If You Like ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ You’ll Love This Free-To-Stream True Crime Series

unsolved mysteries

Greetings, dear reader. I am gearing up to share a true crime series recommendation with you that invokes terror in a similar way to the original run of Unsolved Mysteries. But first, please indulge me by allowing me a moment to speak about why Unsolved Mysteries holds a special place in my heart and what made the show so effective.

I grew up watching the original run of Unsolved Mysteries with my mom. It was a Wednesday night tradition and remains a happy memory to this day. We looked forward to new episodes all week. We’d make popcorn and huddle around the television for a harrowing, yet exhilarating, viewing experience. The show chilled me to my very core. Some nights, I would go to bed half-convinced a criminal at large featured on the program was waiting outside, ready to bring violence to our front door.

The very notion that I was terrified by the show is a testament to the efficacy of the way the program was packaged. I was rarely, if ever, frightened by news magazines like Dateline or 20/20, and both shows feature fairly similar subject matter to that profiled on Unsolved Mysteries. But host Robert Stack gave the show an edge, lending an ominous quality to the series that made it stand out from the pack. Always stoic and stone-faced, he could easily make the innocuous seem ominous.

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Aside from Stack’s foreboding narration, the other piece that stands out after all these years is the program’s theme music. The opening probably wouldn’t feel out of place in a slasher picture. The composition invokes a sense of terrified urgency, starting the proceedings on a chilling note before the most frightening content has even come into focus.  

Additionally effective is the way the series examined multiple cases within a single episode. Each featured story was bite-sized and stripped down to the most sinister aspects of the case. No filler, all killer. The program was largely absent the human-interest component you’re prone to find in news magazines like 48 Hours. Don’t get me wrong, there’s very real merit to that aspect. Shows like 48 Hours give surviving family members the chance to tell their stories and speak to the impact of the case being profiled. But that component doesn’t always serve as an effective method for tension-building.

When I learned Unsolved Mysteries was being revived by Netflix years after cancellation, I was overjoyed. But after watching the first few episodes, I was underwhelmed, to say the least. I understand the desire to diversify so the latest incarnation stands on its own, but the reboot removed the host/narrator and began profiling a single case per episode. Accordingly, I have never quite connected with it like I did the original. That’s a shame. But all is not lost. The inaugural run is now free to stream on Tubi. Moreover, I have discovered an HLN series with a similar energy in Forensic Files. Forensic Files began airing in 1996, right around the inaugural run of Unsolved Mysteries was winding down. 

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Forensic Files features theme music that is almost as foreboding as Unsolved Mysteries. Even as an adult, it gives me the chills. Moreover, the program offers voiceover narration by the late Peter Thomas, who was almost as ominous-sounding as Robert Stack. Also similar to Unsolved Mysteries, the HLN original series largely removes the human-interest component, instead focusing on the investigative aspect. The cases profiled are closed, as opposed to pending cases like Unsolved Mysteries. But Forensic Files still manages to serve plenty of eerie atmosphere with each episode. 

The core focus of Forensic Files is on the use of technology to solve crimes. The program limits each episode to a single case, but runs just over 20 minutes, so you can squeeze three series installments into a single hour. Watching multiple episodes back-to-back puts me in a similar headspace to the original run of Unsolved Mysteries. Even in my forties, I find myself double-checking the locks and making sure all the windows are closed after watching a block of Forensic Files

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The original run of Forensic Files lasted for 14 seasons. That era of the program is a sweet spot for me. Peter Thomas was a brilliant narrator. The show is still airing new episodes but with a new narrator, Bill Camp. The Camp era airs under the moniker Forensic Files II. Both incarnations are enjoyable enough. My only qualm with Forensic Files II is that Camp records his voiceover work like he’s reciting a tongue twister. He spits out each word with a little too much enthusiasm, and it occasionally takes me out of the moment. Even still, the cases featured are compelling and the focus on crime scene technology is riveting. 

If I have sold you on Forensic Files and you’re keen to start at the beginning, you can currently find the series streaming on at least half a dozen AVOD platforms (including Tubi). The series is also available to stream on Hulu as of the publication of this post. Forensic Files II airs on HLN and can currently be found streaming on Max and Discovery Plus. 

The series’ first episode is also streaming on YouTube. You can have a look for yourself in the player below.

If you’re a fan of true crime programming and would like to chat more, hit me up on Twitter @FunWithHorror.



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