Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Stridulum (1979)

... aka: Die Außerirdischen (The Aliens)
... aka: El visitante del más allá (Visitor from Beyond)
... aka: Herdeiros da Morte (Death Heirs)
... aka: Piken fra mørket (The Girl from the Darkness)
... aka: Satans lilla flicka (Satan's Little Girl)
... aka: Visitor, The
... aka: Visitors, The

Directed by:
"Michael J. Paradise" (Giulio Paradisi)

A cloaked figure walks across a sand dune against a bright orange sun and a blue and pink sky as clouds of dust begin to fill the screen and birds fly out. Things then cut to a storyteller clad in a beige robe in a white room telling a story to a bunch of bald children. For a second I thought this was at the St. Jude's Children's Research Hospital, but nope this is heaven (or a cosmic equivalent) and the man setting up our tale is none other than Jesus Christ (or a cosmic equivalent) himself, who's played by Franco Nero with a brown beard and a long-haired bleach blonde wig (!) He tells us of an evil alien criminal named Sateen, who managed to escape captivity and head to Earth, where he mutated and developed psychic powers, which he then used to cause destruction and death. The alien commander in charge of apprehending him then sent an army of birds to kill him, which they eventually did, but not before Sateen was able to spread his seed to numerous Earth women who went on to bear evil little children. Oh yes, and he also transformed into an eagle at some point but that doesn't have much to do with anything. The following paragraph is just some of the gonzo nonsense the director and writers decided to fill our heads with during the opening seven minutes. We've still got an hour and a half left to go, so brace yourselves.

Down on Earth, we meet filthy rich Raymond Armstead (a young Lance Henriksen), who owns the "Atlanta Rebels" basketball team. Raymond is dating and planning on marrying divorcée Barbara Collins (Joanne Nail) but there's one little thorn in her side: her horrible 8-year-old daughter Katie (Paige Conner). Katie is such an evil, foul-mouthed, creepy and obnoxious child that mom never wants to bear another for fear it'll turn out just like her! Barbara's intuition turns out to be correct as she's carrying the genes of Sateen and any child she has will also be cursed with supernatural abilities. Meanwhile, a secret society led by Dr. Walker (Mel Ferrer) want to make sure she has a son by any means necessary since she's the last descendant of Sateen. In order to hurry along the process, the bad guys sneak a gun into Katie's birthday party so she'll "accidentally" shoot mum in the back; paralyzing her from the waist down. But even that doesn't spark her desire to wed and pop out another kid, so the society must then take drastic measures.

The "visitor" of the title is Jerzy Colsowicz (John Huston), an elderly emissary sent from the heavens to put a stop to the Sateen bloodline. Somehow that involves congregating on a rooftop with a bunch of bald men carrying boxes, watching specks of light in the sky and getting hired on as a babysitter so he can play a game of Pong (!) with little Katie. Glenn Ford shows up long enough to get his eyes pecked out and then blown up in a car after the demon-alien-girl accuses him of being a child molester and tells him to go fuck himself. Shelley Winters plays a housekeeper / amateur astrologist who carries around an "artificial birdhouse" (don't ask) and, in a hilarious scene, loses her cool and starts vigorously shaking and slapping around the little brat. Director Sam Peckinpah rounds out the surprisingly interesting cast in a useless bit as Barbara's ex-husband, an abortion doctor she goes to out of desperation after being kidnapped by men in Hazmat suits who artificially inseminate her against her will.

While this goes many unusual and often unintentionally hilarious places (the ice rink scene and the scene where Katie makes a basketball hoop explode on Kareem Abdul Jabbar must be seen to be believed), at the end of the day it's just another tale of good vs. evil snatching ideas from numerous other, much better horror and sci-fi flicks (most obviously The Omen and Close Encounters of the Third Kind), mixing them up in a blender and saying "Hey, look at us, we're being original!" Though there are some interesting ideas in the screenplay, the dialogue is hilariously awful and I felt a little guilty watching the talented cast spouting their cringe-worthy, insipid lines and going through scenes that make absolutely zero sense. By the end, Henriksen looks so checked out he doesn't even register a facial expression other than bored after getting stabbed in the throat. Some of the others (particularly the ladies) have been coached to overact wildly and the least said about little Conner's performance the better. Cute accent, though.

I won't sit here and pretend like this is a good film because it's not. However, it is entertaining if you get a kick out of overblown, ineptly-directed train wrecks with major star power and I don't regret watching it. Some of the visuals (particularly at the beginning) are quite arresting, but when everything else going on is so poorly done and laughable, a few striking images here and there are hardly enough to compensate. And for the record, I watched the uncut 108 minute version and not the heavily cut 90 minute print and this thing is still a huge mess even with the restored footage. I had no clue what this film's original title Stridulum referred to either, but apparently it means "whizzing or hissing" in Latin. How that relates to the movie itself is another head-scratcher unless it's referring to the sound of birds flying. "Stridulum" certainly sounds cooler than "Flapping," eh?

There are numerous notable releases for this one. Long after a cut 1982 VHS release from Samuel Goldwyn Home Entertainment and a cut 1989 reissue through United American Video, Code Red got the ball rolling on a DVD release that finally came out in 2010 and was the first time the film was seen uncut here in America. Code Red's package comes with interviews with Nail, Conner, U.S. production manager Stratton Leopold and Italian producer Ovidio G. Assonitis (who also wrote the story), two commentary tracks (one with Nail and the other with Conner, plus moderators Scott Spiegel and Jeff Burr), trailers and so forth. In late 2013, the film received a limited - make that, very limited - theatrical reissue through Drafthouse Films, who have since pushed really hard to try to turn this into some kind of cult film. Apparently it's worked on some genre critics going by a sudden burst of glowing reviews that have emerged since then. All of that was basically orchestrated to move a 2014 Blu ray release from (surprise!) Drafthouse Films, that includes brief interviews with Henriksen, cinematographer Ennio Guarnieri and co-writer Luciano Comici. The interviews themselves shine a spotlight directly on why this turned out to be such a mess.

The score from Franco Micalizzi (available on an RCA soundtrack album) fluctuates from hideously inappropriate TV crime show-style theme music to quite otherworldly and beautiful sci-fi synthesizer beats and is just as schizophrenic and uneven as the rest of the movie. How it's applied to the film itself, however, is mostly a debit. Overuse of thundering and overbearing cues to amateurishly signal whenever something's supposed to be odd or scary becomes almost comical after awhile. Budgeted at around 800,000 dollars (money was chipped in from Samuel Z. Arkoff, Samuel Goldwyn Jr. and others), the majority of shooting took place in Atlanta, Georgia with some interiors done in Italy.



crow said...

Believe it or not, this is coming on Turner Classics early Sunday morning! I already have my dvr set. After watching the awful The Swarm today, The Visitor seems like the perfect "weekend companion piece".

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Ha @ The Swarm. Can you believe that actually got an Oscar nomination? The Visitor is just... strange. Look forward to reading your thoughts on it!

crow said...

I noticed that about The Swarm. It wasn't because of it's quality as Best Picture. Just about as bad a movie as you could ask for.

Regarding The Visitor, you covered a lot of ground and the weirdness you describe does intrigue my curiosity. That cast!

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

That is one impressive line-up indeed. I personally thought Huston came off best in his role as most of the others just seem... confused.

Erich Kuersten said...

How daaare you decry this gonzo bizarro super weird classic!! For no other reason: it's an amalgam prediction of the coming of Donald Trump (with the board of shady illuminati as the Koch Brothers pushing a pro-family/marriage/ child patriarchal agenda on him) for another - an ingenious fusion of ancient aliens, alien abductions, devil worship, and Sumerian legend, and Omen rip off signifiers, all rolled up into one big coke straw of a film. Yeeesh, I guess I don't make it sound that good after all. Okay we'll make it just this: Shelly Winters' least histrionic performance of its decade...

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Hey I gave it my SBIG badge of honor so it did a lot of things wrong in the best of ways! Definitely one of the strangest "What were they on and where can I get some?" Omen-y flicks out there if not THE strangest.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...