Posted by: GregMo Roberts Source:Killer Reviews
Kolchak: The Night Stalker began as two television movies – The Night Stalker (1971) and the Night Stranger (1973) and later became a television series that aired on ABC for only a single season during 1974-1975. Kolchak was a Chicago based reporter for INS (Independent News Service) who investigated and reported on strange occurrences most of which involved either the supernatural or an inhuman creature. Kolchak was played by actor Darren McGavin and his pale blue suit, shoulder strapped tape recorder and camera and his yellow Ford Mustang became mainstays through the series. So too did was the voiceover narration throughout each episode that was a source for much of the series’ humor.
The show lasted only 20 episodes but boasted some familiar faces such as Tom Skerritt (Alien), Richard Kiel (Moonraker), Greg Daniels (Knight Rider) and Danny Doyle (Charlie’s Angels) throughout its run.
Kolchak: The Night Stalker is said to have been the inspiration for The X-Files and many of today’s monster-of-the-week television programs (Grimm, Supernatural). It was also the launching pad for the career of David Chase who was the series’ story editor. Chase would later go on to create HBO’s The Sopranos in the 1990’s.
Killer Reviews takes a look back at the original series grading each episode and selecting the best narrative voiceover lines of each week. Part 1 of our series begins here:
Episode 1 – The Ripper When a rash of serial murders suddenly begins in the Chicago area, Kolchak establishes a similarity between the new killings and the murders committed by Jack the Ripper. The killer soon reveals himself to possess superhuman characteristics, and Kolchak suspects that they may be dealing with the original Ripper after all. Best Voiceover: “If by chance you happened to be in the Windy City between May 25 and May 29 of this year, you would have had good reason to be terrified. During this time Chicago was stalked by a horror so frightening, so fascinating, that it ranks with the great unsolved mysteries of all time. It's been the fictional subject of films, plays, even an opera. Now, here, are the true facts.” Our Take: Pretty good episode to launch the series. We get introduced to many of the characters that will provide Kolchak most of his comedic banter in the following episodes including actor Simon Oakland who plays Kolchak’s boss, Tony Vincenzo. We wished the opening credits sequence was better (whistling and bad effects such as a fan stopping for no reason), but it grew on us after a while. A Jack the Ripper story was a good choice instead of ripping off a more high profile villain such as a vampire or werewolf that would come later in the season. Watching Kolchak deliver his laughable lines with confidence would be a mainstay going forward. Grade: B-
Episode 2 – The Zombie An old black woman uses voodoo to resurrect her dead son to kill those who murdered him, and to kill those like Kolchak who would interfere. Best Voiceover: “Francois Edmonds, the deceased, was buried for a third time at public expense. A third time. However, this time rock salt was poured in his mouth, and his lips were sewn shut. City officials will deny this. But you can see it for yourself. If you'd care to venture out to St. Lucy's Cemetery and... exhume the corpse. Be my guest.” Our Take: The follow up to the pilot did nothing to build upon the promise of the first. Although the story itself was adequate, the lighting for many of the scenes was just too dark to get a true picture of what was going on. Even Kolchak’s pale suit couldn’t illuminate the darker moments with the mummy to help viewers understand what the hell was going on. Unfortunately this took us out of our enjoyment of the episode. Grade: C
Episode 3 – They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be… Kolchak is witness to a bizarre manifestation when an unseen force decimates a building and causes a cache of lead ingots to vanish into thin air. He soon draws a connection between the disturbance and a series of incidents where both animals and human beings are turning up dead, the marrow mysteriously sucked out of their bones. Best Voiceover: “I knew this one would be more than the biggest story of my career. It was the biggest story in the lives of everyone on this planet. I fought for the story, fought harder than ever before. I wanted people to know, to be prepared... if you can be prepared for something like this.” Our Take: After failing with a zombie in episode 2, the series returns to greatness with an alien story. Sure, the UFO looked hokey. And yes, the scene in the planetarium seemed to go on forever. But Kolchak was at the top of his game facing off against his boss and the police leading to his uncovering of the secret in the forest. Grade: B
Episode 4 – The Vampire Kolchak travels to Los Angeles to find call girl Catherine Rawlins, the resurrected victim of notorious vampire Janos Skorzeny. Best Voiceover: “Icabobs terms were fair, his pitch – persuasive. Icabob thought he had added another philly to his stable of trotters. In Icabobs parlance his new acquisition was called a fox. He had no way of knowing she was more closely related to the bat.” Our Take: One of the best episodes of the series. Fun and campy, The Vampire episode likely scared many a child back when it was screened on television October 4, 1974. The episode was actually a sequel to the Night Stalker telefilm which also featured the bloodsucking undead. Watching Kolchak figure out a way to get his boss to pay for a trip out to Los Angeles was comedic gold. And having Kolchak provide the Las Vegas police department with as much grief as he does the Chicago P.D. was also as appealing. A fight between a vampire and the police department must have been riveting entertainment for its time. Grade: A
Episode 5 – The Werewolf A pleasure cruise turns deadly as Kolchak finds himself trapped on a yacht at sea with a werewolf. Best Voiceover: “Of the 11 crewmen and 4 passengers attacked by the beast it is not known how many has actually died. The injured? Well, they disappeared rumor has it to Switzerland to be treated for a rare blood disease.” Our Take: Fantastic idea. Put a werewolf on a cruise ship. Brilliant. The acting is great throughout including Eric Braeden who plays the man/werewolf. Even though the make-up effects don’t hold up (the werewolf just looks like a circus freak), the whole idea and fun of the episode more than makes up for it. Two great episodes back to back. Grade: A
Episode 6 – Firefall Looking into a series of deaths surrounding a conductor, Kolchak learns that someone may have taken over the maestro’s identity from beyond the grave Best Voiceover: “Grave robbery and body snatching are still punishable crimes in Chicago so I had to do it by myself.” Our Take: We suppose three good episodes s back to back to back was too much to ask for. Firefall was one of our least favorites of the series. We found it neither interesting or in any way scary. Watching the doppelganger at work was more laughable than anything else and even though the show always walked the line of horror and comedy, we don’t think the moments that induced our belly rolls were intended. The ending – which has Kolchak staring down the doppelganger inside a local arcade – was an unenjoyable as the episode. Grade: C+
Episode 7 – The Devil’s Platform Kolchak discovers a young rising politician, has made a deal with the Devil to murder off his competition through incidents made to look like accidents. Best Voiceover: “July 22nd – Springfield, Illinois, Eric Berenger self made-millionaire and heavy contributor to many causes was driving to a late candlelight dinner with his wife Vivian. He didn’t know it of course, but his last supper had been the night before.” Our Take: Tom Skerritt starred in this middle-of-the-road episode that has more dialogue than it has monster-of-the-week introduction. This was an entertaining episode, but hardly a classic amongst the 20. Grade: B
Episode 8 – Bad Medicine Kolchak is puzzled by a series of suicides of the Chicago elite. His investigation will reveal an American Indian who can vanish at will. Best Voiceover: “If a man dresses up like an Indian to raid a Gem Exchange, I say he’s strange. But if he also brings his coyote along, I saw he’s an Indian” Our Take: Meh. Richard Kiel (more notably ‘Jaws’ from the early James Bond films) plays the American Indian who is cursed to roam the earth in search of valuable gems. He is given little to do with the role and does very little with what he is given. He is able to transform into animal creatures and spends equal time as a bird, a coyote etc. The story is a little ‘off the reservation’ and the Indian (and it’s animal personas) just weren’t either interesting or scary enough to carry the episode above the bland. Grade: C+
Episode 9 – The Spanish Moss Murders Spanish moss is found at the scene of multiple murders and the investigation leads to a Cajun man who is in a coma. Best Voiceover: “Michelle was rushing because she was anxious to spend the long 4th of July week-end with her family. The family did gather. Not for a barbeque. But for a funeral.” Our Take: Richard Kiel was liked by producers so much in Bad Medicine that he was back the very next week playing another character altogether. Again, some of the scenes at night or in the sewer are too dark to completely grasp what is on screen, but The Spanish Moss Murders boasts some of the funniest moments of the series which more than make up for the dark images. The Monster dies a bit too quickly at the end for our tastes, but we still enjoyed the journey. Grade: B
Episode 10 – The Energy Eater When strange phenomena and bizarre deaths plague the new Lakefront Hospital, Kolchak's investigation leads him to the building foreman. He soon uncovers a monster that sucks the protein out of the hospital’s patients. Best Voiceover: “Claudia couldn’t sleep. She was too concerned over what was going to become of her life. The truth was – nothing was ever going to become of Claudia’s life” Our Take: All in all, the episode was rather boring. Not much happens and there isn’t much humor to help bridge the gaps between waiting for something to happen. Kolchak seems frustrated throughout most of the episode which was a change from his normal sarcastic fun loving self. Grade: C