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.