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 that causes each of the three young men to experience horrible deaths. 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. So even for those, like me, who can watch ’70s pseudoscience movies all day long just for the vibe, Encounter with the Unknown is hopelessly bland.
Encounter with the Unknown: LAME