Friday, December 28, 2012

Encounter with the Unknown (1973)

Directed by:
Harry Thomason

During the years 1949 through 1970, Dr. Jonathan Rankin conducted extensive research in the field of psychic phenomena and catalogued hundreds of events that defy rational explanation. The most intriguing aspect of the research was the discovery of an apparent relationship between many of these events and certain cemeteries located throughout the United States. According to Dr. Rankin, 453 people directly involved in these strange events were buried in only 23 separate cemeteries throughout the nation. Some of the persons died as a result of the recorded event but many lived normal life times before being interred in one of the 23 cemeteries. This apparent final grouping of people who were touched by the unknown is referred to in parapsychology as the Rankin Cluster Phenomena. Dr. Rankin's research was never completed due to his untimely death August 20, 1970. He was buried 16 blocks from his home in one of the 23 cemeteries he spent his lifetime studying. The following episodes are based on supposedly true events described in Dr. Rankin's writing and involving one of the mystery cemeteries.

Sounds intriguing, no? Well, the filmmakers responsible for this trio of supernatural tales just made all of the above up. Not only is there no famous parapsychologist named Dr. Jonathan Rankin, but there was also no study and no linking of strange events to cemeteries. The film doesn't even bother following that fake set-up itself!

The Twilight Zone's Rod Sterling narrates, introduces the major players and reminds us that "There are few things as strange as reality." While attending the funeral for Johnny Davis, three college students; Frank (Gary Brockette), Randy (John Leslie) and Dave (Tom Haywood), are approached by Camille (Fran Franklin), mother of the deceased. She informs them they'll get their just reward, mentions a heptagon and says "one by land, two by sky." Later, while traveling by plane, Frank recounts his story for priest Father Duane (Robert Ginnaven). He and his friends had tricked the geeky Johnny into going to an old woman's home to get laid; claiming she was a young and willing friend of theirs. Instead, Johnny was accidentally shot and killed. Seven days after the event, Dave was run over and killed by a car. Now it's fourteen days later. After Father Duane gets off at his destination, the plane takes off again and crashes. Seven are killed, including Frank. Father Duane then sets about to locate Randy and see if the 7-7-7 prophecy is real or mere coincidence.

Our second story (a "soul-shattering rendezvous with darkness") is set in Southern Mississippi in 1906. While out fishing, young Jess (Kevin Bieberly) falls asleep and his dog Lady runs off. Later that night, the boy hears barking so he sneaks out of his window to take a look. When his father Joe (Robert Holton) finds him, he's lying on the ground half out of it next to a deep hole. The hole is actually an underground cavern which has been opened up by rain. Smoke, strange noises and beastly growls come out of it. Word soon gets around town about the mysterious cave. Some think it's "the work of the devil." Others want to know what's inside of it. Against his wife's (Annabelle Weenick) psychic premonitions, Joe and some other men from town (including Bill Thurman) decide to further investigate the strange hole. Joe agrees to be lowered down into it with a rope... and doesn't emerge as the same guy went down there.

Finally, we have "The Girl on the Bridge," which is based on an popular urban legend with slight variations depending on which area of the U.S. you live in (I've usually heard it called "The Hitchhiker"). After wrecking her car in the river, pretty young Susan (Rosie Holotik) is found standing on a bridge in a daze by a Senator (Michael Harvey) and his wife (Judith Fields). She has no recollection of what had happened. All she knows is that she just wants to go home. Susan then recounts what led up to her fateful crash. During an argument, her father (Gene Ross) told her to stop seeing Paul (August Sehven), the man she truly loves, because he doesn't have much money. Susan refused and continued to sneak out to see him. The star-crossed lovers eventually attempted to run off together and elope... and that's when they crashed. When the Senator and his wife go to drop Susan off at her home, they understand why Susan's father has deep regrets about telling her that "I'd rather see you dead than married to that boy."

If you can overlook the low production values, highly variable acting (many appear to have been dubbed) and predictability of the plotlines, the three stories are somewhat entertaining. Unfortunately, this is brought down a notch by both sheer redundancy and an awful final 10 minutes, which is nothing more than a narrated recap of what we've just seen. The echo-voiced narrator (not Serling) rambles on and on about death, witchcraft, white magic, black magic, the Egyptian 'Book of the Dead,' burial rituals, energy released during birth and death and a bunch of other nonsense. Just like the beginning fake scroll, this seems like a desperate attempt to tie things together and it doesn't work. Serling's narration is also unnecessary and just as redundant, though it does at least lend this low-budget regional picture a little class.

This was filmed in Texas and features many regular actors in the films of such Alamo State filmmakers as S.F. Brownrigg (Ross, Weenick and 1972 Playboy Playmate Holotik were the stars of his hit DON'T LOOK IN THE BASEMENT) and Larry Buchanan (Thurman and Weenick). The director also made VISIONS OF EVIL (1973) and THE DAY IT CAME TO EARTH (1979); both of which featured Ginnaven in a major role.



Christopher Chipps said...

Regardless of the criticism of the movie, I like it anyway, its one of my favorite horror movies, and I've watched it several times. Whether the storys are true or not, I like it anyway. My favorite story is the one about the hole. I may watch it again this weekend.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

They did a pretty good job on this within their limitations I think. Definitely seen a lot worse that cost a lot more to make.

Ash Paladium said...

For me, the low budget and cheap quality added to the creepiness of the movie. The music sounded warped and the camerawork shoddy. 70's movies weren't overdone with makeup and models posing as actors. You got what was needed and nothing more.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

A lot of what you described is why I prefer older films. Another is I hate the digital video look in comparison to film. Hell I sometimes even prefer the shot-on-VHS look to digital to be perfectly honest.

Lisa Fons said...

Well put!

Knowledge said...

This movie definitely deserves a remake

Unknown said...

I haven't seen this movie since it was on the screen in 1973. It was made in Arkansas and I bought it just for nostalgia. I was on my high school newspaper staff at the time and we sold a full-page ad for the movie. It wasn't good, but I'm sure it'll bring back memories.

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