KOLCHAK:THE NIGHT STALKER
Carl Kolchak - Darren McGavin
Tony Vincenzo - Simon Oakley
OTHER PARANORMAL INVESTIGATIONS
A series of murders is taking place in Chicago that mirrors another series of murders that took place in London in 1888. Kolchak, who is exiled to the agony aunt column for pretending to be the police commissioner to get a story, determines that the crimes are being committed by the actual Jack the Ripper, a man who is over a hundred years old and who has survived hanging and shooting and was only temporarily slowed down by an electric fence.
The first episode of the series based on two of America's favourite TV movies (of the time) comes with all the elements that made the movies so much fun. The single most important element is Darren McGavin as Kolchak. It is his impudent nature, sly wit and sardonic delivery that makes the show work. The script is fairly witty, but he's the one who delivers the lines with just perfect timing. The voiceover is also a masterpiece of cynicism and streetwise weariness that show just how voiceovers ought to be done.
As for the plot, well that's a bit disappointing. For the first story out of the bag to be Jack the Ripper, a character who appears to crop up in all genre shows at some point, shows a lack of originality that we hope is merely the producers trying to use a known name to pull the audience in at the start. Jack's longevity and invulnerability are talked about, but not explained and the manner in which Kolchak triumphs is clever, but not without its cost.
The fun starts here, with the hope that more original stories will follow.Top
A gang war seems about to break out between the italian mob and the black numbers operators in Chicago. It's over the deaths of a series of the italians' guys by one of the black gang members. The thing is that the black gang member is not only dead, but has been buried - twice.
Another entertaining story, but this one is marred by the somehwhat stilted and caricatured view of both the italian mob and their black counterparts. One set are slightly stupid, family-loving and argumenatative, whilst the other side are voodoo-loving pimpmobile owners and bling collectors.
Fortunately, the story is strong enough to weather this and is anchored by the strong performance of Darren McGavin as Kolchak. When he goes to a scrapyard to deal with the zombie himself, armed only with some candles, a needle and some salt, the fear in the man is palpable.Top
Animals at the zoo are being drained of their bone marrow. An invisible force smashes through a wall and makes two tonnes of lead disappear. Is Kolchak facing something that is more extraterrestrial than supernatural?
The initial (non)appearance of the being as it smashes through the wall is pretty impressive. There are some nice moments in Kolchak's line of patter. The use of the planetarium is quite smart. Some of the supporting characters are nicely amusing.
That aside, the investigation is much as before with the cops hiding things with the help of mysterious agencies and Kolchak somehow bumbling his way to the answers. The spaceship at the end is pretty disappointing as well.Top
A rash of deaths between Las Vegas and Los Angeles brings Carl to believe that a vampire is on the loose. Sneaking a trip to LA supposedly to interview a guru, he is soon on the trail of the vampire, annoying a whole new town of cops in the process.
It's the little things that please in KOLCHAK:THE NIGHT STALKER, things like the way he finagles his way into the interview job, his sniping at the hick sheriff, his sparring with the no nonsense police officer in the case and his discomfiture at ordering a prostitute in the presence of another woman.
The plot is settling down into a simple pattern - Kolchak believes something strange is going on, discovers what it really is whilst the police deny it all and then ends up in some dark and scary place for a one on one encounter - but the script and the performances are fun enough to get over that problem and Kolchak's manner of dealing with the vampire is novel enough to impress.Top
In the middle of a harsh Chicago winter, Kolchak gets himself onto a singles cruise to provide the news service with a series of articles. Unfortunately for him, a werewolf has also come aboard and is ripping its way through crew and passengers. The captain, of course, doesn't believe that it's a werewolf and so it's down to Kolchak to find a way to kill the beast.
If nothing else, this episode will put you off singles cruises for life. Not because of the likelihood of being attacked by a werewolf, but because of the other characters that you are likely to end up meeting. Most of them are just awful and not people that you would want to spend time with. Fortunately, Carl Kolchak is someone you would want to spend time with and any time that he is on screen with other people is a lot of fun. There is a lot of witty dialogue and Darren McGavin plays it wonderfully.
The main problem is the werewolf. The makeup is straight out of Lon Chaney's THE WOLF MAN and is about as convincing, even less so when it's put on a man in a suit. As a result, the beast is kept in long shot or the shadows in an attempt to keep his scary factor up. The prowling around the ship looking for the werewolf is also possibly overdone. It is tense and scary, but goes on a bit too long. We'd also like to know where Kolchak learned the skills of making silver bullets and how he managed to make the mould.
Eric Braeden cameos to little effect.Top
Acclaimed conductor Ryder Bond's life becomes a nightmare as a dead mobster takes to burning people alive every time he goes to sleep. Kolchak has to stay awake for long enough to stop the mobster taking over Bond's life for good.
Quite apart from the ridiculous set up to this story, the ideas of spontaneous combustion, vengeful spirits and poltergeists released by sleep are all nicely combined in smart, snappy storyline that allows Darren McGavin to do a bit more than his usual dishevelled, sneaky schtick.
The scene where the distraught conductor takes shelter in a church and is tormented by demonic visions of himself through the windows is surprisingly effective despite being incredibly overwrought.Top
A young senatorial candidate with the charm to go all the way to the White House turns out to be the recipient of unholy help as a he has sold his soul to the Devil. Kolchak must find a way to end his meteoric political rise without ending up dead in the process.
Tom Skerrit guests as the devil-owing candidate with the ability to change into a fierce-looking hound, but otherwise this is a rather dull story. Politics should be the stuff of great drama, but there is little in the way of politics and less in the way of great drama.Top
Rich women are being murdered for their jewels all over the town. It turns out to be the work of a giant red indian sorceror damned to walk for eternity gathering a stock of jewels for the Gods. Kolchak is on the story, but how do you fight a creature who can hypnotise with a stare.
One week after a man who can transform into a dog we get a man who can transform into a coyote. Also a black bird. The background to this particular threat is more detailed and therefore more interesting. Whilst some shows would be wary of dealing with native american customs and beliefs in a potentially disrespectful manner, this one goes straight ahead and treats it like any other monster, thus avoiding any embarrassment and uncertainty.
The giant Richard Kiel certainly has the stature for the villain of the piece, but for a creature whose power comes from the eyes, his eyes are nothing special. He also doesn't get to utter a word, which reduces his threat rather than enhances it, but this is an otherwise solid entry.Top
A series of murders linked to a single man takes a strange turn when the suspect has been in a state of induced sleep for weeks.
The swamp thing stalks Chicago. It's a man submerged in seaweed, but there is an interesting enough story of sleep studies wrapped around it to keep the interest going. Sadly, beyond that it is pretty ordinary.Top
In a rundown part of the city, elderly people are being killed and eaten, possibly by a mythical Hindu creature that can take on the shape of those the victim trusts.
The native american influence returns to KOLCHAK:THE NIGHT STALKER after only a couple of weeks. This hopefully doesn't suggest that the show is already running out of ideas. Certainly, the tricks that Kolchak gets up to in order to circumvent those who are in his way are getting a bit repetitive, but the focus being on hospital authorities rather than just police freshens it up a bit.
It's also nice to see Kolchak dealing with people who believe him froma very early stage and who actively contribute to the investigation. Sadly, the threat isn't a particularly scary one.Top
The city's most modern hospital is being torn apart by apparent construction faults. Kolchak and native american construction worker suspect something older and more dangerous to be at work.
This episode cleverly combines a Jewish neighbourhood with swastikas before suddenly veering off in another direction with the introduction of Indian restaurants and the shape-changing creature. Whilst this set up is smart, the unravelling of the plot requires too many repetitive visits to the same locations and the denouement is a very serious anticlimax.
Phil Silvers guest stars as one of the elderly Jewish card players, but has little effect on the overall quality.Top
Workers at a top secret establishment remain tight-lipped about a project called R.I.N.G. whilst meanwhile a person with superhuman strength is carrying out strange crimes.
It was perhaps inevitable that Kolchak would come up against a killer robot at some point, but it is surprising that the killer is given such a sympathetic treatment. Borrowing from 2001 - A SPACE ODYSSEY's HAL 2000, this is a cybernetic killer who is the victim of his programming and not by its own will. As a result, it is the human forces hunting it that come off as the monsters here rather than the killer itself.
The episode also starts intriguingly with Kolchak trying to shrug off the effects of being drugged and not even being sure if the story he is telling is, in fact, what happened. Sadly, the rest of the plot is made up of a number of people refusing to give any answers and using the word 'secret' a lot. By the time Kolchak gets to the truth there isn't time enough for a proper climax or satisfying resolution. As a result, this is a chance that was missed.Top
An expedition into the arctic brings back cells that retain life even after centuries frozen. They also brought back a primitive apeman who goes on the rampage.
Corporate America covering up its errors to the point of hiding involvement in murders is the concern of this episode. Sure, it features a man in an ape suit who runs around and kills for no readily apparent reason, but it is the cover up that interests Carl and has him chasing all over the place.
The final sequence in the sewers is nicely atmospheric with its red lighting (from Carl's flares), but the rest of the story is nothing that we haven't seen before on this show.Top
A series of incidents, including deaths, centred around a Chicago fashion house lead Carl into a shadowy world of witchcraft.
Carl shows a considerable unwillingness to believe in modern day witches considering the things that he has already seen to date. That's part of the more jokey, lighter tone of this episode. It doesn't take the fashion business any more seriously than it takes witchcraft, at least right until the end.
The backdrop of the fashion house is nicely original and the different modes of murder or attack (cat, shower, car, mannequin) keep things interesting until the true nature of the killer is revealed. The attempted switch in the middle is pretty obvious.
Lara Parkins' performance as an aspiring fashion model goes so wildly over the top by the end that you have to wonder why nobody told her to tone it down a little.Top
Reformed members of a motorcycle gang are being beheaded, apparently by a headless hog-rider.
A different set up and a different kind of people for Carl to be dealing with gives a bit of freshness to this episode, but the headless motorcyclist looks so ridiculous when he finally is revealed that all the work in setting up the story and atmosphere is lost. It's the old trick of building up the costume over the actor's head and it is painfully obvious as that.
Which is a shame because the image of a headless rider on a motorcycle wielding a samurai sword ought to have been really, really cool.Top
Young men at a local college are turning up dead from heart attacks whilst out with a beautiful woman. It seems to have something to do with an ancient tablet.
There is such a level of overacting from Andrew Prine as the man who might be a suspect in the killings or who might simply be an unwitting bystander that it is very hard to take this episode seriously at all. That's before we get into the clothing and hair that make an archaeologist into a chick magnet. Possibly they are, but it hardly seems likely.
It also, at times, feels a bit like a stage production with a good part of the action taking place in the good professor's study. That said, there is some entertainment to be had by seeing Kolchak sparring with a younger, and female, version of himself.Top
People are having their hearts cut out whilst still alive. Kolchak learns that this is a ritual carried out every half-century or so and which could lead to the end of the world.
Erik Estrada co-stars as a willing volunteer for the ceremony that Kolchak must try to prevent and the story itself is one of the better ones, with the stakes way beyond the usual few deaths and a bit of destruction. We're talking about the return of an evil god here, though indirectly.
By this point, however, we are so familiar with Kolchak's modus operandi that the clever plotting fails to make the impact that it should.Top
A black knight appears to be wandering around Chicago killing people connected with the destruction of the museum where his armour is stored.
What initially starts out as a rather cool idea (the lance through the windscreen is an especially fine moment) soon becomes rather silly. The clanking that the knight makes is enough to warn people long before it arrives and the way it crashes through the flimsiest of prop doors convinces nobody.
It is nice, however, to see Kolchak tangling with a cop who is more than the usual bungling fool to be outwitted at every turn. We could do to see more of John Dehner in that role.Top
Young, health-conscious people are turning up dead, and a great deal older than they ought to be.
The obsession with age and beauty is taken head-on by the series, introducing Greek goddesses into the mix along with computer dating and singles' nights.
Sadly, Kolchak gets up to all his usual tricks, which means that there is a very familiar feel to the storyline and no surprises along the way. Cathy Lee Crosby at least makes for a nicely attractive nemesis.Top
An underground data storage facility is stalked by a series of deaths. Kolchak discovers that the killer is a giant reptile, but a female police officer is determined to prevent him from telling anyone.
The setting for this final episode of the show is a nicely claustrophobic one, all dark tunnels and equally dark modern corridors with the very modern concept of data storage as a smart background. Sadly, though, all those low lights are mainly an attempt to hide the fact that the killer is nothing more than a man in a very unconvincing alligator suit. Once seen, however briefly, any sense of threat is removed.
Having a female cop as a nemesis might have provided a nice change of pace, but she turns out to be almost exactly the same as all the others that our hero has faced and outwitted.
This is the last of the series and it is surprising that they chose to end on this one because it doesn't leave the audience impressed.Top
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