Commentary on Movies and TV by Brian Holcomb

Monday, February 01, 2010

ENCOUNTER WITH THE UNKNOWN (1973) Film Review


by Brian Holcomb

This is an early entry in a genre often called "Speculation". Though some of it is narrated by the inimitable Rod Serling, it has its roots not in his Twilight Zone but rather in John Newland's series One Step Beyond. As opposed to the openly fictional format of Zone,Beyond dramatized supposedly true stories of the paranormal. This film states that its trio of weird tales are based on the paranormal case studies of a "Dr. Jonathan Rankin" -

"Dr. Rankin had researched, between 1949 and 1970, hundreds of cases of psychic phenomena, and discovered that 453 cases of strange phenomena had occurred to people who were buried in only 23 cemeteries in the US."

My advice is: Don't believe the hype. These are three not-very-scary stories, one of which, "The Girl on the Bridge" is a well known urban legend more commonly known as "The Vanishing Hitchhiker". The stories are very predictable and thin but I must admit to being quite spooked out by the movie's form when I first saw it as a kid. It's shot on 16mm film so badly processed that it appears to be Super-8mm and the soundtrack is dubbed worse than a Kung-Fu movie. The sound recording appears to have been done with one of those cheap cassette recorders with the warbling speakers. A mono track that is completely hollow sounding and stranger yet, many of the voices do not seem to be those of the actors onscreen. But there is something in the slipshod style that begins to get under the skin. The blurry images and stiff line readings create a sense of dislocation and mystery, a separate reality. The film also keeps recycling images and dialogue over and over to pad out the running time and this too has an unnerving effect. In the first story, the grieving mother of a teenage boy killed during a prank gone wrong casts a spell on the three kids who were responsible.



“Listen you well to my word. One by land, two by sky...look to the heptagon for it is there, seven times around go the three of you, and may your reward by just and true.”

The film is too amateurishly made to give any real credit too but if this were the work of someone like Kubrick or Polanski, one would argue that the repetition of her warning throughout the segment was done to evoke a feeling of the cyclical nature of the curse-that "seven times around go the three of you". The thing about this creepy form is that if someone were to study this film and use it's strengths with a purpose we may really have something.

In any case, the film is entirely unique and once seen can never be forgotten. This is more than I can say about many films I have seen with much better production values and craft.

KINETOFILM SCORE: 2/5

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks a lot - I remember watching this film as a child. In spite of being pretty worldly, it creeped me out. I hadn't a clue what the title of the film was, but I typed in the mother's words from the funeral (they are vaguely with me about twenty years later) and voila!...I reached your spot-on review. Now it's time to try to find a clip somehwere.

Anonymous said...

Obviously this film is not masterpiece to be studied at length. For one thing the three stories meander so long that a fourth story could easily have been added. However, it has moments that, if they catch you at the right moment, (like if you are a pre-teen like I was the first time I saw it late at night...lol) it can be downright bone-chilling. The mother's curse for example, still gives me the creeps after all these years. It's a moment that grabs you by the collar and gets your attention. Unfortunately, it's probably far too subtle to be effective on todays hardened viewers.

Anonymous said...

This film has been haunting me since childhood for some reason. Many times over the years I've searched though lists of horror movies and looked across the web for it, not being able to recall the name. Today on a whelm I typed in to the search bar "Seven times round"...and to my delight it brought me here. I was quite young when I saw this movie in an old creepy theater fully attired with thick brocade burgundy drapes and gold tassles,a distinct oder between popcorn and musk, missing seats,and sticky floor. It was from another era even then in the early seventies. Loved watching many movies there. Thank you for posting this movie, Enounter of The Unknown, so now I know the name of that movie that kept me wondering. It's funny I didn't remember Rod Serling being in it, as I'm a Twilight Zone and Night Gallery fan. All I could envision were the looks on the guys faces and the voice of the creepy curse.

Wendy Godfrey said...

Thanks for the post! I searched for this movie until I got the bright idea to enter the quote, ". . .seven times round go the three of you." I was just a kid but the movie sure spooked the 'hellouttame!' And I'll never forget that quote!

Thanks for ending the torture of me not remembering the title.

Found the movie on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Z4vyDTVJRg

~Windy
ps--HoLY GeeZZZZ! The CAPTCHA is the VERY house number I had when I saw that movie! I'm TOTaLlY creeped out!