Thursday, October 26, 2017

Kolchak the Night Stalker (TV series available on DVD through InterLibrary Loan)

Kolchak: The Night Stalker
[not currently in library collection — easily available through InterLibrary Loan] 

The 18-episode TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-1975) grew out of two TV movies, The Night Stalker (1972) and The Night Strangler (1973). All featured Darren McGavin as intrepid and annoying newspaper reporter Karl Kolchak. In 1972’s The Night Stalker, Kolchak follows a story that leads him to believe that a vampire is stalking the alleys of Las Vegas — although he uncovers the truth and helps the police to destroy the vampire, nobody wants the story told and he’s run out of town. In 1973’s The Night Strangler, Kolchak has landed in Seattle, where he follows a lead to uncover an ancient man preying on young women to extend his own life. Again, Kolchak helps destroy the creature but is run out of town.

In the 1974-75 series, Kolchak is now a stringer for a news service in Chicago. And he keeps stumbling across supernatural menaces — this time on a weekly basis. For the mid-1970s, the stories that this series told were pretty edgy — dealing with werewolves, voodoo zombies, mythological sewer creatures, Native American monsters, headless motorcyle riders, demonic politicians, a Rakshasha, aliens, killer robots, a succubus, a witch, a preshistoric reptile, and even Jack the Ripper. One episode was a direct sequel to the original 1972 TV-Movie, featuring a vampire created by the original vampire. As the series progressed, the stories got occasionally silly, but they still managed to provide for plenty of scares. The show was NOT played for laughs — it took itself very seriously, although there was comedy in the characters — Kolchak was an abrasive character who annoyed everyone around him, and who used humor to deflect hostility. Carl’s co-workers at the news service, including his editor Tony Vincenzo (played by the inimitable Simon Oakland), fellow reporter Ron Updyke (Jack Grinnage), and the elderly crossword editor Emily Cowles (Ruth McDevitt) — were all comic characters, and Kolchak’s relationships with each providing laughs that balance out the horrors Carl attempts to report on.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker served as the inspiration for producer Chris Carter when he created The X-Files, 20 years later. In fact, he wanted to have Kolchak appear on the show, but Darren McGavin did not wish to reprise the role — McGavin did appear as retired FBI agent Arthur Dales (“the father of The X-Files”) in two episodes, during the 5th and 6th seasons of that series. A re-imagined version of Kolchak appeared as simply The Night Stalker during the 2005-2006 TV season, with Stuart Townsend taking on the role. The series didn’t last long — less than a full season — and had a very different style and tone from the 1970s version. But it did feature one unique connection to the original. Through the magic of digital manipulation, McGavin’s original Kolchak character appears in a newsroom background scene in the pilot episode of the new show — a bit of a tribute to the original show.

Sadly, the libraries do NOT have Kolchak: The Night Stalker, nor either of the two original TV-Movies, in our DVD collection. However both can be ordered through InterLibrary Loan, and you can find some of the episodes on YouTube. The full-series DVD box set is also commonly available for purchase.

[If you enjoy this, you may also wish to try The X-Files, Supernatural or Shadow Chasers (a marvelous comedy drama about investigating the paranormal, unfortunately not available on DVD — find it on YouTube and other online sources). I also recommend the graphic novel Cry of Thunder, which crosses Kolchak across time with Sherlock Holmes, and the book The Night Stalker Companion, by Mark Dawidziak, which is a marvelous look at the making of the series. Dawidziak is also the author of The Kolchak Papers: Grave Secrets, a 1994 tie-in novel, which is one of the best TV Tie-In novels I’ve ever read — you can get this through InterLibrary Loan, as well as the two paperback novels by Jeff Rice that came out associated with the original two TV-movies. The two original TV-movies are also available in a single DVD pack, through InterLibrary Loan.]

[ Internet Movie Database entry for this film ] | [ Wikipedia page for Kolchak: The Night Stalker ]

Recommended by Scott C.
Bennett Martin Public Library

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