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Monday, November 22, 2010

Kolchak: The Night Stalker/ The Night Strangler

        Eccentric and abrasive Las Vegas reporter Carl Kolchak stumbles upon the story of his life as a series of ghastly murders rock the city. It seems a modern-day vampire is preying on young women, and from the startling discovery of a dead girl's body stuffed into a garbage can in the opening scene, "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" enthralled and terrified audiences as it aired on January 11, of 1972.  Legendary Dan Curtis, of "Dark Shadows" fame, produced one of TV's best and most-loved movies, and a memorable slice of 70's horror.  Darren McGavin is fantastic as the impulsive Kolchak- it's arguably one of the most memorable performances of the decade.  It's almost hard to believe it back then,  but ABC's Movie Of the Week was a big deal- and hands down tops of all TV-movies.  And during that time, some of the greatest TV shockers of all time aired- "Don't Be Afraid Of the Dark", "Trilogy Of Terror", and of course, "Kolchak". "The Night Stalker" offers just the right amount of creepy atmosphere and scary moments.  The movie was so popular, a sequel, "Kolchak: The Night Strangler" followed, then a weekly series followed that. 

      Based on science and folklore with a dash of supernatural thrown in, "Kolchak" was a ratings smash.  Since it was produced by Dan Curtis, you can see traces of "Dark Shadows" here and there throughout "The Night Stalker".  (And yes, I love "Dark Shadows"...).   You can also see how influential "Kolchak" would be in the future with "The X-Files".  This is a great vampire flick with a witty and atmospheric script by the great Richard Matheson.  Crackling with tension and paranoia, "The Night Stalker"  is great stuff.  They certainly don't make movies like this anymore.  But thanks to Netflix and DVD's, they can still be enjoyed today.  Often cited as the best TV movie of all time, the original and refreshing story of a modern-day Dracula terrorizing Las Vegas is a groovy, scary time capsule of the funky and weird 70's.  I recommend a "Kolchak" double feature and watch back-to-back with "The Night Strangler".

     Since "The Night Stalker" was such a huge success, ABC commissioned Richard Matheson to produce a follow-up.  Airing January 16 in 1973 and featuring a story about a serial killer stalking underground Seattle this time, "The Night Strangler" found lovable Carl Kolchak investigating a murderer who not only strangles his victims, but then with a syringe removes a tiny bit of blood.  Seems our Kolchak has left Vegas in disgust over the corrupt officials, and gets a job at the Daily Chronicle in Seattle.  Yes, folks, Kolchak is back, and soon stumbles across another wave of mysterious murders.  Even though it follows basically the same plot as the original, what helps the sequel this time around is an interesting and clever backstory to the killer- he's not a vampire this time, but more of a mad scientist,  with something about experiments to extend human life with elixirs made of human blood.  "The Night Strangler" also incorporates more humor into the scary moments this time around, but overall it's a strong and well-made sequel.  The creepy underground Seattle is truly a fantastic location- spooky stuff, to be sure.  The characters seem to be a bit more fleshed out this time around, and of course, how can you go wrong with Darren McGavin's performance in the first place?  He was simply born to play this role.  All in all a good, solid sequel that holds its own against the original.  Supremely entertaining and fun!


Matthew Bradley said...

It may interest you to know that Matheson and his friend William F. Nolan (who together adapted three Matheson stories into TRILOGY OF TERROR) wrote a third Kolchak script, THE NIGHT KILLERS, that was never filmed. Accounts vary as to how close it got to production, and why it never came to fruition, but the teleplay was published in RICHARD MATHESON'S KOLCHAK SCRIPTS. It concerned aliens spearheading an invasion by replacing politicians in Hawaii with android doubles. For further information, see my book RICHARD MATHESON ON SCREEN (

Waxdude said...

Fascinating... We just finished "The Night Strangler"- I'm just now about to start the series- haven't seen any of them since I was a kid. Too bad a third film never made it to the small screen! Thanks for the info- I did not know that.

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