On January 11, 1972 ABC aired the first part of a two-part movie. The Night Stalker received the highest Nielsen rating for an original TV movie. This sparked the TV movie sequel The Night Strangler, and a TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker. The series lasted one season. This article contains spoilers for the movies and series episodes.
The Night Stalker
The movie is set in Las Vegas. A couple of women have been found dead. Investigative reporter, Carl Kolchak (Darren McGaven), narrates the murder scene and what is known about the victims. Kolchak comes up with the idea the killer believes himself a vampire.
A nurse finds an intruder, Janos Skorzeny (Barry Atwater), is robbing the hospital’s blood bank. She finds and orderly to deal with him. The nurse not confronting the intruder is a departure from movies from earlier times. Skorzeny easily prevails against the orderly, despite receiving some solid punches. The police corner Skorzeny but he fights them off and escapes.
Kolchak’s girlfriend, Gail Foster (Carol Lynley), proposes maybe the killer is a vampire. She shows him a book about vampires and Kolchak reads it to her. Kolchak’s research reveals the suspect’s name is Janos Skorzeny. Skorzeny’s minimum age and movements convinces Kolchak the killer is a vampire. The police don’t believe him.
Kolchak goes to Skorzeny’s address prepared to kill a vampire. There is great suspense before Kolchak meets the vampire. Skorzeny is terrified as he meets his painful demise. Skorzeny does not speak on camera.
The police threaten to charge Kolchak with murder unless he leaves Las Vegas and never return. Gail is also gone and Kolchak has never gotten word from her. The ending leaves an opening that maybe there wasn’t any vampire.
The Night Strangler
This 1973 movie is set in Seattle. It has the same murder narration as The Night Stalker. Kolchak makes his appearance in a bar that’s a hangout for news people. He’s trying to convince another patron his vampire story is real. Kolchak’s former boss, Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland), is also at the bar. Vincenzo convinces his boss, Llewellyn Crossbinder (John Carradine) to hire Kolchak.
This puts Kolchak on the case of the latest murder, the strangulation of a belly dancer (Regina Parton).[i] Kolchak interviewes the two other belly dancers who worked in the same club as the victim. He met Charisma Beauty (Nina Wayne) and her husband, Wilma Krankheimer (Virginia Peters).[ii] Charisma Beauty isn’t any help. The other dancer, Louise Harper (Jo Ann Pflug), is eager to help Kolchak find the killer.
Another murder yields a witness (Diane Shalet). She describes the suspect as looking like a dead man. The victims had skin of a corpse on their necks and a small amount of blood missing from the back of their neck. With the help of the news researcher (Wally Cox) Kolchak learns there were similar serial killings that have been recurring since the 19th century in that section of Seattle. Earlier in the 19th century there were similar killings in New York. Louise tells Kolchak about Professor Crabwell (Margaret Hamilton) who was an expert in the supernatural. Professor Crabwell tells Kolchak how alchemists were experimenting with extending life. She tells of claims that those with extended life also have great strength. This would also explain how a suspect fought off police and was shot without appearing hurt.
Kolchak confronts police Captain Roscoe Schubert (Scott Brady) about the link to the past serial killings. Captain Schubert informs Kolchak they already looked into the past serial killings. Captain Schubert pointed out a couple of discrepancies between those murders and the current serial killings. This confrontation gives a good lesson. One discrepancy happened because there were apparently two unrelated murders at the same time and place. Another apparent discrepancy was because neither Kolchak nor Captain Schubert were fully aware of what was transpiring.
Kolchak identifies the strangler as Dr. Richard Malcolm (Richard Anderson). He finds him in an unexplored area of Seattle’s underground. Dr. Malcolm makes the classic villain mistake of giving Kolchak the knowledge necessary to destroy him. Kolchak takes the chance when he gets it.
The story goes to press and 20 copies were printed before Llewellyn Crossbinder stops the presses. Kolchak, Vincenzo, and Louise are run out of town and the movie ends with them making their way to New York.
[i] In the 1970s belly dancers gained popularity as an alternative to exotic dancers (strippers, in 1970s terminology).
[ii] Today such an introduction would be considered “woke”. In the 1970’s it was considered humor.
Kolchak: The Night Stalker
For the series Kolchak and Vincenzo work in Chicago for the International News Service (INS). In the first episode, “The Ripper”, the killer is Jack the Ripper. Kolchak first sees “The Ripper” (Mickey Gilbert) when the police apparently have the killer cornered. The police shoot him many times at point blank range, he jumps from a four-story building, and gets hit by a car, all with no effect. Kolchak snaps away with an instamatic camera as this scene unfolds. He made a mistake many people made at the time. The camera’s flash is only good for short range. In another time capsule Kolchak refers to fellow reporter, Jane Plumm (Beatrice Colen), as “fat”. She is slightly above ideal weight. Kolchak uses deductive reasoning to figure out how to destroy The Ripper. Kolchak unintentionally burns down a house in killing “The Ripper”. Kolchak mentions he was charged with malicious mischief and arson in the epilogue.
Kolchak’s next encounter is with a zombie (Earl Faison). It’s a traditional zombie, awakened by voodoo, not a “Night of the Living Dead” type zombie.[i] In this story killing a zombie was complicated. Kolchak’s chosen attempt to kill the zombie failed when the zombie woke. In the ensuing chase Kolchak comes across the alternate way to kill a zombie.
The episode “They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be” deals with space aliens. The episode involves a government coverup, an appeal for “responsible journalism”, an invisible alien, and a lecturer (Maureen Arthur) with a ridiculous story of her alien encounter.
“The Vampire” follows the vampire Catherine Rawlins (Suzanne Charny) from her awakening outside Las Vegas to her demise outside Los Angeles. Stewardess[ii] Elena Munoz (Alice Backes) brings the vampire to life when she accidentally cut herself while changing a tire. Elena runs away when she sees hands coming out of the ground. Catherine left a bloodless body trail leading to Los Angeles. Kolchak gets wind of a possible vampire in the Los Angeles area. Catherine is working as a “call girl” in Hollywood. He arranges to have Catherine come to his hotel room. He draws a cross on the door with borrowed lipstick and waits for the vampire. The call girl (Anne Whitfield) enters and Kolchak confronts her, cross and stake in hand. Her reaction; “Alright what kind of a freako scene is this?” With the help of real estate agent Faye Kruger (Kathleen Nolan) Kolchak finds a rented house suitable for a vampire’s needs. He immobilizes Catherine by setting fire to a large cross, a local landmark. He was going to be charged with murder but the autopsy showed Catherine had been dead for at least three years. Kolchak had to pay for the monument’s destruction.
In “The Werewolf” Kolchak has an assignment on a cruise ship. It’s the last voyage of the SS Hannover. In 1974 cruise ships seemed destined for extinction. The Hannover’s passengers are singles.[iii] Passengers Mel Tarter (Dick Gautier) and Wendy (Jackie Russell) are having a public romance. There’s a werewolf (Bernhardt Stieglitz) on board who is killing the passengers and crew. In this universe killing a werewolf involves having a priest bless the silver bullet in Latin. This makes for some comical scenes, including the revelation Mel and Wendy had previously been married to each other for 10 years.
The episodes were a combination of comedy, horror, and action. The monsters were a mixture of familiar, obscure, and ones made up for the show. The more gruesome deaths were normally described rather than shown. One exception is “Firefall” where it depicts spontaneous human combustion. The show’s ratings weren’t good and Darrin McGavin wanted out of the show. The series ended after 20 episodes.
[i] “Night of the Living Dead” (1968) started the genre of zombies as uncontrolled, flesh-eating ghouls.
[ii] The term used for female flight attendants in 1974.
[iii] Before the 70’s ended cruise ships were popular vacation spots, popularized by the 1977 TV series “The Love Boat”.
Jack the Ripper
The Have Been, They Are, They Will Be…
The Devil's Platform
The Spanish Moss Murders
The Energy Eater
Horror in the Heights
Was not Richard Kiel
Craig R. Baxley
Billed as a Frankenstein
An Ape Man
The Trevi Collection
Riding on motorcycle
Demon in Lace
Had multiple guises
Legacy of Terror
The Knightly Murders
Suit of Armor
The Youth Killer
Helen of Troy
Cathy Lee Crosby
Craig R. Baxley
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 Robert Sacchi