Series: Kolchak: The Night Stalker
Long before Peter and Walter Bishop started exploring the fringe with that chick who isn’t Clare Danes. Before Sam and Dean put on their best denim and started poking around in the supernatural. Before Buffy was slaying creatures of the night with witty dialogue, and before Mulder and Scully were doing file keeping for the FBI, Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) was stalking all things supernatural, fringy and file worthy. In fact, it’s no stretch to say that all of those shows (Buffy, Fringe, Supernatural, X-Files) and many others, owe a massive part of their very existence to the twenty episodes of Kolchak: The Night Stalker which originally aired in the 1970’s. X-Files creator, Chris Carter, even went so far as to cast Darren McGavin as the character Arthur Dales: The man who originally started the X-Files long before Mulder made the scene.
The series follows on from two movies: THE NIGHT STALKER based an unpublished novel called ‘The Kolchak Papers’ by Jeff Rice, adapted by Richard Matheson (I AM LEGEND – the book, not the gawd awful movie) and THE NIGHT STRANGLER, also by Matheson. A third movie was in the works (THE NIGHT KILLERS) however then decision was made to develop the concept into a television series.
Independent News Service [INS] reporter Carl Kolchak is a wholly unlikable man. He’s always on a scam, always where he’s not suppose to be, always irritating and completely devoid of charm. And as a reporter he’s not much better! Despite his ability to sniff out a story he constantly avoids the assignments given to him by his editor, or he palms them off onto elderly Mrs Cowles, the INS advice columnist. When he does take an assignment seriously it invariably ends up leading him into some kind of supernatural shenanigans.
Although the series only lasted for twenty episodes before McGavin asked to be released from his contract, it still managed to check off most of your standard supernatural fare: Vampires, Werewolves, Swamp creatures, Mummies and yes, Zombies!. And in a tradition that would later be continued by the X-Files, the show included plots involving lesser known legends from other cultures.
To be honest, the show doesn’t quite cut it as a chiller these days. But it’s still throughly entertaining, thanks mostly to meticulous solid supporting characters. Kolchak’s constantly antagonised editor, Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland), and Police Captain “Mad Dog” Siska (Keenan Wynn) both spend most of their time at the end of their tether, and are a constant source of amusement. Passing characters are always robust too and are always involved in their own business or working their own angle. Like the informant Kolchak visits only once (on screen) during the series, but we soon discover that this is a regular source for Kolchak when the man begins reciting ‘another’ chapter of his memoirs for Kolchak to transcribe. Characters who would otherwise pass by and be forgotten quickly in other shows are given a fully fleshed out role to play, no matter how short their on screen time. This often makes it extremely hard to tell which characters will play a larger part in the episode’s events, and which ones you’ll never see again.
More often than not, Kolchak finds himself up against some demonic incarnation which resembles a guy in a matted gorilla suit — or the worst crocodile-man costume ever to be witnessed — but show is fun and witty and still manages a few real creepy bits.