Who says it has to be a movie? ( I hope I didn’t). It’s fun to mix these things up once in a while.
So step back with me as I take a look at one of the more terrifying true-life shows ever.
Way back when my family first had satellite tv, with it came the opportunity to view the type of shows I’d never normally get to see. One of these was Unsolved Mysteries, a show in which a frequently trenchcoated Robert Stack stands in an abandoned warehouse, or a morgue, or a police station and scares the viewer into not leaving the house and then cruelly revealing that you’re in just as much danger at home.
The collection today is the Bizarre Murders one (On the mistaken belief it would be more ‘fun’ – it wasn’t), but the show delved into everything. From UFO sightings, to strange disappearances (Mainly a glass falling off a shelf which the show then spends fifteen minutes telling us was a ghost) and just outright odd stories. Looking at some of them now, particularly the UFO ones, is a little laugh-worthy. Stories of little green men and the ilk have never really convinced me and now they just look incredibly dated. The murders always fascinated me, in a macabre sort of way (I was an otherwise level-headed kid). I guess it’s because it used to terrify me too, the on-point reenactments don’t help matters. They should be terrible, and of course some are – but enough get it right enough that if it wasn’t for someone tinkling away on a synthesiser and a constant voice-over then you’d think you were watching some horrible event caught on tape.
Take the case of Richard Church. He was a good-looking, well liked kid who began dating Colleen Ritter. But when they split and wanted to remain friends he began to stalk her, culminating in his entering her house, stabbing her parents to death, stabbing Colleen’s younger brother and Colleen herself (They both lived) all without saying a word. Now I don’t know about you but that’s enough to put me off dating anyone ever.
Cindy James was harassed for years. She was attacked numerous times in her home, she was stalked, she was tied up and cut – all by an unseen assailant. Then she was found outside an abandoned home, her arms and legs bound. She had been drugged and strangled. Before her death she reported over 100 incidents. Her death was ruled a suicide. It didn’t help that the accompanying text titled the story ‘Scared to Death’. I was, and I suspect everyone else was too.*
This all wouldn’t be so bad if it were presented in say a studio, or a room with lights, but instead right from the ominous theme music until the end, the show is oppressive in its bleakness. Everything was sinister in the world of Unsolved Mysteries, even the more ‘light-hearted’ stories seemed ready to end with a terrible twist at the end. It’s the type of show where they get to say things like “The last time anyone saw Pamela alive was at a club called the Electric Cowboy“. It can’t even let you enjoy the name Electric Cowboy without making you feel bad. Lord help you if Stack wore his trench coat indoors; this was his way of telling you that shit was about to get heavy. All this was enough to send a frenzy of people under the covers wishing they’d never been born. Unsolved Mysteries made it seem like you were never more than a moment away from something terrible happening to you.
This was all in a time before the internet (At least for me; the show ran for a long time and was relaunched with Dennis Farina – suffice to say that the lack of trenchcoat is a deal breaker) and you couldn’t look a lot of this stuff up so you never knew if there was more to the stories portrayed or not, so everything was taken at face value. Now of course true crime shows are everywhere, there’s even a whole channel dedicated to them. But none of them quite work, have quite the same finger-on-the-pulse paranoia, the way Unsolved Mysteries did.
*Looking online it seems that, though her parents and friend quite rightly pleaded that the suicide suggestion was a joke, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest that she was able to kill herself. Despite the stocking wrapped around her neck, the cause of death was a morphine overdose.