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 2 of our series continues here:
Episode 11 – Horror in the Heights Recent deaths at Roosevelt Heights were considered caused by rats, but Kolchak believes it to be the work of a flesh eating demon Best Voiceover: “The battle of fixed income versus galloping inflation never ends... but even inflation took a backseat here in Roosevelt Heights, as a far greater fear overtook the residents... a terror which effectively dwarfed everything else.” Our Take: Phil Silvers had a part in this ho-hum episode which was just as plain and dull as Episode 10 –The Energy Eater. Kolchak is again lacking his usual witty edge and Nazi/Hindu angle of the film seems out of place and forced. If you can stay awake the whole 51-minutes to the end, you are unlikely to feel rewarded. Even Kolchak’s narration seems rushed. Most boring episode of the franchise. Grade: D
Episode 12 – Mr. R.I.N.G. Kolchak investigates a US military backed project called R.I.N.G. (Robomatic Internalized Nerve Ganglia), where a robot is on the loose and might just be homicidal. Best Voiceover: “Postal worker Arnold Teckman was an hour behind. Teckman was addicted to hot Texas chili but it always made him sick and late. And that made the mail arrive late. But tomorrow, it would arrive even later” Our Take: The episode is a mix of everything and not enough of one good thing to elevate it into becoming one of the higher regarded. The episode drags in parts and even though the robot is creepy, the story and its motivations don’t make a lot of sense. Interesting tidbit is that the Tyrell Corporation is responsible for the villain here. The Tryell Corporation was the company that created the replicants in the movie Blade Runner. Grade: B-
Episode 13 – Primal Scream An arctic oil-drilling expedition unearths some strange organic matter, cells which begin to spontaneously multiply. When the cooling unit in their storage facility fails, the cells grow into a violent and deadly life-form, a murderous ape-man. Best Voiceover: “Rosetta Mason had been attending a party, but had been bored. Rosetta didn’t know it, but for her the party was really over” Our Take: Jamie Farr (M*A*S*H) guests in an episode that misses the mark all too often. The idea of a gorilla man just didn’t work. The creature costume looked cheap and cheesy and the episode was stretched out with a slow motion shot and with scenes of Kolchak lighting flares. Not much to enjoy here with the exception of an exchange between Kolchak and fellow co-worker Ron Updyke (Jack Grinnage) over a parked car. Grade: C+
Episode 14 – The Trevi Collection A vengeful fashion designer uses witchcraft to eliminate her professional enemies. Best Voiceover: “..his clothes were as cheap as his reputation. So when he phoned me with some information to sell, I was surprised he wanted to meet me in the heart of Chicago’s Shi-Shi high fashion district. What started out as a mild surprise culminated in stark raving terror” Our Take: Hard to believe that we got to episode 14 before our first ‘Witch’ episode. Overacting (just wait to you see the witches laughing) might take you out of the moment, but the episode is still well written and the moving mannequins were freaky. A scene where a cat attacks someone was probably the most unintentional funniest moment of the entire series. Some interesting stunts in this one – a man falls out a high rise building window, cars smashing – which is uncommon when compared to other episodes. Grade: A
Episode 15 – Chopper Former members of a biker gang from the 50s are being decapitated, and a key witness claims that the murders are being committed by a headless figure on a motorcycle wielding a sword. Best Voiceover: “Joe could have provided some answers. If he’d of survived the day” Our Take: The headless horseman gets an update – and a motorcycle in place of a horse. The effects of a headless man with a sword are laughably bad. Larry Linville costars which makes the second M*A*S*H star to appear on the show after Jamie Farr in Primal Scream (Episode 13). The episode drags throughout its middle portions and the headless biker (who looks about 10-feet tall) is just too silly to make this episode scary or noteworthy. Grade: C-
Episode 16 – Demon in Lace A female demon, takes over the bodies recently killed young women, so she can seduce handsome young men and scare them to death. Best Voiceover: “The bubbly had tasted good, but for Betty Walker it might as well have been strychnine” Our Take: The police captain tells Kolchak that he dreams of “breaking his face” was the highlight in this overly forgettable entry. Demon in Lace and Episode 17’s Legacy of Terror were put together as one Kolchak movie. A movie that wasn’t in any way ‘Classic Kolchak’. Grade: C+
Episode 17 – Legacy of Terror Reporter Carl Kolchak investigates college men dying of heart attacks and Chicago citizens having their hearts cut out by Aztecs. Best Voiceover: “Monday, September 22nd. One of the brightest spots in professional football was Lenny Strayhan. Maybe the best linebacker in the history of the game. Lenny played with fractures, sprains, torn ligaments and bone chips. They say he had the biggest heart in the NFL. But on September 22nd, some maniac cut out that big heart with a very dull knife.” Our Take: Borrring. Erik Estrada co-stars in this yawn fest that has about the least interesting creature/killer of the week to date. We liked the idea of having the victims with hearts torn out, but outside of that brainchild, this episode could help cure insomnia. Grade: C
Episode 18 – The Knightly Murders When the museum housing his armor is converted into a disco, a medieval knight stalks the city committing murders with his ancient arsenal of weapons. Best Voiceover: “There wouldn’t be much I can tell them….but it all really happened” Our Take: The Knightly Murders was one of our favorite episodes both from its original viewing in 1975 and again when revisited in 2012. Kolchak didn’t have any memorable voiceovers, but the story more than made up for the lack of narrative humor. The knight and his various array of weapons in his arsenal were interesting and fun. Exactly what we came to love about the series. Grade: A-
Episode 19 – The Youth Killer A dating service for young, fabulous singles proves to be a breeding ground for supernatural murder when certain members start turning up as elderly corpses. Best Voiceover: “Renee had opted for a nap before getting dressed. Renee never awoke from her nap. The next day, Renee’s class would have a substitute teacher” Our Take: Cathie Lee Crosby (later of televisions That’s Incredible!) starred in this subpar episode and the young goddess that steals youth from various perfect men. Her presence was neither interesting nor threatening and the episode ranks with Legacy of Terror and Horror in the Heights as three of the season’s worst. Grade: D
Episode 20 – The Sentry Kolchak is on the trail of a reptilian monster that has been killing workers in a new tunnel that is nearly 2 miles underground. Best Voiceover: “Howard Kipper was a good worker. At least that’s what people would say about him at his funeral.” Our Take: The last episode premiered on March 28, 1975 and went out with a roar. The roar of a reptilian beast, that is. The monster of the week in The Sentry was a reptilian beast that was as interesting as any in the series. The usual trademarks are all here – Kolchak arguing with his eating boss Tony Vincenzo, Kolchak impersonating another profession so that he can get closer to the truth, Kolchak battling with the police, the voiceover narration full of bad one-liners. The final confrontation Kolchak has with the Crocodile beast (which is just a man in a rubber suit) seems to take forever to arrive, but the whole episode is tense, fun and well directed. It was a good way to say sign-off, but we really wish we didn’t have to. Grade: A-