Once upon a time, an intergalactic criminal called Sateen fled to Earth. On Earth, Sateen mutated and developed psychic powers, which it used to wreak havoc. Another alien defeated Sateen with an army of birds, but not before Sateen impregnated a slew of Earth women. Those women continued Sateen’s legacy through their children.
An uncredited Franco Nero, as Jesus Christ, opens the film telling this story to a group of bald children. John Huston then enters the room. He’s confirmed Sateen’s latest incarnation: an eight-year-old girl in Atlanta, Georgia. He’ll be leaving at once.
Cut to Atlanta, where we meet the aforementioned girl, Katy, her mother Barbara, and her mother’s boyfriend Ray. Lance Henriksen plays Ray, continuing the film’s surprising casting.
Katy is, indeed, pure evil. She’s got a demonic falcon who helps her off a few unfortunate souls who end up on her bad side, including a detective played by Glenn Ford.
In time, we learn Ray belongs to a shadowy cabal of Sateen worshippers that want Barbara to bear a son. This son would possess the powers of Sateen, and the cabal could harness them for its own ends. It’s not clear why they can’t use Katy, but this proves a minor quibble next to the film’s other plot holes.
John Huston turns out to be the titular visitor. He’s God, who’s also an alien, and the one who sent the birds to destroy Sateen in the opening story.
Huston’s not there to kill Katy. He plans to take her back to his planet, where he’ll teach her not to be evil. Meanwhile, he hangs out on a skyscraper roof with a cadre of bald interpretive dancers.
He gives his name as Jerzy Colsowicz and poses as a babysitter to confront Katy. It’s an odd confrontation. The two play Pong on a giant projection screen and dance around the fact that neither of them is human.
Shelley Winters plays a nanny hired by Barbara. Her scenes prove notable for the instance where she slaps young Katy. According to legend, she really slapped the young girl. Hard. I like to think that it’s true.
Completing some kind of bizarre casting bingo card, Sam Peckinpah turns up as Barbara’s ex-husband. She visits him for an abortion after the Sateen cabal takes matters into their own hands, following Ray’s failure to impregnate Barbara. Unlike John Huston, who appears sober in his scenes, Peckinpah was a reported nightmare and his scenes ended up dubbed.
Rest assured, if you’re confused, then I have conveyed a sense of the viewing experience.
The horror elements are sometimes gruesome. In a scene that would make Lucio Fulci proud, Katy’s falcon pecks at Glenn Ford’s eyes, forcing him to crash his car. But at other times, the horror proves laugh-out-loud inane, such as Katy making a basketball explode on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
And yet, the film showcases flashes of visual brilliance. An early sequence sees a giant sun fill an orange sky. Two cloaked figures face off across a desert as a sandstorm engulfs them. The scene hints at greatness, but the film can’t string enough of these moments together. It proves equal parts fascinating and frustrating.
If nothing else, The Visitor left me wondering how it got made.