Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Encounter with the Unknown (1973)

Part of the fun of watching pseudoscience docudramas from the ’70s is parsing where the filmmakers cross the line from speculation to outright malarkey, because the best of these movies have just enough rooting in fact to seem persuasive. Conversely, the worst of these movies are so obviously silly as to be pointless. Such is true of Encounter with the Unknown, an anthology of three supernatural stories linked by the framing device of one scientist’s research. Unfortunately, the filmmakers made up the scientist, so Encounter with the Unknown is really just a low-budget pretender to the Twilight Zone crown—which explains why Rod Serling was hired to perform some of the narration. The gimmick, we’re told during an opening text crawl, is that one Dr. Jonathan Rankin traced huge numbers of persons associated with paranormal experiences to a small number of cemeteries, hence “Rankin Clusters” where cursed souls are buried. The first story is an old-fashioned thriller about three young men who cause a friend’s death, then receive a curse from the victim’s mother. The second story is a bit more imaginative, depicting the mystery around a hole in the ground; after a boy’s dog falls into the hole, the boy’s father ventures into the hole, with spooky results. The final yarn is a dull ghost story adapted from an enduring urban legend, something about a pretty young woman who returns from the dead. Nothing of much interest happens in Encounter with the Unknown, because even though each of the three stories has a creepy moment or two, none is sufficiently intriguing to sustain 30 minutes of screen time. Each feels padded and repetitive, a problem exacerbated by the film’s mostly perfunctory acting. And since the filmmakers never make a real connection between the three tales, beyond the sketchy device of Larkin’s research, the whole compendium seems random, as if any other three stories would have served the same purposes.

Encounter with the Unknown: LAME


greg6363 said...

Yes, this is THE Harry Thomason. Husband of Linda Bloodworth-Thomason(creator of Designing Women and Evening Shade) and FOB (Friend of Bill Clinton) who later served as producer for his wife's shows along with The Fall Guy.

rhizaking said...

Great review.. Looking for a good old school movies to watch..

Will Errickson said...

"...the boy’s father ventures into the hole, with spooky results."

Those results TERRIFIED me when I saw this as a kid on TV. And it haunted me for decades b/c there was no way I could track the movie down. Found it a couple years ago on YouTube and while there was no way it could live up to my memories, it was great to finally see it again.

Unknown said...

I had a vague memory of seeing this as a child, which was triggered by stumbling across it on Amazon Prime last night, so I took a nostalgia trip and re-watched it. As Peter indicates, it is incredibly inept in every department. I have the strongest memory of the middle story, which has persisted for years without knowing where it came from. It's surreal to re-connect with something like this from childhood and see its awfulness as an adult.