Monday, September 27, 2010

The Complete Night Stalker, Part One

Since horror movie reviews are nothing out of the ordinary here, I'm going to build up to Halloween by reviewing every episode in the classic Kolchak: The Night Stalker series. I already covered the two movies, so nothing seemed more appropriate than this.

(And if anyone out there would like write about that short-lived remake series from a few years back, I'm always open to guest posts!)

Kolchak: The Night Stalker
(The Complete Television Series Reviewed, Part One)

Episode One: The Ripper
Director: Allen Baron
Rating: Four Four of Ten Stars

A serial killer is stalking the women of Chicago and beating the tar out of police officers by the dozens. Kolchak (Darren McGavin), along with his long-suffering editor Tony Vincienzo (Simon Oakland), have landed at INS, a small-time wire-service. As Kolchak (over Tony's objections) investigates the killings, he comes to believe that that he is the original Jack the Ripper, and that unless Kolchak stops him before he claims his fifth victim, he will vanish and resuface in a different city where the pattern will repeat itself.

If the plot of the first episode of the series sounds familiar, then that's because it is. It's basically the same as that featured in "The Night Strangler."

This is a dissapointing start, made even more dissapointing by the fact that there is never any real sense of menace in the story. Yes, a serial killer is on the loose, but Kolchak is never in any danger. On the upside, McGavin and Oakland are both as good in their parts as they were in the films.

Episode Two: The Zombie
Director: Alex Grasshoff
Rating: Eight of Ten Stars

Someone is murdering Chicago's gangsters and a chance conversation with one of his sources sets Kolchak on the trail of the culprit: A small-times numbers operator who has been called back from the grave to serve as the means to avenge his death.

I was as delighted by this episode as I was disappointed in the series' first installment. There wasn't a single element of the episode that wasn't an improvement over "The Ripper." The storyline was more original, the funny parts were funnier, and Kolchak's ability to survive the adventure intact felt as though it was in serious doubt on more than one occassion. While the threat of the mad slasher seemed distant and non-personal to Kolchak in "The Ripper", in this episode, Our Man at INS is under threat of sudden termination by illegal bookmaking operators, gangsters, corrupt cops, and, of course, the walking dead. In fact, Kolchak's confrontation with the zombie is so creepy that it tops what you see in many movies.

Episode Three: They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be...
Director: Allen Baron
Rating: Three of Ten Stars

After a string of bizarre animal deaths at a Chicago zoo are followed by some very similar murders, Kolchak becomes convinced that space aliens are threatening the city--who else could possibly be mutilating animals and then escalating to doing the same to people? Will he manage to prove the Truth Is Out There, or will the government agents dogging his heels stop him?

This episode has a rushed feel to it. The story simply doesn't hang together, and has some pretty dumb elements, even by the standards of the Seventies (an alien who is off-course with his spaceship can find his way home using a planetarium's starmap?), and Kolchak makes some pretty far leaps of logic to keep the story going--because much of what he concludes isn't based in his investigation--and the fact that he manages to locate the alien craft using a very simple method; if finding the UFO is THAT easy, why hasn't the government got it surrounded already? The greatest flaw of the episode is that it's dull. It never manages to engage the viewers. In fact, the best part of it is Kolchak's voice-over at the end where he compares the murderous alien to just another traveler stopping at a roadside diner for a bite to eat. If only the rest of the show had been that amusing.

Episode Four: The Vampire
Director: Don Weis
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

After weaseling his way to being sent on assignment to write a puff piece about a Guru visiting Los Angeles (thus getting what he views as a paid vacation), Kolchak is distracted by the news of murders that seem eerily similar to ones that he investigated while living in Las Vegas. In fact, this episode is an unofficial sequel to "The Night Stalker" movie, as the vampire menacing Los Angeles is a spawn of the creature that first drew Kolchak into confrontation with the supernatural.

Kolchak's attempts to trap the vampire in this episode are pretty amusing, as is his attempt to use a real estate agent he meets as a ghost-writer to meet his deadline with INS. The climax with the vampire is interesting (even if I found myself wondering how he managed to set up the way he trapped her), and I think this is the first time where Kolchak isn't the victim of a far-reaching cover-up, or is left with no evidence that something bizarre happened . Just like in "The Night Stalker," the police arrest him for the murder of the vampire, but they have to let him go... for a very interesting and sensible reason. But, there's no hint that anyone is going out of their way to cover things up. (Of course, no one believes in vampires, even in Hollyweird.)

All in all, this was a pretty good episode. It was nice to see some tie-backs to the movie that started it all, and it was also nice to see a police officer portrayed like an intelligent person. The homicide luitenant in "The Vampire" is intelligent and dilligent enough to keep digging into his murder cases even after a couple of Satanists are locked up for them, because the clues aren't adding up. Virtually every other police officer that's appeared in the series up to this point would have called it a day with the first suspects.

Next week, I cover episodes 5 through 8, as I continue my way through the mixed bag that is "The Night Stalker" television series.

1 comment:

  1. Nice. Looking forward to your KOLCHAK coverage. I covered the series on my old blog last year over a period of a couple of months. So far we're on the same page, except I think I liked The Ripper just a little bit more than you did.