I don’t like being scared; I won’t watch horror movies, and my friends know better than to invite me along to Knott’s Scary Farm. This is all rather strange, though, considering how much I love watching re-runs of Unsolved Mysteries. Just play the original theme music, and I get chills. Forget Saw – that is scary.
Now, not every case on Unsolved Mysteries is frightening. Sometimes long-lost siblings are reunited, or weathered cowboys are featured searching for gold in the middle of the Nevada desert. But 97 percent of the time, there are alien abductions and unexplained deaths and robberies; all freaky stuff.
Lifetime is currently airing newer episodes during the afternoon, hosted by Dennis Farina. The stories are the same as during Robert Stack’s tenure in the late ’80s through 2002, except now there are more updates and sometimes new interviews. While I do watch these episodes to get my fix, the Stack hosted shows were better and so, so much creepier.
Every episode featured Stack and his distinctive, deep voice, introducing us to tales of deception and fraud. Often wearing a trench coat, he was always in eerie settings like foggy graveyards and marble mausoleums. Because the actors weren’t really that great and the graphics in the late 1980s and early 1990s weren’t wonderful either, the reenactments were often creepier than intended.
I used to watch the show with my parents, who for some inexplicable reason let a six-year-old tune in. I still remember vividly a feature on a hotel in New Mexico, where a little ghost boy haunted the bar. He sat on a stool, spinning a glass, when a worker came in and startled him. The ghost had a hideous face, with scratches and scars, and had long curly blonde hair and tattered clothes. I screamed so loudly I could have woken the dead, but instead freaked out my dad who had fallen asleep when the episode began.
After that, any time the ghost boy episode came on, I had to avert my eyes. In fact, for a while he was part of the opening credits montage, and I had to keep my eyes closed during the beginning of each episode. The ghost boy took on a near-mythic status in my young mind, as the scariest thing I had ever seen. Over time, this episode was rarely re-broadcasted, and it was years and years before I had the bright idea to look it up on YouTube.
The only version I could find was in Spanish with subtitles. I took a deep breath when the ghost boy first appeared and then completely lost it – with laughter. I don’t know if the quality was off because it was YouTube or I was just – gasp! – now a rather reasonable adult, but while ghost boy wasn’t attractive, he also wasn’t worthy of any more of my screams.
Sometimes, when a case is really intriguing, I grab my laptop and start searching for more information. There are quite a few enthusiasts out there who actually try to help solve the still-open cases, and discuss the details and facts on forums. Sometimes family members of victims come on and leave comments, sharing new information or just thanking the forum members for keeping their relative in their thoughts. It’s actually quite fascinating to see these online investigations unfold, and the interaction between fans of the show and people who actually lived the events.
I always used to hope that one day, I would be able to help solve a mystery. I didn’t want to see a picture of a serial killer and realize, “Hey, that’s my neighbor!” but I did want to help reunite a lost daughter with her mother, or help an elderly woman find her missing millions. It never happened to me, but lots of people did see faces they recognized, and called in with tips. So many cases were solved because of the show, and it’s amazing to think about what wouldn’t have been discovered otherwise.
Unsolved Mysteries actually taught me a lot, and not just the fact that composite sketches are some of the most horrifying images on the planet. It showed me how important it is to be cautious during certain situations, and helped me with my deduction skills. I also now know everything there is to know about Resurrection Mary, the haunted Queen Mary and – of course – ghost boy.
Who else finds themselves spending their afternoon with Unsolved Mysteries? Anyone have a case they just can’t get out of their head?