After recently re-watching the obscure, nigh forgotten sci-fi flick "The Alien Encounters" (1979, dir. James T. Flocker), I'm happy to know that I was NOT hallucinating a film about a silver spherical alien probe named Charlie that hovers around the desert, observing a scientist and teenage boy hiking nearby as they search for the "Betatron", a machine to prolong human life invented by the boy's late scientist father, all the while avoiding the sinister "Mibs" aka Men in Black.
Without wanting to get into spoilers too much, I'll just say that if you're an aficionado of such classic 1970s speculative pseudo-documentary fare like "In Search of...", "Overlords of the UFO", "Hangar 18" or "Sasquatch: The Legend of Bigfoot", this film from James T. Flocker--writer of the beloved "Curse of Bigfoot" (1976) and director of "Ghosts That Still Walk" (1979)--should be right up your odd little alley. I'll admit it can be a bit talky and poky compared to the seizure inducing editing of current action films, and in fact comes across as less of a fictional narrative sci-fi flick than a leisurely paced true-life nature documentary from some parallel universe; with its talk of intelligent signals beamed to Earth from Barnard's Star, I'm almost convinced it was "The Alien Encounters" and not "The Man Who Fell to Earth" that was the real cinematic inspiration behind Philip K. Dick's 1981 movie-within-a-novel "VALIS".
Overlooking the amateur home movie quality of the overall production and obvious ultra low budget special effects, the only major nitpicks I have with the film are that some sequences could have used some tightening up in the editing room, but that said I still found watching this a strangely endearing, even occasionally hypnotic experience-'one early scene depicts astronomer Allan Reed (Augie Tribach) as he valiantly tries to flip a switch on a massive mainframe computer terminal amid fire and smoke after electromagnetic interference from a nearby UFO disastrously causes his radio telescope to explode. This sequence goes on almost comically for at least a minute too long and practically seems lifted from "Airplane!" or one of the "Naked Gun" movies, as Reed keeps...reaching...for that...switch that's just...slightly...out...of...reach. I will admit I laughed out loud with--but not at, never at--this particular scene. And though you occasionally can see the wire that keeps Charlie the little silver spheroid alien probe floating aloft in the desert, other scenes of a large UFO slowly hovering over the desert landscape with a low subsonic rumble are fairly effective considering the size of the budget director Flocker had making this film was probably just a mere fraction Steven Spielberg had at his disposal for the similarly themed big budget "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" produced a couple years earlier.
Caveats aside, Flocker's UFO conspiracy flick still manages to evoke occasional moments of sheer otherworldly WEIRDNESS. There's a genuinely creepy flashback about twenty minutes in as Elaine Stafford (Bonnie Henry), a young woman interviewed by the now unemployed astronomer recounts her sighting of what she originally thought a ghost, but has come to believe was actually an extraterrestrial being after reading the late Dr. Arlyn's book while researching the paranormal. As Stafford slowly descends the stairs towards her encounter with the unknown, an atmosphere of unease builds as the faces of creepy cherubic statues are shown and the sound of agitated birds in the night increases (recalling the preternatural call of the whippoorwill that presages death and cosmic horror in H.P. Lovecraft's story "The Dunwich Horror"). The alien creature in this sequence is never clearly seen by the viewer as it slowly turns to face the hapless girl as she reaches the bottom of the stairs; one can ALMOST make out a type of bestial face that looks as though it stepped out of a medieval wood carving of the devil, the only real details discernible are that the thing's puffy head appears crowned with a pair of antennae and it possesses three or more eyes. The soundtrack builds to a hypnotic drone as the girl comes face to face with the alien, and the final shot of the thing is so dark and obscured--certainly not helped by the low quality VHS transfer I viewed--that one can only perceive what looks like some kind of strange pulsating insectoid shape, glistening like black, wet leather as Elaine screams in terror and collapses. I thought it was an effective scene and one that I immediately recalled being frightened of so many years ago as a kid, and in my opinion is one of the real highlights of this film.
In conclusion, James T. Flocker's "The Alien Encounters" was obviously an ultra low budget labor of love by its director, cast, and crew and yet it still manages to effectively capture an atmosphere of otherworldly alien-ness, due in part to the natural desert landscape used for a majority of the setting, but mostly because this is a film that is chock-a-block full of IDEAS, even if those ideas--presented through the strange dialogue and documentary-like narration--are frequently wackadoodle and occasionally just bugnuts crazy. However, I LOVED this movie and think it is way past due for a re-release and re-evaluation of its shaggy late '70s homemade charms on DVD or Blu-ray--a perfect buried treasure for one of those 50-public-domain-movies-for-$20 collections. I'm not sure why "The Alien Encounters" has practically fallen off the face of the Earth and is nearly unknown in this day and age when pretty much everything else imaginable--good, bad or otherwise--is available in one form or another, either as an official release or uploaded to YouTube...
...unless that's just the way the "Mibs" want it to stay.
Review by LPHovercraft from the Internet Movie Database.