Thursday, September 27, 2012

Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1972, 1974)

I am not a huge fan of old television shows in general. Sure, some are classics, but a lot of times they prove to be misplaced nostalgia. Kolchak: The Night Stalker is a show I was unaware of in my youth (being a mere three years old upon its release). Thanks to some spurring on by Al Bruno III (The Wit & Weirdness of Al Bruno), Brian Solomon (The Vault of Horror), and Shon Richards (Erotiterrorist) I decided to take the plunge, as the show is on Netflix these days.

Originally an ABC Movie of the Week, The Night Stalker was a crime drama turned vampire story featuring investigative reporter Carl Kolchak (ubiquitous character actor Darren McGavin) as the guy with all the answers. Despite his not being in law enforcement, the character is clearly the template used for Fox Mulder in The X-Files, and the government conspiracy angle fits that later show as well. It also has quite the H. P. Lovecraft angle. Kolchak is not a fighter, does not carry a gun, and when trouble arises if he can run, he does so. Like Lovecraft's heroes though, when the chips are down these supernal threats need to be dealt with.

One of the best things about the show, for me, is that it is a character actor free-for-all. You cannot go five minutes without saying, "hey, its that guy". Every episode seems packed with supporting actors, those wonderful people whose names few of us know, but recognize instantly. It is like The Love Boat for the less-attractive (in a television sense). The only really attractive people are people who are supposed to be attractive, namely strippers and call-girls. Everyone else looks like normal people, which is refreshing. The movie has a bit higher attractiveness ratio, but it is not too distracting.

Now, there are certainly some cheesy elements to the show. The style of acting in television has changed dramatically in the last forty years, but much of this is actually deferred by the abundance of character actors. These are men and women who go from stage to film to television and back, which makes them rather chameleon-like. It can be a little heavy handed and there is some William Shatner School of Drama delivery, but overall is easily watchable by modern audiences.

The show is superior to the movie, in my opinion, but the movie does set-up Carl Kolchak nicely, and explains why he does what he does. Another positive is the lack of a story arc, from what I can tell. I am several episodes in, and they seem to never refer to previous episodes. This is pretty standard for the day, but also helps with the writing. Like The X-Files, there is never evidence at the end to prove Kolchak is anything but a kook. He doesn't get to say "but I was right about the vampire" as that evidence is part of a cover-up.

So, give Kolchak: The Night Stalker a try if supernatural horror is your bag. It should definitely appeal to Lovecraft fans, The X-Files fans, or anyone who likes a little weirdness in their television. This is one of those rare instances where nostalgia does not do you wrong.

The entire film, The Night Stalker, is available on Youtube here. The quality is pretty good.


Wings1295 said...

I watched a few of these during a Syfy channel marathon a few years ago. Want to give it a serious watch, so cool that it is on Netflix!

And YES, I so agree with your statement about the lack of a story arc. So many shows seem to think this is absolutely NEEDED and in my opinion, more times than not, it just bogs the show down.

I love the anthology episodic stuff, like Friday the 13th: The Series. The only "real" arc was the fact that they were trying to get the antiques back. Yes, the characters grew and matured, their relationships deepened, but we didn't have to watch some bit-by-bit arc play out as it was being written. I miss those days.

Darius Whiteplume said...

It seems that I'll watch a show with the wife, then get bored with it, then the next season wonder what the hell is going on. I am a Scooby-Doo man, personally; here is today's adventure;you know it is a dude in a rubber mask, but the gang won't let on. The Avengers was good for that too.

Chris Hewson said...

I bought the whole series about a year ago, and it was definitely worth it! As for the remake series, I'm curious about how good or bad it is.

Darius Whiteplume said...

The newer series is available on DVD from Netflix. I may check it out, but not rushing. Stuart Townsend stars, and while I don't recognize him, he appears to have been in some decent stuff. Likely too slick for my taste though.

Ivan said...

An old favorite! I was old enough to catch this show during its original run, and I loved it from the get-go (it was McGavin's smartass everyman which sealed the deal). The year Kolchak premiered was a great one for a young nerd: The Friday night line-up on ABC was The Six Million Dollar Man at 8pm; Kung Fu at 9pm; then Kolchak at 10. Good times!


Glad to see you are enjoying Kolchak's adventures. One of the things I loved about the series is how funny some of the dialouge was. That and Kolchak was terrified, even when he was terrified he was brave. The scene where he is trying to sew the slumbering zombie's lips closed is one of the most intense and funny scenes of all time.

The later episodes may have been weaker than the early ones but how many TV shows can boast that they birthed an entire genre/style of shows?

Also: The remake series was lousy and I consider both Milenium and Supernatural to be The Night Stalker's spiritual succesors.

Thomas Pluck said...

I loved this show, and still have nightmares about the headless biker. :)

Darius Whiteplume said...

@Ivan, I just barely remember Kung Fu. Not sure if my family watched it. Definitely remember Steve Austin. The toys, man! THE TOYS! ;-D

@AB3, your Tumblr got me started over the weekend. Agreed on longevity. People were dying to see Lost every week even though it tanked halfway through S02 (IMO). The zombie sewing was awesome. I could hear a Call of Cthulhu game master saying "roll you SAN check!"

@Tommy, I have not gotten there yet, but shall be progressing shortly.

Ivan said...

One thing I noticed about the show was how when the monster of the week was definitely supernatural (vampire, zombie, witch, werewolf, rakshasha, etc.), Carl Kolchak managed to "kill" it. But when the MOTW was natural, but weird (the alligator man, or the invisible alien), Kolchak only managed to stop their killing spree, and at the end of the episode, they go back where they came from.

Darius Whiteplume said...

Yeah, he did just fend off the alien that was eating cats.

Holy crap! Was it ALF?!?

Kal said...

Boy those were great days. I so remember having the house and the TV to myself on a Friday night. I ordered a pizza for myself and didn't have to share anything with anyone. That show is so attatched to the best times of my youth.

Darius Whiteplume said...

@Kal, Pizza and Kolchak sounds like heaven :-D

Weird WWII said...

One of the best shows, ever.

A true pulp made flesh,

Darius Whiteplume said...

I have been really enjoying it. Need to get back to watching once all the debates are over :-)

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