Sunday, April 17, 2011

#254. Encounter With the Unknown (1973)

Directed By: Harry Thomason

Starring: Rod Serling, Robert Ginnaven, Gary Brockette

Tag line: "An Incredible Journey Into the Supernatural"

Trivia:  All three of the stories related in this movie are supposedly based on actual events

There's one memory I have that stretches back to when I was a little kid. I was sitting in the front room of our house with my parents, who at the time were watching a movie on TV. While most of it was a blur, there was one scene from that movie that etched itself onto my brain; a woman, standing by the grave of her son, putting a curse on the three teens who were responsible for his death. It was a pretty intense thing for a six-year-old to digest, and I would think about it every so often since that time. There was even a brief period in the 80's when I tried to seek out the name of the film (being pre-internet, my search was, of course, doomed to failure). Imagine my surprise as I sat watching Encounter With The Unknown when this very same scene popped up out of the blue! I couldn't believe it. I had to call my kids over, and told them the whole story as I replayed the scene for them. It must be 35 years since I first saw it, and just like that, a mystery that's been scratching at the back of my head for damn near my entire life has been solved. In the scheme of things, I guess it's not exactly “Ripley's Believe It Or Not” material, but, on a personal level, it's a pretty incredible find. 

Narrated by Rod Serling, Encounter With The Unknown relates three separate tales of the supernatural, all of which are supposedly true. In the first, three college students (Gary Brockette, John Leslie and Tom Haywood) are attending the funeral of a classmate whose death was the direct result of a practical joke they played on him. At the conclusion of the funeral, the dead boy's mother (Fran Franklin) places a curse on the three, telling them they, too, will meet with violent ends, all to occur exactly seven days apart from one another. The friends think nothing of it until seven days later, when one is struck and killed by a speeding car. Next, we travel to Missouri in the year 1906, where a young boy (Kevin Bieberly) is searching for his lost dog. While out looking, the boy comes across a mysterious hole in the ground, one that's emitting a very strange noise. The boy's father (Robert Holton) alerts the sheriff (Bob Glenn), who, accompanied by a group of men from town, sets out to investigate. In the third and final story, a Senator (Michael Harvey) and his wife (Judith Fields) are on their way to dinner when they encounter a young girl (Rosie Holotik) standing in the middle of the road. She appears to be lost, and the Senator offers to give her her a lift home. But there's more to this girl's story than the unsuspecting couple could ever have imagined. 

Encounter With The Unknown is very similar in its look and feel to another low-budget horror film that's allegedly based on a “true” story, 1972's The Legend of Boggy Creek. Released a year before this film, The Legend of Boggy Creek was a huge hit on the drive-in circuit, and it's safe to say the makers of Encounter With The Unknown were likewise hoping for a big payoff. But while Encounter With The Unknown matches The Legend of Boggy Creek in many respects (low-grade film stock, amateur performers, etc.), it lacks the down-home appeal of its predecessor, which probably has something to do with the way each film approached its story (or stories). Where The Legend of Boggy Creek was presented as a documentary, Encounter With The Unknown adapted a straight-forward, narrative approach, one I feel hurt it in the end (for example, several of the performers in this movie seem uncomfortable in front of the camera, something much easier to overlook if the film was a documentary). 

Encounter With The Unknown also makes a fatal error by offering its audience an ending summation (NOT narrated by Rod Serling), in which it attempts to 'explain' what had previously been presented as unexplainable. This entire segment, which talks of witchcraft and the power of suggestion as possible causes for the phenomenons presented in the film, was entirely unnecessary, and the so-called "solutions" it puts forward, which may or may not have been compelling in the early 70's, are today laughably outdated. 

I can understand why this film stuck with me as a child, but even the draw of nostalgia isn't strong enough to make me watch Encounter With The Unknown over and over again. Silly and obsolete, I would recommend this film only to die-hard fans of low budget 70's fare. All others will probably want to steer clear.


Anonymous said...

After reading the last line "All others will probably want to steer clear." and watching the Trailer I think Everyone would want to steer clear of this one Doctor Shock. LMFAO


Dave Becker said...

@Breckenridge: Thanks for stopping by!

There are some movie fans out there who get a jolt out of these early 70's ultra-low budget films. If it's even remotely entertaining, I'm usually one of them. This one, however, just fell short in too many areas. Still, it could be a curiosity for some.

But I least 99% of the fans out there (maybe that percentage is even higher, like 99.5%) should stay away. And if horror is your thing, and not low-budget curiosities fro the 70's, DO NOT watch this movie!

Thanks for the comment, and for listening to Planet Macabre.

Robert Perez said...

I can't believe that you haven't watched Gargoyles with Cornell Wilde and Jennifer Salt. This movie is a classic. Look for a very young Scott Glenn.