Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Forms of Things Unknown (1964, The Outer Limits)

"The Forms of Things Unknown", one of my favorite episodes from one of my favorite anthology series, the classic The Outer Limits.

Apparently originally intended to be a pilot episode for a new series before being welcomed to the Outer Limits canon as the final episode of the first season, "The Forms of Things Unknown" is a uniquely beautiful and haunting episode.

After poisoning playboy and would-be blackmailer Andre (Scott Marlowe) with a spiked martini, Leonora (Barbara Rush) and Kasha (Vera Miles) are transporting his body through the storm-whipped French countryside when Leonora becomes convinced that he's still alive. After popping the trunk and finding Andre’s lifeless body, Leonora flees hysterically into the wet forest, convinced she saw him blink.

Kasha pursues her through the rain until coming upon a secluded house occupied by a blind servant, Colus, (Sir Cedric Hardwicke) and a wild-eyed young man, Tone Hobart (David McCallum), who claims to have invented a time machine. Not a traditional time machine that neatly transports passengers into the past or future, but one that operates under impenetrable rules, causing “things” from the past to tumble temporarily into the present. The most recent “thing” to tumble through is Andre, alive.

“Forms...”, directed by TV veteran Gerd Oswald, is notable for its dramatic use of light and shadow, obscure angles, sweeping camera movements and wild hand-held shots, all of which combine to give the episode a surreal quality that distinguishes it amid the already impressive standards set by the series as a whole.

Watching this episode, its hard to believe this was merely a television episode. Check out these gorgeous screen caps.

The ladies are delivering their poisoned cocktail to Andre, who has ordered them to bring it to him where he stands, waist deep in a lake.

Nervous Leonora lights a cigarette.

Kasha checks the trunk.

In pursuit of Leonora.

A lightning flash reveals an ominious figure to the audience, but not to Kasha.

Wandering in the night.

The women sense something is wrong upstairs.

Colus lets them into the parlor.

Leonora tries to recall a detail of the night's adventure.

The mysterious Tone and Colus.

Tone's time machine would look at home in an exhibit of modern art. It's never entirely clear what the machine is doing. Apparently in an earlier draft, the "machine" is revealed to be nothing more than a useless creation of the mad Tone. But in the final episode, it is definitely doing something supernatural.

Andre "tumbles" into the present.

Kasha (in shadow) prepares to bury Andre's body.

A whimsical trinket.

The time machine is in a room at the end of this hall.

Kasha and Leonora plot their next move.

Colus opens the door for Kasha.

When Leonora first enters the time machine room, the image is inverted, exactly as it appears below, suggesting the disorienting nature of the invention.

Leonora is caught up in forces she can't comprehend.

This episode is available on DVD on the The Outer Limits (Original Series) Season 1, Vol. 2.


Thomas Veil said...

This is one of the all-time best episodes of any TV series, anywhere.

It has a very European flavor to it, by which I mean it feels like a combination of one of Fellini's more surreal films crossed with gloomy Ingmar Bergman efforts like "The Seventh Seal", all against a backdrop with uses science fiction as its basis while looking more like a haunted house movie.

If that sounds daunting to potential viewers, it shouldn't. But neither should they expect a typical simple-minded TV episode. The dialogue and acting are highly theatrical. Combined with the beautiful camerawork and direction you mentioned and Dominic Frontiere's wonderful music, which alternates between placid and panicked, it's an hour of TV which I find myself watching over and over and over again, just appreciating the sheer beauty, meticulous care and creativity that went into it.

I don't know if they could have maintained this kind of quality if this had been picked up as a series, but I'm glad at least to have this one intriguing hour which stands as the pinnacle of the original "Outer Limits" series.

Photosteve said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Photosteve said...

My favorite episode, excellent in many ways, Conrad Hall was the director of cinematography, and it shows 🎥

Lawrence Lay said...

Truly a sinister episode, bordering on horror rather than science fiction. Did Mary Shelley Frankenstein serve as inspiration? What would a remake be like?

Mitchell Melkin said...

Does anyone recall this (actually, the pilot version I believe), being repackaged and released theatrically in Europe (not long after the episode originally aired)?