an inventor experiments with time, attaching clocks together with electricity around a dead body

The Outer Limits: S1E32 “The Forms of Things Unknown”

The Outer Limits is streaming for free on the Roku Channel.

Two women work together to kill an abusive man. He is blackmailing the one woman’s family to get whatever he wants and the women have had enough. They load the corpse into the trunk and drive until they hit a nasty storm. They take refuge in the home of an inventor who is experimenting with tilting time.

“The Forms of Things Unknown” feels like a different show for a simple reason. It was intended to be a pilot for a spinoff series called The Unknown. The production had twice as much time to film with a larger budget. They even shot two completely different versions of the episode to fit the potential format of The Unknown and to better match The Outer Limits. The Unknown was going to be a suspense/thriller series, more Alfred Hitchcock Presents than The Twilight Zone in its approach.

The result is the most disturbing episode of The Outer Limits so far. This is a horror/thriller story in the style of Les Diaboliques. It’s filled with this dreamy sort of cinematography, with reactive camera angles, tons of panning shots, and a flowing haze around the edges. I imagine the scope of the pilot episode and the decision to tie it to such a different series prevented The Unknown from actually being picked up as its own show.

The Outer Limits is not a series that typically deals with regret. “The Forms of Things Unknown” makes it the source of terror. Kassia, the blackmailer’s girlfriend, is in control of the plan to get away with murder. Leonora, the daughter of the blackmailed man, is instantly guilty. She’s convinced the blackmailer is not dead. The trunk of the car opens in the rain and Leonora knows he had to have opened it. Lightning flashes and she sees him blink. She runs from the car and sees him standing in the rain. A door opens and he’s waiting for her. It’s a haunting approach that feels like the ever-growing reach of the ghosts in Carnival of Souls.

The science element in the episode is not really science. The owner of the house is researching how to tilt time to bring the dead back to life. It’s the role of the scientist in a Gothic story, not a science fiction one, and there is a difference. A Gothic story needs a logical explanation, but not necessarily one based in science. A bunch of clocks tied together with electricity is a reason, not a theory like The Outer Limits usually deals with.

This is not a bad thing at all. “The Forms of Things Unknown” is an excellent horror/thriller for the time it was produced. It follows all the arthouse trends in horror of the late 50s/early 60s without feeling like it’s copying them. The only flaw here is one of context. This feels nothing like The Outer Limits series that aired before it. Regardless of quality, a radical departure like this in an anthology series could leave audiences quite confused.

Up Next: S2E1 “Soldier.”