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Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974)
Movie Review by The Mortician

Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974) Ah, the excellence of Netflix Streaming lets you revisit past television shows that you might've grown up with, such as KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER. All twenty original one-hour episodes are available to view streaming or on an inexpensive DVD box set.

KOLCHAK pretty much paved the way for more modern TV shows like THE X-FILES and SUPERNATURAL, pitting a doggedly determined individual (in this case, rugged Chicago reporter Carl Kolchak played by Darren McGavin) against weekly supernatural enemies. These adversaries include aliens, robots, lizard creatures, witches, werewolves, zombies, ghosts...you name it, "it" probably appears in one of these classic episodes in one form or the other.

As a child of the 70's, I grew up with this show and even though it lasted only one season, certain vivid elements of it always remained with me throughout the years. I have especially fond and spooky recollections of the "dinosaur in the tunnel episode" (the final one) and the vampire one(s).

Sadly, the series hasn't held up as well as I had anticipated. Many TV shows from yesteryear, such as THE ROCKFORD FILES, THE SIX MILLION DOLLAR MAN, and even most of the original BIONIC WOMAN series, are great fun to revisit. The acting is decent, the FX are cheesy but fun and overall, the sense of nostalgic excitement you had growing up with the shows remains fully intact. ROCKFORD has remained especially relevant with the great dialogue, acting, and stories that never seem to get old. (Check out the PROFIT AND LOSS episodes---eerily foreshadowing Wall Street's latest meltdowns 25 years before they happened, scarier than any horror film!) And Bigfoot, The Death Probe, and the Fembots all remain classic viewing moments then and now in the BIONIC world...

The problem with KOLCHAK seems to inherently be subpar, cliche writing, acting that borderlines on camp (why the characters continually scream and yell at each other during even the most simple scenes of exposition is beyond me) and effects that don't hold a candle in the wind to most other shows from this era. Multiple episodes feature "guys in furry suits" attacking people by throwing the same stunt men around in the same manner and the standard "formula" of each show gets very dull very fast as the show treads on...

All episodes open with Carl Kolchak speaking into his tape recorder, telling us about the monster of the week as we see very tame (especially nowadays) "attack" scenes. The cops investigate, never believing it's anything supernatural even when they see "it" with their own eyes time after time. More attacks (and flying stuntmen) are shown...Kolchak investigates, always getting in the way of the police investigation (touching evidence with his bare hands, taking pictures of victims before the cops have even fully investigated the crime scenes---further taking any sense of realism away from the proceedings)...and finally, Kolchak investigates things on his own (talking to folks who know about ancient curses, monsters, and twisted lab experiments gone awry), "solving" the case and putting the evil at bay however he can.

The interesting points of the show include Kolchak being a clutz and always tripping, falling, or making noise so the monsters see him spying on them and the fact that the police always seize his camera full of picture evidence every time so he never has any proof that anything strange happened! Thus, he can never even write the stories on all the creepy adventures he endures...which leads to the question...how does he even stay employed as a newspaper writer never being able to file a viable story?

There's enough BLATANT plot holes in this series to sink the Titanic five time over and the problem is they are so obvious that they become annoying, hindering enjoyment of the proceedings. I found myself always thinking "that would never happen...he couldn't do that...man, that was stupid..." and on and on it went. I found the writing to be extremely sloppy right from the get-go, even for a horror show obviously dosed with sprinkled cheese on top right from the very beginning.

The effects, as mentioned, are extremely sub-par, especially for a Universal TV show. The same shaggy carpet costume must've been used in half-a-dozen episodes as rampaging primates, Bigfoot, and a werewolf, just to name a few. Erik Estrada guest stars in a completely laughable (pre-CHIPS, hopefully!) episode where he and his clan of cult followers look like nothing more than a bunch of folks ready to go to a Marti Gras street party! It's actually downright hilarious, right up through the moments where they try to "raise a mummy from the dead" in the middle of an empty football stadium (!). Another episode where a woman tries to keep her youth by "stealing souls from the young" is totally ludicrous because she appears so young all along and the only "old" makeup they add to her is silly putty for bags under her eyes! The "lizard in the tunnel" episode was mauled by one of the worst costumes I've ever witnessed---and I'm pretty forgiving with these things, I thought the Gorn in STAR TREK'S ARENA episode looked really realistic (and it's still a favorite episode of mine) until I recently saw it in High Definition where you could actually SEE the costume's zippers!!!! (Ah, an argument for some shows to remain in Standard Definition...it's RUINING the realism of the shows!!!)

I also tired of Kolchak bickering with all the different police chiefs in charge of the murder investigations, followed by the extremely repetitive and loooooooooooong dialogue scenes (sometimes ten minutes or more!) where Kolchak interviews people to find out how to beat the creatures...and then repeating the whole conversation AGAIN to his newspaper editor (played by Simon Oakland, who continually screams all of his dialogue out unrealistically while nursing a permanent ulcer) verbatim!

I can't tell you how many times I fell asleep watching this show, getting through the entire 20 episode run (at 17 hours and 6 minutes) took me MONTHS. It felt like it lasted thirty seasons!

Anyway, as difficult as some of KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER is to watch, it's still a show to check out again---especially if you grew up with it. Darren McGavin is slick cool in his hat, tie, and tennis shoe outfit and there are moments where you look back fondly on your youth---even if it is in a "I was scared of THAT at age SEVEN?!?! WHY?!?!" way.

Revisit at your own risk!

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