Case Number 06981: Small Claims Court

TALES OF THE UNEXPLAINED

Westlake Entertainment // 2004 // 198 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // June 10th, 2005

The Charge

What do Erik Estrada and Jack the Ripper have in common? Read on!

The Case

I'm not sure where Westlake dug up this aged series of documentaries about the unknown, but I'm guessing the original print was hidden in box somewhere in the bowels of an insane asylum.

The disc features four episodes of Tales of the Unexplained, apparently some kind of television show. Each episode features multiple segments, all of which supposedly tie into a common theme, though that's a stretch. Segments are narrated and feature loads of cheap-looking stock footage, mixed with interviews and cheesy reenactments.

Let's take a closer look, shall we?

* "UFO Chronicles"
This hour-long episode sets the table for what's to come, establishing a standard of sheer lunacy that the episodes that follow are ensured to have a tough time surpassing. The program kicks off with twenty minutes devoted to the Roswell crash and the perceived subsequent cover-up. All manner of eyewitnesses and "experts" are interviewed, and none are hesitant to offer their own particular conspiracy theory. But the best is yet to come.

We also meet the "Pleiadians," folks who are apparently the result of a secret government experiment that inserted alien genetic material into human embryos. None of the Pleiadians interviewed were as hot as Natasha Henstridge, though.

The kicker of the disc came when we met Earth's representatives in the Galactic Federation. You see, the Galactic Federation is to the universe what the United Nations is to the world -- a useless fantasy. Earth is supposedly much sought after by the Sirius galaxy, and in 1996 our planet was scheduled to collide with a proton belt in outer space, at which time all of us humans were to become fully conscious and happy and so on. The frumpy yahoo couple that was interviewed represents the folks who will usher in this dramatic, metaphysical change, even though the husband who is tasked with spearheading the process has yet to master the intricacies of the comb-over.

My favorite moment comes during the description of the constituency of the Galactic Federation, where we learn that most members of the Sirius galaxy (Sirians -- hey, isn't that ethnicity already taken?) look like us, and in some cases are taller, shorter, and transparent, even "more humanoid, if that's possible." No, it's not possible to be more humanoid than a human, which is like saying that a piece of fruit is more banana-like than a banana.

Folksy Old-Guy Wacko Rating: "Nuttier than a wheelbarrow full o' cashews!"

* "Creatures of the Night"
This supernatural-themed episode details a few ghost stories, including the legend of Montgomery Clift. This actor supposedly haunts one of the floors of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Visitors report hearing sounds of a violin from time to time, and one cocktail waitress swears she felt a cold draft once.

Segments looking at the reports of visions of the Virgin Mary (pre-grilled-cheese, of course), a ghost story where a woman believes her dead child is riding in her car, and a few bits about Nostradamus and werewolves are also included.

But the kicker is the Kombucha mushroom, a fungus that may or may not have been planted here by extraterrestrials and has fallen into the hands of a goofy couple who decided to turn it into an herbal elixir. The special tea made from the mushroom is distributed as a possible miracle cure. Look, maybe herbal remedies are your deal, and the Kombucha mushroom has cleared up your leprosy real good. I'm happy for you. But wait until you see the super-duper processing plants for the tea, which looks to be no bigger than my garage. Actually...is that my garage?

Folksy Old-Guy Wacko Rating: "Crazier than a polecat in a duck pond!"

* "London Underworld"
Contrary to the title of this episode, the segments -- save for the introductory look at Jack the Ripper -- have nothing to do with either London or the underworld. I will admit, the Jack the Ripper stuff was interesting, and the program offered up plenty of theories on the identity of the notorious killer. But it's all downhill from there. We've got some stories on reincarnation, a few testimonials about life after death (where -- believe it or not -- they saw the light!), and a special segment devoted to an out-of-body experience by Erik Estrada.

Ponch?!

While filming a scene from CHiPs, Estrada was seriously injured. In the emergency room he nearly died, and, as he recounts, he had a vivid experience of getting off the bed, looking back, and seeing his body splayed out. Eventually, of course, he hopped back in. Costar Larry Wilcox is on hand to talk about the experience as well.

Folksy Old-Guy Wacko Rating: "Zanier than a canoe-load o' huckleberries!"

* "The Mysteries of Life"
Our last entry focuses on four stories: a woman who survived a fire thanks to the encouragement of her unborn son, an investigation into the mystery of walking on hot coals, "Cryonics," the method of freezing either your whole body or just your head so that you can resuscitated later in the future, and, finally, a look at how cult leaders manage to brainwash followers.

The "Cryonics" piece sports interviews with the doctor in charge of deep-freezing people, though after seeing him and listening to his rants, I wouldn't trust him to remove a splinter from my thumb.

However, I have to give props to the "Divine Magnetism," a feature that I found authentically creepy. Cults and their leaders always manage to wig me out, and hearing the stories of Jim Jones and David Koresh (surviving Branch Davidians are interviewed), I couldn't help but get a little spooked.

Folksy Old-Guy Wacko Rating: "Loopier than a Koala bear in a clothes dryer!"

There you have it: 200 minutes of a mystery hodge-podge. I'd say the disc is about 20% interesting and 80% kooky. The recycling of stock footage is ridiculous (for example, when one man's childhood is referred to, some random black-and-white footage of kids is rolled; in a ploy to pad the run time, lengthy clip from movies about Roswell and Nostradamus are shown; footage of aliens looks to have been secured from some kid's attempt at a home movie about extraterrestrials).

But if you're down with the Pleiadians or are interested in more information about the Galactic Federation or want to learn about the Kombucha mushroom, don't let my anti-postmodern approach deter you from an, er, enlightening experience.

This is a barebones release. The full-frame transfer is poor, as the quality of the nearly every segment is grainy and washed out. The stereo mix is adequate but uninspiring to say the least. A lack of bonus features drives the final nail into this disc's coffin.

Review content copyright © 2005 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 65

Perp Profile
Studio: Westlake Entertainment
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)

Subtitles:
* None

Running Time: 198 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* None

Accomplices
* None