TV Review: Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974–1975)

Original Run: September 13th, 1974 – March 28th, 1975
Created by: Jeff Rice
Directed by: various
Written by: various
Based on: The Kolchak Papers by Jeffrey Grant Rice
Music by: various
Cast: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Jack Grinnage, Ruth McDevitt 

Francy Productions Inc., Universal Television, ABC, 20 Episodes, 50-51 Minutes (per episode)

Review:

I’ve wanted to work my way through all the classic Kolchak material for quite some time. After reviewing the two television movies, I knew it was time to watch the television series, which only ran for a single season of twenty episodes.

Overall, I prefer the two films but the show is where the character and his world really come to life and start to develop its own mythos.

The show is a mixed bag of some great and some mediocre episodes. None of them are bad but some are a bit slow and felt like they were interesting concepts or ideas that didn’t live up to the level of the franchise at its best.

The episodes I dug most I truly loved, though.

Darren McGavin was born to play the role of Carl Kolchak and it’s hard to envision anyone else in the part, even though it was rebooted thirty or so years later with Stuart Townsend. I’ve never seen that version but I may track it down in order to review it. That show failed pretty quickly though and has less episodes than the original.

I think that the quality of the episodes being a bit shaky didn’t have so much to do with the monsters featured but had more to do with the creative teams that worked on them. Some stories felt rushed, some felt slow and the craftsmanship was sometimes lacking. For instance, in one episode the cinematography could look superb for 1970s television while in the following episode, it could look really pedestrian and half assed.

That’s not to say that the show didn’t have a consistent look and feel, it did. It’s just to say that it really stood out when a director would go the extra mile or when a writer took time crafting a solid, more fleshed out script. You could gauge which episodes were made with actual passion and love for the material.

Faults aside, I dig the hell out of this show and the two main characters within it. I love McGavin and Simon Oakland brought an extra level of gravitas. Plus, the two men have incredible chemistry.

While this is a franchise that seems almost forgotten in the early part of the 2020s, it is still historically significant. Without it, we probably wouldn’t have gotten other great, similar shows like The X-Files.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: the Kolchak movies before the show, as well as the reboot and The X-Files.

Film Review: The Night Strangler (1973)

Also known as: The Time Killer (working title), Kolchak: The Night Strangler (long title)
Release Date: January 16th, 1973
Directed by: Dan Curtis
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: The Kolchak Papers by Jeffrey Grant Rice
Music by: Bob Cobert
Cast: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Jo Ann Pflug, Richard Anderson, Margaret Hamilton, John Carradine

Dan Curtis Productions, ABC Circle Films, ABC, 74 Minutes, 90 Minutes (extended syndication version)

Review:

“I just saw your “so-called killer” wipe up the street with your so-called police force!” – Carl Kolchak

In my last Kolchak related review, I talked about my love of the show but also mentioned that I had never seen the television movies that predated it. This is the second and final film and I’ve got to say that I liked it a hair bit better than the very entertaining and charming first one.

I guess the consensus is that they were pretty equal in quality but I felt like Darren McGavin and Simon Oakland were much more in-sync together, as well as more comfortable with their characters.

This story doesn’t see our crack reporter trying to take down a vampire, instead, he’s trying to stop an alchemist that is killing young women and using their blood to stay immortal. I guess the baddie is similar to a vampire, in a way, but he’s more like a Jack the Ripper type of killer with an extra twist.

The film also takes place in Seattle, after Kolchak was chased off from Las Vegas due to the events of the previous story. He’d also have to leave Seattle at the end of this where the heroes mention that they’re moving to New York City. The TV show that followed the next year put them in Chicago, however.

Anyway, this is solid, cool yet hokey ’70s fun and I like that it didn’t stay focused on vampires and allowed itself to be more open with weird monsters and phenomena. In fact, this franchise was a big inspiration on the creation and format of The X-Files, two decades later.

Rating: 7.75/10
Pairs well with: its predecessor The Night Stalker and the television show Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

 

Film Review: The Night Stalker (1972)

Also known as: The Kolchak Papers (working title), Kolchak: The Night Stalker (long title)
Release Date: January 11th, 1972 
Directed by: John Llewellyn Moxey
Written by: Richard Matheson
Based on: The Kolchak Papers by Jeffrey Grant Rice
Music by: Bob Cobert
Cast: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Carol Lynley, Barry Atwater, Ralph Meeker, Claude Akins, Elisha Cook Jr.

Dan Curtis Productions, ABC Circle Films, ABC, 74 Minutes

Review:

“Rumor has it that the day Anthony Albert Vincenzo was born, his father left town. The story may be apocryphal, but I believe it. The only point I wonder about is why his mother didn’t leave too.” – Carl Kolchak

I was a pretty big fan of the Kolchak television series when it was in syndication back when I was a kid. It originally aired before I was alive but I remember my granmum having it on her television set in my younger, most impressionable years.

Sadly, I hadn’t seen it since the ’80s and I never saw the two television movies that predate the single season show. So I figured I’d start with the original Night Stalker movie and go from there.

I’m glad to say that this was pretty close to my memories of the show and seeing Darren McGavin ham it up while monster hunting was a sight to behold and enjoy, once again!

More than anything, watching the original film, which I found in HD on YouTube for free (as long as that lasts) motivated me greatly to continue on with the second film and twenty-ish episode series.

McGavin is great in this and it’s my favorite role that I’ve ever seen him play. It’s like it was tailor made for his specific talents, as it maximizes his strengths and charisma. I’m not sure how close the Kolchak TV material is to the original novel but it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

In this story, ace reporter Carl Kolchak is investigating strange murders that appear to be vampiric in nature. No one wants to believe what Kolchak starts to uncover and even after the vampire gets into a skirmish with police while stealing blood bags from the hospital, those in power try to suppress Kolchak’s narrative.

Eventually, we get a showdown with the vampire and the end result sees Kolchak having to leave Las Vegas or be charged with murder for killing the bloodsucking fiend.

While the picture can feel hokey and dated, I mean, it is a ’70s television movie, it’s still an energetic, charming, entertaining ride and pretty solid shit for its time and production limitations.

Plus, Darren McGavin is stupendous.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: its sequel The Night Strangler and the television show Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

Film Review: Dead Heat (1988)

Release Date: May 6th, 1988
Directed by: Mark Goldblatt
Written by: Terry Black
Music by: Ernest Troost
Cast: Treat Williams, Joe Piscopo, Darren McGavin, Lindsay Frost, Vincent Price, Keye Luke, Robert Picardo, Professor Toru Tanaka, Shane Black

Helpren/Meltzer, New World Pictures, 86 Minutes

Review:

“[He shuts the porno mag the clerk’s being reading] Sorry to interrupt your erection.” – Det. Doug Bigelow

Dead Heat is greatly underappreciated. That’s probably because it bombed in the theater and then got brushed aside and barely even made a blip on the cable TV radar in the ’90s. By then it probably seemed really outdated and so cheesy that even late night movie shows didn’t really touch it.

I actually saw this on VHS around 1990 or so and thought it was pretty cool but it just never reemerged anywhere else until it popped up on streaming services within the last couple of years.

I was glad that it was most recently featured on Joe Bob Brigg’s The Last Drive-In, as it needs to be discovered and showcased for a new generation and for the old generation that might’ve missed it.

The film is written by Terry Black, the older brother of Shane.

Shane Black had already made waves after writing Lethal Weapon and The Monster Squad while also working on Predator and Night of the Creeps. Older brother kind of followed little brother here, as the story for Dead Heat is like a mash up of some of those other movies in how it features an action heavy buddy cop story with elements of horror and a bit of slapstick comedy.

That being said, the script was really creative and it provided a movie with a lot of really cool scenes and monster encounters: most notably the zombie animals that came to life despite being halfway butchered.

These scenes worked so well though because the special effects were solid. I mean, this was made by New World and thus, the production operated under Roger Corman economics. Despite that, the practical effects of the monsters looked great.

Additionally, some of the other effects were impressive too, such as the scene where Lindsay Frost decays into nothingness.

The film stars Treat Williams and Joe Piscopo as the two buddy cops but it also stars a great villain duo that features Darren McGavin and legendary Vincent Price. Everyone played well off of each other and all the core actors looked like they were having fun hamming it up and making this bonkers movie.

This is such a weird and unique picture that more people really should check it out. It’s amusing, enjoyable and deserving of more recognition than it initially received.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: other goofy horror comedies of the ’80s like the first two Return of the Living Dead MoviesC.H.U.D. II: Bud the Chud, TerrorVision, etc.

Film Review: Captain America (1990)

Release Date: December 14th, 1990 (UK)
Directed by: Albert Pyun
Written by: Stephen Tolkin, Lawrence Block
Based on: Captain America by Joe Simon, Jack Kirby
Music by: Barry Goldberg
Cast: Matt Salinger, Ronny Cox, Scott Paulin, Ned Beatty, Darren McGavin, Francesca Neri, Michael Nouri

21st Century Film Corporation, Marvel Enterprises, Jadran Film, 97 Minutes, 124 Minutes (Director’s Cut)

Review:

“Assassination isn’t worth the trouble. It took me two years to find Sirhan. Three to find Oswald. The King job alone cost me over twenty million dollars. What do we get for our pains? Saints. Martyrs to the cause.” – Red Skull

Somehow this attracted the talents of Ronny Cox, Ned Beatty and Darren McGavin. Although, I’m not sure why. There couldn’t have been much money for them to make and had they read the script, they probably would have ran away. I mean, I can only assume that they didn’t read the script.

This movie has a terrible reputation and it is very apparent pretty much immediately, as to why. At the same time, it’s not that bad and is almost enjoyable for its cheesiness and its lighthearted, playful nature.

It is very clear that Marvel had no idea on how to make movies with their characters at this point in history. Granted, it’s not Marvel’s fault, as they didn’t have the control they have in modern times and they were just selling off the film rights to their key characters in an effort to stay financially afloat. But this was produced by one half of the duo behind Cannon Films and yet it didn’t even come close to matching their action pictures in quality, gravitas or fun.

Matt Salinger looked the part for Captain America but he wasn’t qualified for the role. Really, no one in the cast was qualified to do anything other than the three actors I mentioned in this review’s first sentence.

Red Skull at least looked cool when he was actually Red Skull. However, for the majority of the movie, he is just a scarred up looking Italian mobster guy. This film also has his daughter, known as Sin in the comics, but she is a poor version of the character that doesn’t amount to much.

The story is hard to follow but mostly just because it’s boring and paying attention is hard to do with this movie, as I’d rather mindlessly scroll social media feeds on my smart phone than try to stay locked on this picture.

I can’t say that this is as bad as Roger Corman’s Fantastic Four movie from 1994 but this makes the 1989 Punisher movie look like the 2004 Punisher movie.

This isn’t a film worth watching unless you enjoy torturing yourself or you love Captain America so much that you’ve tattooed his entire costume under your street clothes.

Rating: 4/10
Pairs well with: other terrible early Marvel films like 1994’s Fantastic Four and 1989’s The Punisher but at least that one was much better than this. Also, the ’70s Captain America live action stuff and The Incredible Hulk TV movies.

Film Review: Hangar 18 (1980)

Also known as: Space Connection (France), Columbia 3 (Greece), Invasion Force (Germany)
Release Date: July, 1980 (Hollywood premiere)
Directed by: James L. Conway
Written by: Ken Pettus, Thomas C. Chapman, James L. Conway
Music by: John Cacavas
Cast: Darren McGavin, Robert Vaughn, Gary Collins, James Hampton, Pamela Bellwood

Sunn Classic Pictures, 97 Minutes

Review:

“This is a Department of Defense operation. You guys couldn’t get outta here with a coffee cup.” – George Turner

This film probably has a worse wrap than it deserves because it was featured in a very early episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000, way back before it was even on national television. But if I’m being honest, this is a better movie than what one is accustomed to seeing on MST3K.

I’m not saying this is a good picture, it really isn’t. But it did have some actual ambition driving it.

My biggest gripe about it is that it’s pretty boring overall. Also, the quality isn’t great, as it feels more like a late ’70s television movie than a motion picture that got released in actual theaters.

The story is about a just launched satellite colliding with a UFO. The government tries to cover this up due to a presidential election being on the horizon. An astronaut is killed by the collision and the blame for the accident is put on the two surviving astronauts. So this is basically a political thriller with a UFO cover up at its center.

The film just doesn’t play out as cool as it sounds. It’s drab and slow and the action you do see, isn’t that great.

Some of the little tidbits about this film are actually more interesting than the film itself.

It was one of the few American films released during the Cold War in the Soviet Union. Due to Soviet films lacking action and science fiction, it was hugely popular there, at the time. There was also a version of this with an alternate ending. It was released as Invasion Force but according to super film critic Leonard Maltin, the new ending undermined the whole film.

This could have probably been a better picture in more capable hands or with a better budget but it’s really just kind of an uneventful dud.

Rating: 4.5/10
Pairs well with: other late ’70s to early ’80s low budget sci-fi films.

Film Review: A Christmas Story (1983)

Release Date: November 18th, 1983
Directed by: Bob Clark
Written by: Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown, Bob Clark
Based on: In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd
Music by: Carl Zittrer, Paul Zaza
Cast: Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin, Peter Billingsley, Ian Petrella, Scott Schwartz, R.D. Robb, Zack Ward, Jean Shepherd (voice)

Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 94 Minutes

Review:

“You’ll shoot your eye out!” – everyone in the movie that isn’t Ralphie

This is one of those reviews where my opinion is in contrast to the majority.

I’m just not fond of this movie. It’s not a bad motion picture but I certainly don’t have the spot in my heart for it like the millions of people that feel the urge to sit down and watch this for 24 hours straight every Christmas. Full disclosure, my whole family does that and I’m usually off in the corner staring at my phone.

But that being said, I have seen this movie more than any other because it just plays and plays on my family’s television through our annual Christmas Eve party, Christmas morning and during gift giving time. I mean, it’s just a staple. We actually barely pay attention to it at this point except for the younger ones. But everyone in my family still deems its existence in our lives to be necessary.

Give me ScroogedDie HardDie Hard 2Gremlins, Krampus or hell, this director’s other Christmas classic, Black Christmas. Okay, maybe these film selections aren’t safe for child eyes but I’m not the one having kids. And if I did, they’d see Gremlins at the same age I did: five years-old.

Anyway, this is a cute film but nothing about it is exceptional or worthy of the strange acclaim that it has now. I only consider it a classic because it’s just labeled that and for some reason, it resonates with so many people. But I also think that’s just people succumbing to the power of nostalgia. Plus, I don’t get the nostalgia bug for it because even though it came out when I was a kid, it was a bomb in the theater and only gained traction later on television. The kids that found the film were younger than me and I was probably making out with girls by that time. Eventually, I just saw it on TV. And then it was on all the damn time.

It’s a fair picture. There’s nothing great or off putting about it. It just sort of exists to me. It has a few funny moments but the comedy isn’t superb, by any means. Honestly, the movie is kind of slow and a bit drab. It has a few scenes that have become iconic but overall, watching more than ten minutes at a time, bores me to tears.

But I get that I’m the oddball, here. I just feel like there are so many holiday films better than this one. This feels dated, incredibly overplayed and probably needs to be replaced as the big Christmas marathon movie.

I’d have no problem with Home Alone being on 24/7 on December 25th.

Rating: 6/10
Pairs well with: other mediocre Christmas “classics”.

Film Review: Raw Deal (1986)

Release Date: June 6th, 1986
Directed by: John Irvin
Written by: Gary DeVore, Norman Wexler, Luciano Vincenzoni, Sergio Donati
Music by: Tom Bahler, Chris Boardman, Albhy Galuten
Cast: Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kathryn Harrold, Darren McGavin, Sam Wanamaker, Paul Shenar, Steven Hill, Ed Lauter, Robert Davi, Dick Durock

Famous Films, International Film Corporation, De Laurentiis Entertainment Group, Embassy Pictures, 107 Minutes

Review:

“He molested, murdered and mutilated her.” – Mark Kaminsky

This is an old school Schwarzenegger film that I had never seen until now. Actually, it is probably the only Schwarzenegger film I have never seen. Although I have seen a few clips here and there over the years like the scene with his awesome line, “You should not drink and bake.”

Anyway, Raw Deal is sort of a raw deal. It isn’t a good picture by any stretch of the imagination. There is one amazing scene where Schwarzenegger blows up a massive oil refinery but that short sequence was the entire budget of the picture, one would have to assume.

Also, he looks good in that he wears a nice suit and puffs a large cigar for most of the movie. He’s essentially the Austrian James Bond with extra muscles and not a lot to do.

The movie feels cheap and it is cheap. The quality of the film is a big step down from where Schwarzenegger was at this point in his career. The cinematography is ugly, the quality of the film and camera work is shitty and the script is awful apart from a couple funny Arnold lines.

The film also has Robert Davi and Ed Lauter in it, which is cool but not cool enough to make the film anything other than a less-than-mediocre action film.

Raw Deal is no Terminator or Commando or Conan. It is like a script that Chuck Norris said “no” to even though he made around 1700 films in the 1980s.

So, I hate to do this to Arnie but I have to run Raw Deal through the Cinespiria Shitometer. So, what we have here is a “Type 3 Stool: Like a sausage but with cracks on its surface.”

Rating: 4/10