This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Opinions on the Obscure, Off-Beat, and Outdated
The Night Stalker/The Night Strangler A Kolchak Double-Feature Hello, and welcome to my dark little corner of the magazine! Have you ever heard the saying “every idiot has an opinion”? Sure ya have! Well, this column (available exclusively here at Abandoned Towers!) is my argument that while every idiot may have an opinion, that doesn’t mean they should be allowed to share it! …Well, that was a much funnier line when I wrote it at 2am. Oh well. If you were watching the ABC network on January 11, 1972, then you would have witnessed the start of an American television cult phenomenon. Wow, that sounds good, doesn’t it? Anyway, that was the debut of a made-for-TV movie-of-theweek called; you guessed it; The Night Stalker. It was based on an unpublished (then) story by Jeffrey Grant Rice called The Kolchak Papers, and was scripted by Richard Matheson. Kolchak is apparently Rice’s best-known achievement. But Matheson is a prolific writer of short stories, novels, and screenplays. His stuff has been used for episodes of The Twilight Zone, Amazing Stories, The Outer Limits and he wrote many novels, including Stir of Echoes, What Dreams May Come, and I Am Legend, which all became big-time movies. What’s it about? Well, I’ll tell ya. It’s about a rumpled, rapscallion, roving reporter named Carl Kolchak covering a hot story about a series of peculiar murders in Las Vegas. The fact that the victims were drained of blood leads Kolchak to theorize that the killer believes himself to be a vampire. Further evidence, such as super-human strength and the apparent invulnerability of the killer (the cops shot him at point-blank range, but he was completely unaffected) eventually brought our hero, and the doubtful authorities, to the conclusion that the murderer really WAS a vampire! Of course, the authorities denied it to the end, and kept a lid on the story. The only one with a deep desire to get the story printed was Carl himself, and he was blackmailed by the city officials to leave town. Kolchak was played by the late, great Darren McGavin, a versatile veteran of the stage and screens big and small. McGavin boasts a LONG list of credits on the International Movie Database (IMDB.com), when added to his stage credits he is credited with over two hundred performances. He’s perhaps best known as Carl Kolchak, but he’s also remembered as Ralphie’s Old Man in A Christmas Story. He also ended up playing the father of Candace Bergen’s titular character, Murphy Brown. The newspaper editor Kolchak worked for was the long-suffering Tony Vincenzo (the only other character to appear through every incarnation of the series), played by Simon Oakland. Did you know that he actually started his career as a violinist before he became an actor? I didn’t either! But he did become an actor and ended playing a lot of tough guys. You might remember him best as Dr. Fred Richmond in Psycho, or as Lt. Schrank in West Side Story. Barry Atwater, another character actor who got to be in…just about EVERYthing for one or two episodes, played Janos Skorzeny, the vampire. Hey, here’s a funny little story I found… Between shooting scenes, Atwater was passing through one of
the casinos in full costume—complete with pasty complexion, fangs, cape, and red eyes —and no one even looked at him twice. Fact: famous faces and guest stars abound throughout the entire series, a tradition that began with The Night Stalker. Members of the supporting cast in that first movie include veteran character actor, Claude Akins; Larry Linville (before playing the role of Major Frank Burns in M*A*S*H); and Elisha Cook Jr., probably best known as Sidney Greenstreet’s gunsyl, Wilmer Cook, in The Maltese Falcon. See? This is legitimate Bmovie stuff! The American viewing public knew it, too. On January 11, 1972, The Night Stalker was the highest-rating made-for-TV movie ever. This fact prompted ABC to approach producer Dan Curtis and screenwriter Richard Matheson to request a sequel. Almost exactly one year later, on January 16, 1973, ABC aired that sequel, The Night Strangler. This time, Kolchak is up in Seattle. He runs into Tony Vincenzo at a neighborhood bar and gets a new job at a new paper thanks to his old boss. And wouldn’t you know it? He gets hired just in time to cover a story about a new series of weird murders! These murders also contain puncture marks on the victims’ necks, but this time it’s a single puncture at the base of the skull and only a few cc’s of blood is missing. This time his weird murderer is no vampire, but a mere mortal man. Well, maybe not “mere mortal”. Richard Anderson, perhaps best-known as Oscar Goldman on The Six Million Dollar Man AND The Bionic Woman (he’s also Chief Engineer Quinn in cult scifi classic Forbidden Planet), plays a Civil War doctor named Dr. Richard Malcolm, who has been using alchemy to generate an elixir to restore his youth and prolong his life. Unfortunately, his formula is not perfect, and its affects wear off, causing him to harvest blood from his victims every twenty-one years. Now, it seems to me that in the first movie, Kolchak was more cynical and reluctant to believe the supernatural truth about the murderer at large. He kept saying “the murderer is a wacko who thinks he’s a vampire, and you have to treat him like one cuz that’s the only way you’ll catch him!” I don’t think he really believed it until he saw the murderer run away unaffected after police shot him at point-blank range. However, in the second film, he seems ready to believe that these five weird murders were committed by the same man responsible for similar killings 21 years earlier…and five more 21 years before that…and five more another 21 years before that… Of course, I guess after the traumatic events of the first movie he should be more open to such ideas. Plus, I think he was expecting another vampire. This movie had some famous faces, too. I mean, besides Richard Anderson. Let’s see, Margaret Hamilton, uh, you know, the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of Oz, plays a college professor. The great John Carradine plays the guy who owns the paper Kolchak and Vincenzo work for. Oh yeah, and Al Lewis—you know, Grandpa Munster—plays an old tramp who squats in the Seattle underground. George Tobias, who played neighbor Abner Kravitz on Bewitched, had filmed some scenes as an older reporter who covered a similar story back in the 30s, but all his scenes got cut from the final production, but are supposed to be in the deleted scenes section of the disk (not the one I have, though). Of course the strange events of this movie are also suppressed by the authorities. This time Kolchak AND Vincenzo get fired and are en route to New York
with Kolchak’s romantic interest du jour. This second feature was also popular, and a third movie was planned by producer Curtis and screenwriter Matheson to complete the “Trilogy of Terror”. However there are conflicting suggestions of the subject of that third installment. Imdb.com suggests the third movie would take place in New York City, where Kolchak would find that Janos Skorzeny was not dead, and attacking women once again. But according to Wikipedia, the third movie was meant to be titled The Night Killers, about a group of murderous android replicas. But the third movie never got made. Why not? Well, I’ll tell ya. Fact: The two Kolchak movies did so well that the network wanted to turn it into a weekly series. The series became a reality and premiered in September of 1974, still starring Darren McGavin and Simon Oakland. Sadly, the series only lasted a single season. Happily, its influence is long-lasting and far-reaching. The series is reported to be a direct inspiration on the creators of The X-Files and The Dresden Files, and certain echoes of Kolchak could be detected in the short-lived Eerie, Indiana and the stillrunning Supernatural. And Kolchak still lives on. The cultish fan following was so strong that Mark Dawidziak released Night Stalking: A 20th Anniversary "Night Stalker" Companion in 1991. In 1994, he worked with Kolchak’s creator, Jeff Rice, to produce the novel Grave Secrets—the first new material since the end of the original series. In 2003, Dawidziak worked with Matheson to produce Richard Matheson's Kolchak Scripts, containing the scripts for these original movies. Also in 2003, Moonstone Books released a Kolchak comic book that was successful enough to grow into a bi-monthly magazine and series of graphic novels that continues on today. In 2005, ABC decided to remake the series. Well, there were certain problems with that, as they only retained the rights to the first two movies and could not use the better-remembered stable of characters from the series. The new series also had a different tone, and was aimed at younger viewers instead of the older ones who would be interested for nostalgic reasons. The new series, called Night Stalker, starred Stuart Townsend (uh, I know him as Dorian Gray in that lousy League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie). It only lasted for ten episodes before it got canned. The show itself wasn’t bad, but it would have been better if he wasn’t supposed to be Kolchak. That caused certain expectations, I think, that simply weren’t met. But in 2006 Moonstone Books released an anthology of Kolchak short stories. It was called The Night Stalker Chronicles and boasted contributors such as Peter David, Richard Dean Starr, and Max Allan Collins. It was successful enough that they released a second collection, Kolchak: the Night Stalker Casebook, with stories by P. N. Elrod, Christopher Golden, and Elaine Bergstrom, among others. And to think, it all started with one cynical reporter chasing after a vampire in 1970’s Las Vegas. Those first two movies, The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler are available on DVD (so is the complete original series). In fact, I’ve got this special double-feature two-sided disk. You could buy it at Amazon (among other places), you can rent it from Netflix, you can see a clip or two on YouTube (but most of the clips seem to be from the series). Anyway, if you’re a Kolchak fan, I can’t stress enough that these are a must-see. If you’re a fan of cheesy, corny old-school horror flicks, you would totally love these. And if you don’t like cheese, or even corn, well…I guess you’re just outta luck.
Personally, I like ‘em! Oh yeah! I’m supposed to give out a rating on my highly complex and well-thought-out rating system! Hmm, where did I put those dice? Aha! Here there are! I’ve got my trusty, never-failed-yet, get-me-out-ofany-jam D&D percentage dice! The rating system is easy—100 (double-0 on the dice) is absolutely perfect, 01 is the pits. So I roll ‘em and end up with…16! 16? Uh, oh, sorry! I was looking at them…upside down! Yeah, that’s it! That’s the ticket! Which means the score is actually a 91! Don’t believe me? Here, see for yourself!
So there! A totally fair and un-biased 91! Numbers don’t lie! There it is in black and white! What, you don’t like my rating? Well, guess what? You don’t have to take it. In fact, you could go watch the movies and rate them yourself. But I can promise ya this much: they ARE good and they ARE entertaining. Hey, what more do ya want from a movie? Anyway, that’s all this time. -----Your Buddy, Oddcube
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?