. There's a Visitor drinking game: Every time the camera pulls away from Peckinpah in favor of some bizarre, unrelated b-roll, take a drink.

The Visitor was last unleashed on an Austin audience back in 2011 at a rare, unrestored 35mm screening. Back then, it stood in all its derivative, unrepeatable glory. Imagine a low-budget Italian The Omen, or one of the more supernatural-edged episodes of Space: 1999. Composer Franco Micalizzi shamelessly apes 2001: A Space Odyssey, while cinematographer Ennio Guarnieri had certainly seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Shot in Atlanta, it's an overblown hodge-podge of 1970s science-and-surgery-tinged scares like Demon Seed. There's also a major sub-plot about an intergalactic Satanic cabal trying to take over the world using the Atlanta Hawks. Plus radio talking head Neal Boortz.

The Visitor screens in Austin Nov. 1 at the Alamo Village, and Nov. 2-3 at Slaughter Lane. For tickets, visit www.drafthouse.com. For more info and screenings around the nation, visit www.drafthousefilms.com.

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