Blu-ray Review: The Night Visitor (1971)

VCI Entertainment pride themselves on being a boutique label filled with hidden gems, such as their very polished 2016 release of Lalo Benedek’s (The Wild One) The Night Visitor, on Blu-ray for the first time. Obscure to say the least, this unique Swedish psychological thriller stars Max von Sydow as insane asylum prisoner named Salem, who escapes during the dead of winter to seek revenge over a false conviction.

Upon the opening shot, viewers are greeted with a beautiful snow-covered landscape and gentle, howling winds. Quickly a figure emerges wearing only shorts, a plain shirt and heavy boots, leaving a trail of deep footprints. We quickly learn this man is our “protagonist”, Salem, braving the icy conditions, on his way to set the plot in motion. The Night Visitor tells its story almost in reverse. We should be frightened by the sight of an escaped prisoner crawling through an upstairs window, but somehow we know there’s something else in play. Downstairs a couple, Salem’s sister and brother-in-law Ester and Anton, casually bicker in a house that’s anything but warm. Death is never far away, but despite the films savagery, the feeling of something being amiss creeps up again and again, eluding to something less apparent and more complex. It’s only when a nameless police inspector (Trevor Howard) shows up, that the pieces slowly start to fall into place and suffice to say, it makes for very interesting viewing. I know for many it’s hard not to think Max von Sydow’s role in The Exorcist when watching the Swedish-born actor, but his performance as the patient and cunning Salem is a sight to behold. His precise planning, coordination and MacGyver-like resourcefulness make Clint Eastwood’s efforts in Escape from Alcatraz look amateurish, amounting to a high-point during the film’s latter half. Trevor Howard is quite reserved as our primary law-informant figure, but has great presence and it’s intriguing to watch as the wheels turn in his head. Ester and Anton are played by Liv Ullmann and Per Oscarsson in a collective performance of resentment and ill-will that edges viewers more to the side of Salem’s motive and attitude. When justice is served it’s hard not to feel satisfied, but The Night Visitor offers a few surprises, breaking that tradition of wrapping things up in a neat bow.

VIDEO AND AUDIO

The Night Visitor has certainly been given its dream release with picture looking especially crisp, capturing the film’s primary location of Varberg, Hallands län in stunning clarity. The dominance of white throughout the film adds a level of brightness to the overall picture, making opposing colours stand out, thus creating some nice contrast. Sound comes through in Dolby 2.0 and is perfectly clear, although dubbing for some of the actors isn’t great and can easily be mistaken for the track being out of sync with the film.

SPECIAL FEATURES

  • New 2016 Commentary by noted author and filmmaker Bruce G. Hallenbeck
  • Original Theatrical Trailer

You can’t go past a good commentary and given the film’s age Bruce G. Hallenbeck’s contribution to this edition is a welcome one for fans and the disc itself is region free despite being labelled otherwise. Also, there’s a nice pop-up menu, which makes for easy navigation and adds a lot to the overall presentation.

Licensing on classic titles can be a short-lived affair for some labels, but thankfully The Night Visitor is still among the best of VCI’s catalogue and likely will be for some time. Despite being a little light on bonus content, it’s a great release of an equally great thriller that’s worth the purchase.

THE VISITOR
(1971, dir: Lalo Benedek)

★★★★

 

 

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