Encounter with the Unknown

Encounter with the Unknown is a low-budget 1973 feature film directed by Harry Thomason of Hampton (Calhoun County). It was shot at various locations in or near Little Rock (Pulaski County) using a number of local actors and crew. The ninety-minute film was rated PG and released by Centronics International. It was produced by Joe Glass and written by Glass, Jack Anderson, and Hillman Taylor.

Encounter with the Unknown was the first film created by Thomason, who would later become known for projects including the 2004 documentary The Hunting of the President along with four Arkansas-based movies: The Great Lester Boggs (1974), So Sad About Gloria (1975), The Day It Came to Earth (1977), and Revenge of Bigfoot (1979). He and his wife, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, went on to create such successful TV series as Designing Women (1986–1993) and Evening Shade (1990–1994), both with Arkansas connections. In addition, Encounter with the Unknown is remembered for the involvement of iconic writer and TV star Rod Serling as one of its narrators. Two years after his participation with Encounter, Serling died at age fifty.

According to Joe Glass, who later headed the Arkansas Film Commission, Encounter was filmed in Little Rock at Mount Holly Cemetery and the Capital Hotel, as well as the Arkansas Highway 300 Bridge over the Little Maumelle River near Natural Steps (Pulaski County), an unincorporated community eighteen miles northwest of Little Rock.

Some have called Encounter with the Unknown a project that stretches out familiar campfire stories into a feature film. The movie presents three tales of the supernatural ostensibly based upon research by a parapsychologist named Dr. Jonathan Rankin, though researchers have found no evidence of anyone by that name in parapsychological studies.

In the first tale, a boy’s mother (“the seventh daughter of a seventh son”) puts a curse on three young men who were inadvertently responsible for her son’s death. Her words echo throughout the segment repeatedly as each young man in turn meets his fate. The second tale concerns a hole in the ground from which frightening sounds have been emanating. When a local rural resident goes down the hole to investigate, he comes out deranged, leading to speculation that the hole is a portal to Hell. The final segment involves giving a ride to a strange, disoriented girl whose only conversation consists of the phrase “Take me home.” Some viewers state that it is a version of the urban legend of the vanishing hitchhiker. When presented in Encounter with the Unknown, the story also includes a lengthy romantic interlude in a lake.

The stories are introduced by the unmistakable voice of Rod Serling, whose Twilight Zone TV series aired from 1959 to 1964. His subsequent series, Night Gallery, aired from 1970 to 1973, when Encounter was filmed. Although Serling’s face was featured as the most prominent element of the movie’s poster, he did not appear on camera. In addition, the opening and closing portions of the film were done by a second, uncredited narrator. Both narrations deal with the tenuous relationship between reality and illusion. The film ends by recapping all three stories, with the unnamed narrator questioning the moviegoer about reality vs. illusion in what the viewer has seen.

Among other performers from central Arkansas in small roles, the film’s cast included Little Rock advertising executive Robert Ginnaven, who was a popular local actor, as well as dinner theater performer Gary Brockette.

After playing at drive-ins with moderate success, the film was later released on video and DVD.

For additional information:
Encounter with the Unknown.” Internet Movie Database. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0072937/ (accessed November 10, 2016).

Nancy Hendricks
Garland County Historical Society

Last Updated: 12/07/2016

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