Cinema Sunday: The Night Stalker (Kolchak) 1972
Title: The Night Stalker
Distributor: ABC Television
Writer: Richard Matheson (novel by Jeff Rice)
Director: John Llewellyn Moxey
Producer: Dan Curtis
Starring: Darren McGavin, Carol Lynley, Simon Oakland, Claude Akins, Elisha Cook Jr.
Released: January 1972
MPAA: NR (estimated PG)
Alright, time for another made-for-TV movie! It has been a little while since I’d done one of these, but trust me, this one deserve the attention! Yeah, at first glance most people are going to be all like…”hey, there’s Ralphie ‘s dad from A Christmas Story!” And although it is true, this character (Kolchak) is nothing like that portrayal. With one notable bad performance (which I’ll get to later), this film was one that garnered much attention at the time, and actually was rated extremely high. The horror genre was in full swing in other media by now as well (comic books, movies, etc.), so this was perfect timing by the studio. OK, enough of the small talk, here comes the vampire action!
The film begins with a woman, who works at a casino in Las Vegas, heading home after a long, evening shift. A voice narrating (Darren McGaven), tells us about her and the situation in that city. She heads down an alleyway, and gets jumped by someone with an extreme amount of strength. She’s found the following day by a garbage man. The scene then switches to a hospital operating room, where three surgeons are baffled at the blood loss of the victim.
We next see reporter Karl Kolchak (Darren McGaven), as he heads toward Las Vegas. He comes back to work early from vacation at the behest of his boss. At the office, managing editor, Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland), barks at Kolchak, and tells him to head out and find something juicy about the murder. Kolchak heads to the hospital where a certain doctor gives him some tips every once in a while. The doctor tells him that there wasn’t anything about the murder that was suspicious except massive blood loss.
Kolchak then heads to the casino where the girl worked, and talks to one of her girlfriends, Gail Foster (Carol Lynley – image above), and she doesn’t really give anything he can use. We do however find out that Gail is Kolchak’s girlfriend. Just three days later, and we get another murder. This time, a girl is found in a desert area off of a freeway. The puzzling thing is that there are no footprints near the body, and that her throat has an injury to it. No blood is found by the victim. There are signs of a struggle nearby, but none near the corpse. The sheriff (Claude Akins) isn’t having any of Kolchak’s nonsense either.
Another couple of days, and another murder of a young woman. Same evidence or lack thereof is present, so Kolchak turns to a friend in the FBI, Bernie Jenks (Ralph Meeker). He asks him to use his resources to look into the murders. Kolchak gets a phone call and his friend at the hospital tells him that a different hospital was recently robbed of several containers of blood. Later that day, there’s a press conference held at city hall. The coroner tells the onlookers that the girls were bitten on the throat, and blood was pumped out of their bodies. He also tells them that human saliva was found on the wounds as well. The sheriff gets angry and yells at Kolchak when he asks the coroner about the possibility that a man tried to drink the girl’s blood for some unknown reason.
After the meeting, the sleazy mayor has a little meeting with Kolchak and basically warns him off of creating speculation about the crimes. Kolchak takes a story to Vincenzo, and he balls him out over it and threatens him as the mayor did earlier. As Kolchak is back at his place, he and Gail talk about the case. He gets a phone call about another murder, but this time there was a witness. The woman describes the killer and his car. Things quickly escalate after this, and Kolchak and the police are ready for action. He then gets one of his other contacts to do some digging for him, and the switchboard operator is more than happy to do it after he bribes her with chocolates (yes, really).
After a composite drawing of the killer, the police are ready to act on any kind of call. We next see the killer (not his face), stalk a young woman. He approaches her outside by her car, but suddenly, she opens the back door, and a huge dog jumps out of the car, and onto the killer. He easily thrashes the dog, and then the girl goes missing. Kolchak has it out with Vincenzo about the suppression of the news because of the police and politicians. Vincenzo tells him they don’t want to create a panic, so that’s why it’s being kept quiet. They eventually track down where the killer bought the car, but not much comes from that situation.
The next evening, Gail attempts to get Kolchak to buy into the killer being a real vampire. He isn’t having it, and before you know it, he’s out the door after hearing about another robbery at a hospital. We now get to see the killer, and what he can do. He manhandles two orderlies, and throws a third out of a two-story window. Before the killer can get away, the police arrive, and we see the killer absorb a multitude of shots from the police at close range…and he keeps going!
Is this killer just some kook wearing a bullet proof vest? Or is he the real deal? Can Kolchak survive a confrontation with this supernatural killer? You must see this one to find out!
OK, here are my thoughts:
For anyone that hasn’t seen this flick or the television show, you’re really missing out. There was another T.V. movie a couple of years later as well, but this one is really the best. Darren McGaven gives a fantastic performance, and really elevates this small screen production. Having guys like Richard Matheson (writer – screenplay) and Dan Curtis (producer) behind the scenes doesn’t hurt either, but he really sets the tone for this film. Even Carol Lynley (The Poseidon Adventure) was pretty convincing in her role as Kolchak’s girlfriend (except for the fact that he looks old enough to be her dad).
The soundtrack is pretty jazzy, and the overall production quality is solid. The special effects were few but definitely noteworthy, especially the scene where the dude was thrown out of the second-story window. The vampire wasn’t very menacing as far as the make-up, but he’s a pretty big dude, and that was enough to make him sort of scary. Plus they relied on atmosphere in most of his scenes, so there’s that too.
Definitely give this one a watch, as you’ll be impressed by McGaven’s work! The supporting cast also gives this one a helping hand (Carol Lynley is gorgeous!) for the most part (other than the overacting by the editor in the film).