Netflix Brings Back the Strange Cases and Eerie Stories of ‘Unsolved Mysteries’
The best thing about Netflix’s revival of “Unsolved Mysteries” is that it delivers precisely what the title promises. How close it is to the original, which ran from 1987 to 2002, is almost beside the point, although it manages to bring back its eerie vibe. It would have been impossible to find a host to perfectly replace Robert Stack, whose darkly silky voice unnerved the generations who grew up watching him introduce tales ranging from true crime to the paranormal. But those types of stories are all featured in this series’ inaugural six episodes.
Part of the beauty of the original show is that it tapped into the general idea of the unknowable. Whether it was a missing person’s case or Bigfoot, the charm was that there are happenings in this world that begin but never end, leaving us eternally wondering about possible answers. And that’s what we get with the stories featured in this revival, which has no host or narrator. Moody cinematography casts small towns and cities in a classic, unnerving light. The stories presented are either astounding or tragic, some heart-wrenching. “Mystery on the Rooftop” tells of a young couple who move to Boston after he accepts a job writing copy for his best friend’s firm. Then the husband suddenly disappears, his body found in a building at the foot of a lavish hotel. The police label it a suicide, but none of the evidence makes sense, including the very distances between the hotel rooftop and the hole through which it is assumed he fell. And how are his glasses intact? This is how “Unsolved Mysteries” establishes a case before going into even stranger details. The wife finds a letter taped to the back of her husband’s computer detailing names and an obsession with occult groups. None of this however explains his death. Some stories have a more realistic edge, like “No Ride Home” about Alonzo Brooks, who disappears after a party only to be found dead a month later in an unsolved case that could very well be a hate crime.
The lack of a host does leave a void in this “Unsolved Mysteries,” especially since it was always that Stack voice combined with the moody editing that would give episodes their lasting aura. This is part of what made it a classic in that somewhat forgotten legacy of ‘90s investigative TV, where shows like “Sightings” and “Paranormal Borderline” put a serious tone on researching cases almost too out there to believe. “Unsolved Mysteries” bridged the gap between those kinds of shows and more serious true crime productions like “America’s Most Wanted.” This revival attempts the same. In the episode “Berkshires UFO” a group of old friends from Massachusetts recount a bizarre evening in 1969 when strange lights were sighted above their rural town. Some of the witnesses are convinced they were either followed by a UFO or even abducted by one. Their memories are hazy which they attribute to the phenomenon of “missing time” readily associated with alien abduction claims. But the local newspapers have no records of the sightings, and the nearby radio station long ago taped over recordings of witnesses calling in to report their own glimpses of the strange lights. Are the witnesses fibbing? Or can the lights be explained as something else yet to be explained?
This season you also get disappeared aristocrats, missing hairdressers whose bones are found but no suspects can be arrested, even if her widowed husband strikes you as a bit demented. Some viewers may complain the show cannot compare to the original series, but “Unsolved Mysteries” was such an object of its time that we cannot expect an exact replica. The ‘90s was another world, a pre-9/11 reality where Americans were more worried about alien invasions than the economy. This new edition works as an entertaining and eerie guilty pleasure, which at the end of the day is what all those original shows truly were. It is important to remember the people featured are real, their experiences happened, and the fact that they remain unsolved or unexplained is enough to merit our fascination. Well-produced and with enough atmosphere, “Unsolved Mysteries” will keep you up at night intrigued in a year that already feels like an unexplained phenomenon.
“Unsolved Mysteries” season one begins streaming July 1 on Netflix.