Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) was the best investigative reporter you’ve never heard of. The reason for his anonymity? His exclusive accounts of mass murders and serial killings always wound up being suppressed by the authorities or shelved by his disbelieving editor, Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland). He had the scoops, they just never made it to print. Kolchak was the textbook example of the detective-journalist, right down to his crumpled seersucker suit and tape recorder. He was the type of newsman who existed only in fiction, not only reporting foul crimes but also solving them. Yet there was one extraordinary twist to this tried-and-true formula: Kolchak’s killers always turned out to be monsters – literally. Indeed, The Night Stalker could lay claim to television’s creepiest creatures this side of The Outer Limits, from vicious vampires to evil extra-terrestrials.
The character of Carl Kolchak originated in an unpublished novel by Jeff Rice entitled The Kolchak Papers. In the novel, Las Vegas newspaper reporter Carl Kolchak tracks down and defeats a serial killer who turns out to be a vampire named Janos Skorzeny (Barry Atwater). The novel was adapted by the prolific Richard Matheson into a television movie called The Night Stalker (1972), produced by Dan Curtis (creator of the Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows) and directed by John Llewellyn Moxey, who had previously helmed Horror Hotel (1960) and Circus Of Fear (1966). Once the made-for-television movie went to air, the original novel was finally published in 1973 under the title The Night Stalker with a photo of Darren McGavin on the cover to tie-in with the movie.
Due to the success of the first movie, Matheson was commissioned to write a second one, The Night Strangler (1973), which featured a century-old serial killer in Seattle who strangles his victims and uses their blood to keep himself alive. Kolchak recruits exotic dancer and psychology student Louise Harper (Jo Ann Pflug) to assist him in tracking down the eponymous strangler. Dan Curtis both produced and directed the second movie, which did so well in the ratings that America’s ABC network commissioned an ongoing weekly series. McGavin returned as Kolchak and also served as the series executive producer. The original author Jeff Rice was credited as the series creator, and the first four episodes were broadcast with the title The Night Stalker then, after a month-long hiatus, the series returned with the new title Kolchak: The Night Stalker.
Carl Kolchak was a reporter for the Independent News Service, a Chicago-based newspaper wire service. He covered all types of news stories, but his specialty was the occult. He seemed to be the one-and-only man who knew the whole truth: Ancient fabled monsters stalk twentieth century America, lurking in the dark corners of cities, alleyways, sewers, hospitals, abandoned buildings, sports stadiums, science research centres and high-rise apartments, all set to pounce on their next unsuspecting victim. A vampire serial killer in Las Vegas? Kolchak was there. The original Jack The Ripper still on the loose in Chicago? Kolchak was there. A shonky politician sells his soul to Satan? Kolchak was there. A five-hundred-year-old Aztec mummy comes to life? Kolchak was there. Zombies, werewolves, witches, demons, swamp things? Kolchak was there, a seventies version of Van Helsing (2004) yet, to his crabby boss and the police, Kolchak was nothing more than an unprincipled smart-arse and a pest – and in many respects they were right.
Kolchak was, in fact, one of television’s least likely heroes. Unlike his handsome and distinguished newsman contemporaries, Kolchak was just a muckraking slob, loud and obnoxious. He doesn’t break any rules simply because he never observed any rules to begin with. He was a hard man to befriend but, because of his freewheeling style, he was impossible not to like. Though the series was cancelled after only twenty episodes, its impact on popular culture has been rather substantial. Chris Carter, the creator of The X-Files, acknowledged that the show was a major influence, right down to the whistled theme music. In 2005 the ABC network began broadcasting a new updated series simply titled Night Stalker starring Stuart Townsend as Kolchak, but it was cancelled after only ten episodes due to very poor ratings.
Episode #1 THE RIPPER – When a rash of serial murders suddenly begins in the Chicago area, Kolchak establishes a similarity between the new killings and the murders committed by Jack The Ripper. The killer soon reveals himself to possess superhuman characteristics, and Kolchak suspects that they may be dealing with the original Ripper after all. Directed by Allen Baron from a script by Rudolph Borchert starring Beatrice Colen and Ruth McDevitt.
Episode #2 THE ZOMBIE – An old black woman uses voodoo to resurrect her dead son to kill those who murdered him, and to kill those like Kolchak who would interfere. Directed by Alex Grassoff from a script by Zekiel Markal starring Charles Aidman, Earl Faison, John Fiedler, Antonio Fargas, Pauline Myers, Joseph Sirola and Val Bisoglio.
Episode #3 THEY HAVE BEEN, THEY ARE, THEY WILL BE – Kolchak is witness to a bizarre manifestation when an unseen force decimates a building and causes a cache of lead ingots to vanish into thin air. He soon draws a connection between the disturbance and a series of incidents where both animals and human beings are turning up dead, the marrow mysteriously sucked out of their bones. Directed by Allen Baron from a script by Rudolph Borchert starring James Gregory, Mary Wickes, Dick Van Patten, Carol Anne Susi and Tony Rizzo.
Episode #4 THE VAMPIRE – Kolchak is determined to kill a beautiful but extremely vicious female vampire, unknowingly unearthed by a road construction crew. Directed by Don Weiss from a script by David Chase starring Kathleen Nolan, Suzanne Clarney, William Daniels, Jan Murray, John Doucette, Anne Whitfield and Milt Kamen.
Episode #5 THE WEREWOLF – Kolchak is on assignment to interview singles aboard a cruise ship, and finds out some kind of wolf creature is killing passengers during the full moon. Directed by Don Weiss from a script by David Chase and Paul Playdon starring Henry Jones, Nita Talbot, Bob Hastings, Dick Gautier, Lewis Charles, Jackie Russell and Eric Braeden.
Episode #6 FIREFALL – Kolchak discovers a famous orchestra conductor has become possessed by the murdered spirit of a gangster who is incinerating his former enemies. Directed by Don Weiss from a script by Bill B. Ballinger starring Fred Beir, Philip Carey, Madlyn Rhue, David Doyle and Alice Backes.
Episode #7 THE DEVIL’S PLATFORM – Kolchak discovers an up-and-coming young politician has made a deal with the Devil to murder his competition through incidents made to look like accidents. Directed by Allen Baron from a script by Donn Mullally starring Tom Skerritt, Ellen Weston, Julie Gregg and Andrew Prine.
Episode #8 BAD MEDICINE – A Native American legend materialises in Chicago, and Kolchak investigates the mysterious deaths of two wealthy society matrons who possessed priceless jewels. When the murders increase, Kolchak learns that the force at work is know as the Diablero, a being cursed to roam the earth in search of valuable gems. Directed by Alex Grasshoff from a script by L. Ford Neale starring Ramon Bieri, Richard Kiel, Alice Ghostley, Victor Jory and Marvin Kaplan.
Episode #9 THE SPANISH MOSS MURDERS – A pair of seemingly unrelated deaths are connected by the fact that each victim had a small amount of Spanish moss on the body. When more murders occur, Kolchak is able to determine that each victim is indeed connected to a comatose Cajun man who is part of a sleep experiment where he is denied the ability to dream. The man’s subconscious is able to physically manifest a vengeful monstrosity known as the Paramafait, a legendary Cajun boogeyman who dispatches anybody who wronged the sleeping man. Kolchak’s intention to stop the Paramafait marks him for death. Directed by Alex Grasshoff from a script by Al Friedman starring Keenan Wynn, Severn Darden, Roberta Dean, Randy Boone, Johnny Silver, Virginia Gregg, Ned Glass and Maurice Marsac.
Episode #10 THE ENERGY EATER – Kolchak finds a spirit-like monster is eating up the structure of a new hospital and draining patients of their protein. Directed by Alex Grasshoff from a script by Arthur Rowe and Rudolph Borchert starring William Smith, Michael Strong, Elaine Giftos, Michael Fox, Tom Drake, Robert Yuro and John Alvin.
Episode #11 HORROR IN THE HEIGHTS – Residents of Roosevelt Heights are being caught off guard and killed by a flesh eating demon that has the ability to appear as a person they know and trust. Directed by Michael T. Caffey from a script by Jimmy Sangster starring Phil Silvers, Abraham Sofaer, Benny Rubin, Herb Vigran, Naomi Stevens, Shelly Novak and Eric Server.
Episode #12 MR. R.I.N.G. – Kolchak investigates a military-backed project called R.I.N.G. (Robomatic Internalised Nerve Ganglia), which is a robot that uses deadly force to defend itself against those who would harm it. Directed by Gene Levitt from a script by L. Ford Neale starring Julie Adams, Corrine Michaels and Bert Freed.
Episode #13 PRIMAL SCREAM – An arctic oil-drilling expedition unearths some strange organic matter, cells which begin to spontaneously multiply. When the cooling unit in their storage facility fails, the cells grow into a violent and deadly life-form, a murderous ape-man. The feature story Kolchak’s planning to write about the murders is blocked by the authorities at every turn, and it seems that pressure from the large corporation which sponsored the drilling is threatening to silence the truth about the murders. Directed by Robert Scherer from a script by Bill B. Ballinger and David Chase starring Pat Harrington, Katherine Woodville, John Marley, Jamie Farr, Jeanie Bell and Lindsay Workman.
Episode #14 THE TREVI COLLECTION – Kolchak finds an evil witch in the high fashion industry, who is maiming and killing her competitors. Directed by Don Weiss from a script by Rudolph Borchert starring Nina Foch, Lara Parker, Marvin Miller, Peter Leeds, Priscilla Morrill, Douglas V. Fowley and Dick Bakalyan.
Episode #15 CHOPPER – Former members of a fifties bike gang are being decapitated, and a key witness claims that the murders are being committed by a headless figure on a motorcycle wielding a sword. Kolchak pieces the story together and finds that the spectre is out to avenge his death due to some rather unusual circumstances surrounding his burial. Directed by Bruce Kessler from a script by Steve Fisher and David Chase starring Larry Linville, Jim Backus, Sharon Farrell, Art Metrano, Frank Aletter, Jay Robinson and Steven Franken.
Episode #16 DEMON IN LACE – A female demon takes over the bodies recently killed young women, so she can seduce handsome young men and scare them to death. Directed by Michael Kozoll from a script by Stephen Lord and David Chase starring Andrew Prine, Keenan Wynn, Carolyn Jones, Jackie Vernon, Kristina Holland, Carmen Zapata and Maria Grimm.
Episode #17 LEGACY OF TERROR – Kolchak investigates a number of young male college students dying of heart attacks, as well as several Chicago citizens who are having their hearts cut out by ancient Aztecs. Directed by Don McDougall from a script by Arthur Rowe starring Ramon Bieri, Pippa Scott, Sorrell Booke, Victor Campos, Erik Estrada, Sondra Currie and Carlos Romero.
Episode #18 THE KNIGHTLY MURDERS – A ghostly knight in armour is making a habit out of executing certain persons responsible for the desecration of his burial site – that is, anybody involved with the creation of a restaurant or disco near the knight’s resting place. Kolchak catches on when he happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and witnesses one of the murders with his own eyes. An axe that’s been blessed is the only thing that will stop the ghost from exacting his gruesome revenge. Directed by Vincent McEveety from a script by Michael Kozoll and David Chase starring John Dehner, Hans Conreid, Lieux Dressler, Shug Fisher, Don Carter, Lucille Benson, Robert Emhart and Jeff Donnell.
Episode #19 THE YOUTH KILLER – Kolchak discovers a very attractive woman who maintains her youth and beauty by sacrificing young men and women to ancient Greek gods. Directed by Don McDougall from a script by Rudolph Borchert starring Cathy Lee Crosby, Dwayne Hickman and Kathleen Freeman.
Episode #20 THE SENTRY – Kolchak tries to find some kind of reptilian monster that has been killing construction workers after they open a new tunnel nearly two miles underground. Directed by Seymour Robbie from a script by L. Ford Neale and John Huff starring Tom Bosley, Kathie Browne, Albert Paulsen, Frank Campanella, Frank Marth and Cliff Norton.
Unfilmed Episode #22 THE GET OF BELIAL – Kolchak is assigned to cover a mining strike in the mountains of West Virginia. He uncovers gruesome murders associated with a backwoods family and Kolchak suspects that they have some sort of inbred monster living with them. Script by Donn Mullally.
Unfilmed Episode #23 THE EXECUTIONERS – Kolchak finds himself demoted to either writing obits or the articles for the arts section. He chooses the latter and discovers a painting tied into a series of murders that Vincenzo is covering. These murders occur in a series of three with the first victim hanged, the second executed with an axe and the third killed with poison. Working with an art expert, Kolchak attempts to unravel who or what is behind these bizarre murders and what they have to do with the painting without alerting Vincenzo that he is working on the same story. Script by Max Hodge.