This Halloween double-feature offers chaotic blends of horror and sci-fi. Info
Four Star Video Heaven has expanded a series of benefit screenings to help fund the long-running independent store's planned move to another space in downtown Madison. So far, the screenings have sourced trash, treasure, and trashy treasures from Four Star's deep collection of more than 20,000 titles. This Halloween-week double feature demonstrates why horror and sci-fi fans in particular should value Four Star as a resource, even in the age of niche-friendly streaming services like Shudder. It's a pairing that celebrates the fun and weird things that can happen when genres and subgenres bleed into each other. Italian director Giulio Paradisi's 1979 film The Visitor, which Drafthouse Films restored and re-released in 2013, combines psychedelic sci-fi with the occult, and Fred Dekker's 1986 film Night Of The Creeps throws zombies, aliens, college comedy, and hard-boiled detective noir into a radioactive stew that's howlingly fun to watch with a group.
Ambitious and clumsy in equal measure, The Visitor grounds itself in the Biblical battle between good and evil. Satan is a sinister alien named Sateen (come on!) who has interbred with humans, and Jesus is a golden-haired kook who presides over a group of be-gowned bald-headed children in discount-Jodorowsky set pieces. Their proxies are the menacing little girl Katy Collins (Paige Conner) and the mild-mannered Jerzy Colsowicz (John Huston), who seeks to contain her destructive powers. Katy pulls off a lot of telekinetic kills that seem almost blatantly ripped from The Omen, but Conner's gleefully nasty performance gives Damien a run for his money: Katy murders people with the help of her vicious pet falcon, swears up a storm at adults, and paralyzes her mother Barbara (Joanne Nail) with an "accidental" gunshot at her own eighth birthday party. And when Katy's not killing people with her mind, her violence can be startlingly personal, hands-on, up-close. Paradisi does reach for stylized visual drama here, for instance in a sequence that intercuts between Barbara's emergency surgery and Katy nonchalantly practicing her gymnastics routine. In another memorable scene, Katy and Jerzy casually threaten each other over a game of Pong. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar makes an uncredited cameo in a dramatic basketball game, and Lance Henriksen turns in a tightly wound performance as the basketball team's shadowy owner, who takes part in a plot to impregnate Barbara with another demon baby. Oh, there's also Shelley Winters as a maid who sees through to Katy's malignant core (mostly Winters mugs it up with dour looks and sings an unsettling version of "Shortnin' Bread"), and Sam Peckinpah as Katy's human father. There's a lot packed into The Visitor and it all fits together rather jaggedly, but it's still a brain-twistingly vivid experience.
While The Visitor makes some occasionally funny/cringey stumbles, you'll want to save your laughs for Night Of The Creeps. In short: parasitic slugs from space descend upon a college town and turn people (and pets) into murderous zombies. Campy, gory mayhem ensues, but Dekker approaches it with a sharp, self-referential eye. But Tom Atkins absolutely steals the show here in his performance as Ray Cameron, a detective who also more or less cosplays as a Philip Marlowe type, driving a swole '40s-style sedan, using a rotary phone, and constantly answering the phone with the immortal greeting "Thrill me." He gets in plenty of other memorably crusty lines as well: "The good news is your dates are here." "What's the bad news?" "They're dead." Where the film succeeds is in making his affectations work alongside all sorts of other winkingly applied tropes, from a cryogenic experiment gone wrong to an earnest nerdy dude pining after a woman who's dating a unibrowed jock. The art of the self-aware genre pastiche has folded over on itself many times, but Night Of The Creeps is among the more entertaining ones. —Scott Gordon