Monday, October 11, 2010

The Complete Night Stalker, Part Three

With episodes Nine through Twelve, some of the inconsistent quality of the first few episodes is seeming to creep back into the series. Nothing is as bad as the worst of those, however, and some of the greatest moments of the entire series can be seen in these episodes.

But the ups and downs quality-wise will continue to be a problem.

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

Episode Nine: The Spanish Moss Murders
Director: Gordon Hessler
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

A bizarre string of muders that are linked only by the presence of spanish moss at the crime scene has the police baffled. Kolchak eventually discovers at additional link--hot-tempered Cajun transplant Paul Langois. He has a sure-fire alibi, in that he has been kept asleep in a lab while the murders have been happening. When Kolchak attempts to get Langois awakened, he becomes the next target of the moss-dripping monster. How will one reporter stop a nightmare monster?

This episode has some really tense moments, and the use of a "dream monster" is pretty clever. Keenan Wynn also joins the cast as one of the many homicide officers that Kolchak drives up the wall--one of the few unfortunate enough to have to cross Carl's path more than once. It's not one of the best, but it's pretty good.

Episode Ten: The Energy Eater
Director: Alexander Grasshoff
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

While covering the opening of a newly constructed, state-of-the-art hospital on Chicago's lakefront, Kolchak experiences some bizarre electrical overloads in its basement, which is also unbearably hot. After exhausting all the possible natural causes for the troubles, Kolchak tracks down a Native American shaman who was part of a workcrew who quit the construction project shortly after it began. From him, he learns that an ancient, hungry spirit--the Bear God--has been awakened, and that if it isn't returned to its state of hibernation, much more than just the hospital will be destroyed. The shaman is too scared to face the creature, so it's once again up to Carl to solve matters on his own.

This episode has some amusing moments--mostly from the womanizing Indian shaman Jim Elkhorn--and the idea of a powerful spirit being reawakened by the interference of modern man is a neat one, but the episode just sort of drags, with repetative scenes of Carl visiting the hospital with different advisors. The truly great moment is when Carl tries to assemble a bunch of pictures he took into the image of Bear God... and realizes that all he got was the unseen gigantic creature's eyeball.

This was an episode with lots of potential, but the creators didn't quite pull it off.

Episode Eleven: Horror in the Heights
Director: Michael Caffey
Rating: Nine of Ten Stars

While working on a series of articles intended to call attention to the tragic conditions some senior citizens are forced to live in, Kolchak arrives at the conclusion that something far more sinister than rabid rats is lurking in the shadows of Chicago's run-down Heights neighborhood. But how does one fight an Indian demon that can change shape at will?

This is quite possibly one of the very best episodes in the series. Not only is it populated with a great cast of supporting actors (including one that provides some amusing continuity to "The Spanish Moss Murders", but the script (by Jimmy Sangster, who wrote some great scripts for Hammer Films) features not only some truly scary moments, but we end up with some great insight into Carl Kolchak's character. This episode--and the last few minutes in particular--make him seem like a real human being moreso than anything we've seen since the original "The Night Stalker" movie.

"Horror in the Heights" manages to be both scary and touching, and even serve up a little bit of social commentary without getting too preaching. There is some intended humor that falls flat in a scene in an Indian restraunt, but that's really the only misstep in this episode. This is certainly one of the installments that made the series a "cult classic."

Episode Twelve: Mr. R.I.N.G.
Director: Gene Levitt
Rating: Five of Ten Stars

While working on a puff-piece obituary of a scientist, Kolchak uncovers a government conspiracy to conceal the existence of a highly advanced robot that has developed sentience and a willingness to kill to ensure its own survival.

While this episode has some nice moments--Kolchak struggling to get the story recorded before the drugs he's been administered wipe it from his mind, the robot's efforts to make itself human, and some additional insight into Kolchak's nicer side--it is overall too slow moving to be all that entertaining. It also doesn't even provide the slightest twist to the "robot wants to be alive" plot, nor the Big Bad Government Is Hiding Things subplot. (Although, it could be that in the mid-1970s, the Big Bad Government storylines weren't quite as played out as they are today.)

Not among the worst episode in the series, but also not one of the best. However, it one that very clearly shows how this series was part of Chris Carter's inspiration for "The X-Files." Heck, they probably did an episode of that show that could have been shot from this script.

Please join me again next Monday for a look at another batch of "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" episodes.

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