Kolchak, The Night Stalker

This page is dedicated to Darren McGavin from his first movie in 1945 to his recuring role on The X Files as their founder, Arthur Dales.
There were two pilot-movies for "Kolchak the Night Stalker" tv series, in 1971 and 1972. The series premiered in September 1974 on Friday the 13th. Darren McGavin narrated the movies and tv episodes while starring as an Art Bell-type reporter stuck working for a second-rate news service out of Chicago, with Simon Oakland as his short-tempered and skeptical boss. Sent out on normal assignments, he would instead run across vampires, werewolves, zombies, a mummy, a secret military android, etc.

The two pilot-movies were:
The Night Stalker (1971)
Assigned to a murder spree in Las Vegas, Carl Kolchak discovers something so strange (vampires) that when the story comes out, he and his boss are fired (ends with them driving out of Las Vegas). Script by Richard Matheson of Twilight Zone fame and the Spielberg movie Duel. Matheson based the script on a 1970 story "The Kolchak Papers" by Jeff Rice, a reporter based in Las Vegas. Rice said that Las Vegas, a relatively remote, isolated desert community, seemed a perfect hunting-ground for vampires.
"There was a certain remoteness to Las Vegas, and in that period of time it was just an enclosed little world. I started thinking about writing a story about Las Vegas. And I'd always wanted to write a good vampire story, but I wanted to make it contemporary."

The Night Strangler (1972)
Richard Anderson guest stars as a 150 year old man who lives in an abandoned underground city beneath Seattle (a section of old town was paved over due to flooding and is now a tourist attraction). He stays immortal so long as he drains liquid from the brain of freshly-killed victims every 24 years. Also with John Carradine, Wally Cox, Margaret Hamilton. Both movies directed by Dan Curtis, who now does documentaries for A&E on alien abductions, monsters, gangsters, government cover-ups, etc.
Dan Curtis had just finished making the gothic tv series Dark Shadows and liked the concept, though he didn't think the series would make it (indeed, it was cancelled after just 20 episodes) and only directed the pilot-movies. Curtis is now trying for a Kolchak theater movie, possibly starring Bruce Willis (Darren McGavin suffered a stroke 2 years ago and has retired from show-biz). "It was the perfect story," he says, "you cared about Kolchak. A guy who was down and out. In peeling the onion, you start to understand, at the same time that he does, that this is a vampire. You are hooked into this thing ... this is believable."
Darren McGavin was the only actor Dan Curtis wanted for the role, and McGavin grabbed the part over his own agents objections. McGavin even knew what Kolchak should wear: a straw hat, seersucker off-white suit, and white sneakers (you can't get far running after/away from monsters in hard leather shoes). When the first Kolchak movie was completed and shown to a test audience on the Fox movie lot, the reaction was so good they wondered if they should have released it to theaters instead of TV. Writers of tv episodes included a guy named Robert Zemeckis. Though the series only ran 1974/75, it was popular enough to continue in late-movie reruns (CBS had no talkshow at the time opposite the Tonight Show) into the 1980s.

4 of the episodes were made into 2 movies by adding new narration (by McGavin) in the middle to tie the stories together, see Sci-Fi Movie Listings page to see if they are on this month. They are:
"Crackle of Death" (1974) about a fiery poltergeist and an American Indian bear-monster
"Demon & the Mummy" (1974) about campus athletes found next to mummified girls who've had their youth drained away and about a young man (Eric Estrada) being prepared as a Mayan human sacrifice

See below for 4 eps from "Kolchak the Night Stalker" tv series available on video followed by this month's episodes on the Sci-Fi channel:
Night Stalker, The Night Strangler
(both movies on a DVD)

Night Stalker, Two Tales of Terror

Hangar 18 (1981)

According to the 11-4-00 issue of TV Guide, WB Network chairman Jamie Kellner told his creative team, "What we need is the next Night Stalker." The following week they bought tv series rights to Buffy The Vampire Slayer from the producer of the movie. X Files creator Chris Carter says, "That character of Kolchak as the hysterical outsider left an impression on me. I carried it with me, knowing I wanted to do something in that vein, ever since I was a kid. This was pure, good, speculative science fiction horror. And that's really what I think I've aspired to do." When the first movie was about to be broadcast in 1972, the network gave it a big build-up, showing Kolchak frantically fending off an unseen vampire by holding up a cross. "I still carry shots in my head of that cross, of Kolchak holding that cross up to the vampire. I was scared, but I was excited by it (Carter was only 15 years old at the time). It was terrific and still holds up."

Freakylinks cocreator/consulting producer Gregg Hale says the series, about young Webmasters who track down urban legends and unexplainable tales, was "highly influenced by The Night Stalker. There's that tongue-in-cheek quality, and also the realism that always made you afraid."
The first Night Stalker movie was broadcast 1-11-72, up against Hawaii 5-0 and an NBC documentary. Yet Kolchak got the highest rating of any tv-movie made up to that time, and still ranks in the top 5 (after The Day After, Little Ladies Of The Night, The Burning Bed, and a Waltons Thanksgiving special).
"That kind of cinema verite style, that documentary approach - you can see why nearly a third of the country was tuned in to this thing and why it became such a phenomenon," says Mark Dawidziak, author of The Night Stalker Companion

He also shows up in the occasional Alfred Hitchcock Presents episode on TV Land channel
No Sci-Fi or USA channel broadcasts of "Kolchak, the Night Stalker" are scheduled this month. He also guest-starred in the Tales from the Darkside episode "Distant Signals," in which mysterious people hire an actor to complete a tv series that was cancelled after just one season because they like it so much (based on a short story in Twilight Zone Magazine) even though it's been off the air for decades. Ending: maybe they live 20 lightyears away and got hooked on the tv series when it abruptly ended :-(
Tales From The Darkside is currently showing on WGN and other tv stations in syndicated reruns
From Dusk Till Dawn is just one of many movies and series that have come out following the basic premise of vampires on the loose in our modern world. The Mummy was remade recently and now a sequel is coming (you can't stop him), there have been a number of modern Werewolves and wolfmen, all looking more modern than any 1930s version. And while modern monsters that "explained" old myths have turned up on the Stargate SG-1 tv series, one can safely assume that...
What was that noise in the other room? Well anyway, I was about to say that...There it is again. I'll continue this thought after I check out that odd scratching sound. Be right back...


Sci-Fi channel's Kolchak biographies
Sci-Fi channel's Kolchak episode list with descriptions
Sci-Fi channel Kolchak pictures & audio from the tv series
X Files episode list (no descriptions)
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