By Chris Cummins
“Lost civilizations. Extraterrestrials. Myths and monsters. Missing Persons. Magic. Witchcraft. Unexplained Phenomena. In Search of… cameras are traveling the world, seeking out these great mysteries. This program was the result of the work of scientists, researchers and a group of highly skilled technicians.”
With those words ended each episode of In Search of…, the 1976-1982 documentary series in which Leonard Nimoy tried his hardest to solve the world’s most baffling mysteries. Presenting “information based in part on theory and conjecture,” the show tackled subjects ranging from alien abduction to the disappearance of Glenn Miller during its six-year run. Other than Nimoy’s occasional porn stache and an amazing moog-heavy soundtrack–the album of which is begging for a re-release–the most memorable thing about the series is how it covered its subject matter with the utmost respect and seriousness. (This was no small task given how the series once featured an episode devoted to communicating with plants). Tragically unavailable on DVD, In Search of… is a journey into the bizarre that paved the way for Ripley’s Believe It or Not, Unsolved Mysteries, The X-Files and Ghost Hunters. Since most episodes can be easily tracked down online, the time seems right for a look at the series’ greatest installments. Throw on a tin foil hat, and let’s get things started.
10) The Abominable Snowman
What exactly is being sought? The Abominable Snowman (or, if you prefer, Yeti), a hairy hominid rumored to live in Nepal and Tibet. They could be misunderstood creatures who just want to be left alone or they could be murderous bastards who can’t wait to rip off your head and feast on your innards. Yetis love innards, they’re like Snickers bars to them.
What is found? For starters, this episode features awesome footage of “Yetis” walking around the snowy wilderness. Okay, the shots are really just of interns from the show who were forced to wear tight Abominable Snowman suits, but they look really cool and ultimately that’s all that counts. There’s also a memorable interview with Peter Byrne, a former big game hunter/Abominable Snowman expert who gained notoriety in cryptozoology circles for stealing a purported Yeti hand from a Buddhist monastery. (Just to make the story stranger, he was rumored to have Jimmy Stewart’s help in smuggling the bones out of Nepal). As for offering definitive proof as to whether or not the snow-loving creatures exist, well, Nimoy leaves things deliciously ambiguous.
Memorable quote: “Byrne had caught the Snowman fever, and has devoted his life to the search.”
9) The End of the World
What exactly is being sought? The various ways in which life on Earth will come to a sudden, painful and terrifying end.
What is found? A variety of scenarios that prove that we are all pretty much fucked. It’s just a matter of time before a comet, an asteroid or a meteorite wipes us out, and since Ben Affleck and Bruce Willis will be unable to help we have no choice but to sit back and take it. Michael Bay screws us again!
Memorable quote: “Doomsday, apocalypse, Armageddon. Deep within the soul of humanity lies a primal fear — a fear of the total destruction of the Earth as we know it.”
8) Animal ESP
What exactly is being sought? The answers to whether or not humans can psychically communicate with members of the animal kingdom.
What is found? Unlike most episodes of In Search of…, this installment does offer some definitive proof. Although in this case, it’s definitive proof that some schmucks will believe anything. I know Nimoy was Spock and all, but does he really think floating the idea of a possible mind meld between man and beast is at all logical? This episode’s greatest finding is the simple reminder of how much pets enrich our lives. Also, the look on the animal talker’s face as she works her magic at 4:45 in the above clip is pretty damn amazing too.
Memorable quote: “From the romping days of childhood to the quieter hours of later years, our animals are there as companions, comforters and confidants.”
7) The Amityville Horror
What exactly is being sought? Whether or not a seemingly peaceful house in Long Island was inhabited by pure evil, the type of which causes nuns to vomit and James Brolin to go insane.
What is found? Irrefutable evidence that the house was indeed haunted! GET OUT! Arrrrrrgh! Actually, this episode features in-depth interviews with homeowners George and Kathy Lutz and author Jay Anson, whose book The Amityville Horror inspired the film of the same name. Shortly before this aired, the movie hit theaters–which explains why footage from the flick and a “THE AMITYVILLE HOUSE IS HORRIFIC AND YOU SHOULD SEE THE FILM” vibe are heavily featured throughout the episode. If you can overlook this synergy and the many ways in which the Lutzes and Anson have had their stories questioned and debunked over the years, this is a worthwhile examination of one of history’s greatest ghost stories.
Memorable quote: “In Search of… has previously investigated haunted houses and we’ve found in many cases a human tragedy such as a murder has left emotional memories. This may be the explanation for The Amityville Horror, or there may have been a much more dangerous force — what psychics and priest call demonic. Pure destructive energy as ancient as time itself.”
6) Killer Bees
What exactly is being sought? Bees…that kill!
What is found? Nothing less than horrific proof that residents of North America will all be killed by the end of the 1980s thanks to some particularly pissed off bees from Brazil and Africa. Oh wait. Given the terror of contemporary newscasts — and the fact that bees are mysteriously disappearing across the globe — the potential problems caused by killer bees now seem quaint. But in the late 1970s, folks were convinced that stinging death was imminent–and Gen-Xers got their first honey-flavored taste of media fear-mongering.
Memorable quote: “A fierce new breed of honeybee now threatens the once happy partnership between man and bee!”
5) Jack the Ripper
What exactly is being sought? Answers to who the notorious English killer was and information on what could have possibly motivated his killing spree.
What is found? A number of atmospheric recreations of the Ripper’s various slayings, an examination of who Saucy Jack could have been, and a fascinating glimpse at how the murders might have been related to a Freemason conspiracy. As interesting as this episode may be, it seems woefully dated now since the true identity of Jack the Ripper was revealed back in 1987:
Memorable quote: “Was it possible that a man second in line to the throne of England could have been one of the most brutal murderers in history?”
4) D.B. Cooper
What exactly is being sought? Information on the fate and possible whereabouts of D.B. Cooper, a man who skyjacked a Boeing 727 on November 24, 1971 and parachuted out of the plane with $200,000 in demand money — disappearing into history along the way.
What is found? Criminals such as Lee Harvey Oswald have been the focus of In Search of… episodes. But what differentiates Cooper (whose real name remains one of many mysteries surrounding this case) from the other crooks and scoundrels featured on the show is how his crimes made him a folk icon. Appearing to be just an ordinary businessman, Cooper somehow managed to cook up the ultimate plan to get one over on the government and escape. For those of the era who spent their days working at crappy jobs with no pay, Cooper’s way out seemed like a revelation. Songs and merchandising inspired by his feat began to spring up, and the nation became obsessed with what the outcome of his leap could have been. This episode presents a swift retelling of the events surrounding Coop’s jump, a look at several Cooper suspects and an analysis of what could have happened to him after he vanished. Nearly four decades after his fateful leap, Cooper continues to intrigue, with this episode providing a fantastic Cliffs Notes-styled overview for those wanting to learn about the case.
Memorable quote: “To this day, Cooper, who he is, where he is and where the $200,000 are remain a mystery.”
3) The Loch Ness Monster
What exactly is being sought? Scotland’s answer to Bigfoot, the proud and elusive lady of the Loch — Nessie.
What is found? An examination of the Loch Ness Monster phenomenon that is heavy on speculation, experts with beards that make them look like Brooklyn-based indie rockers, and (as the above clip shows at the 2:17 mark) the greatest monster art this side of Ralph McQuarrie’s Star Wars production illustrations.
Memorable quote: “People have made their lives by the lake for thousands of years, others have come for just one reason — to glimpse a monster”
2) The Elephant Man
What exactly is being sought? A separation of fact from fiction regarding the life of Joseph Merrick, and an examination of the lives of suffer from the same affliction that plagued the Englishman throughout his life.
What is found? Other than the obvious fact that having Proteus Syndrome (erroneously called neurofibromatosis here, as Merrick’s true condition wasn’t diagnosed until 1986) must suck, this episode features interviews with those suffering from similar conditions. This installment handles its subject matter with the same sensitivity that David Lynch’s The Elephant Man did, But if you had the misfortune to see this during your formative years, chances are it scared the shit out of you. Now, the makeup effects used in the recreation sequences look incredible. But if you caught this back in 1981 when it originally aired and you were say, a 7-year-old who once had nightmares for weeks after seeing a Proteus sufferer working as a janitor during an elementary school field trip, chances are it was brown trousers time. Not that this happened to me or anything.
Memorable quote: “I always had a very large big red floppy tumor on my left shoulder that I have had since birth.”
What exactly is being sought? Bigfoot (a.k.a. Sasquatch).
What is found? Not too much actually. Some huge footprints, mildly disturbed Bigfoot researchers and hunters, the Patterson Gimlin film (more on that here), footage of Oregon wilderness, etc. In the most bizarre closing speech during the entire run of the series, Leonard Nimoy contends that since Bigfoot has remained so elusive for so long, he clearly doesn’t want to encounter mankind. And yet he claims that we should prepare for our inevitable first contact with Sasquatch. Has Spock been hitting the Romulan Ale again? That remains one of the countless questions raised by the series.
Memorable quote: “Many people do not believe in Bigfoot, but a lot of people do. Some of them feel they must kill it to prove it exists.”