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December 02, 2022

Who Ya Gonna Call? Why, Only The Original X-Files Investigator, Carl Kolchak Himself

I've been watching Kolchak: The Night Stalker and maybe you should too.

Before the series Kolchak: The Night Stalker, there were two made-for-TV movies, both of which earned huge ratings. The first was The Night Stalker, the sequel -- which I like more -- is The Night Strangler.

Dan Curtis of Dark Shadows produced both and directed the second; Richard Matheson -- I Am Legend, "Terror at 20,000 Feet," The Legend of Hell House, too many horror stories to mention -- wrote the screenplay of the first based on an unpublished novel by Jeff Rice, and then the full story and screenplay for the second.

Both movies got huge ratings. The first, the original Night Stalker got an almost-inconceivable 54 rating -- which means that 54% of all Nielson households that were viewing televisions that night were watching Kolchak.

Until last week, I had never seen either movie. The rights to the movies are, I'm certain, separate from the rights package for the series, because while I've routinely seen this or that Kolchak episode on TV, I've never seen either movie.

But thanks to the magic of YouTube and spottily enforced copyright laws, you can see them now:

The Night Stalker.

The Night Strangler.

Update:

Just watched The Night Strangler last week. It's free on Movieland TV channel on Roku.

Posted by: Bertram Cabot, Jr.

Never heard of that app. I'll have to add it.

As for the series, most shows are also available on YouTube, but it's easy enough to see them On The Legal by signing up for the free NBC app or SyFy app. They have the full Kolchack series. But not the movies, obviously.

The Night Stalker is about a vampire loose in Las Vegas. The movie is good-ish. It suffers from the fact that vampires are just played out. It doubly suffers from the fact that vampires are a terrible choice of monster in a mystery format-- the audience is miles ahead of the hero the whole story screaming, "It's a vampire, stupid. Duh, it's a vampire."

Kolchak does figure out it's a vampire sooner than anyone else, but he's way behind the audience.


Also, in any vampire movie, it's necessary to have That Scene where they "do research" to figure out how to kill a vampire, as if this knowledge is not readily obtainable by asking literally any 6 to 14 year old boy, or just flipping through Bram Stoker's Dracula. They consult some large dusty tome for this information, claiming that the methods of killing a vampire like driving a stake through its heart or exposing it to sunlight come from legend, but in fact they just really come from Bram Stoker's Dracula, I'm pretty sure. I think he looked through old legends and picked and chose his favorite bits for his vampire.

Kolchak is an interesting hero, suuuper pushy, super smarmy, a know-it-all, snarky, funny, socially fearless or maybe just shameless, and apparently a physical coward. He says "Gaaah!" and runs a lot.

But even though he has all the physical tells of a coward, damn, does this guy go where angels fear to tread when he needs to Take Care of Business. It's never explained how a mere reported with no military service (I don't think) has picked up this level of Plot Convenience Courage from.

I don't think there really is any possible explanation, so maybe it's better left unexplained. Just accept, in the third act, Carl Kolchak will reveal that he is a Secret Badass and can Kill Anything.

One great thing about Kolchak: He's a reporter. Like, an actual reporter. He asks questions, he refuses to accept the first or second answers he's given, he pushes people and gets into the faces of cops and DAs and accepts social stigma and repeated firings and even jailtime and beatings to get the truth. He's a little self-righteous about it, but mostly deservedly so -- he thinks he's the only guy trying to get to the truth because he really is the only guy.

It's kind of a trip watching him wondering, "Was there ever any time when reporters were actually this heroic? Were they ever actually worth rooting for?"

The show makes terrific use of narration, which are, in the universe of the show, the notes Kolchak reads into his tape recorder in preparation for the articles he will eventually write. The narration provides characterization for him, as it's him describing the the events, so we're not just learning about the events, but about the man who is choosing these words. We learn that he's a bit sensationalist, fancies himself a bit of a Hemingway type, etc. We also learn he's a pretty competent writer.

The other good thing about the narration is that it allows the stories to be told swiftly. When a victim you've never seen before is about to be killed, the show doesn't have to spend two minutes establishing this character as a person. Instead, we just hear Kolchak's narration say, "Sarah Quinn's job as an ambulance technician forced her to work strange hours. But nothing prepared her for the strange hours she was about to endure." And then you see a hand with a chloroform rag go over her mouth. It moves things along and it reinforces the premise of the show that this is all from Kolchak's private tapes. (The original title of the novel, and the movie, was The Kolchak Tapes.)

The second film, The Night Strangler, is better. Partly just because the type of beastie that slaughtering women in Seattle is unknown, and also not at all obvious to the viewer, making this mystery actually a little mysterious; we're not ahead of Kolchack for most of the film.

Also the movie ends with a more fantastical third act, in the Seattle underground, which is dressed up to look like some sci-fi apocalypse. (Actually I think it's a tarted-up Bradbury Building interior standing in for the underground. I recognize this place from Blade Runner.)

I'm only six episodes into the show itself, though, over the years, I've seen a lot of them here and there. For some reason I've seen the one about the Headless Motorcycle Rider like four times. It's generally good, but, like all shows, has its clunkers.

I saw someone criticize the show as being very, very repetitive: Kolchak suspects a monster, he fights with his editor about whether monsters exist, cops tell him that he better not say that there are monsters because it would cause "mass panic," he reads some books about how to kill monsters, he finds the monster, he kills the monster. That criticism is 100% true, so this isn't a good show to binge.

Another problem is violence, or the relative lack thereof. It's usually pretty bloodless for a horror show. When violence is being described verbally after the fact, as in the Ripper murder case (the first episode of the TV show) or in The Night Strangler, the violence described can be suitably nasty.

But what they can show is practically nothing. So when they show a monster "killing" people, as in the weak "Werewolf on Cruise Ship" episode (yes, that's right), the werewolf is seen using its horrible fangs and claws to... throw people around like the Bionic Man Steve Austin. People are "killed," but there's no blood, and nothing to indicate they're not just unconscious after being thrown hard into a wall, except for the ship's doctor's say-so.

It's just something you have to accept. The show is better when it cuts away from violence and just implies it. Network TV just won't let you show anything nasty.

Even the weaker shows have some strong stuff in them. "Zombie" was kinda lame through most of its runtime but hooboy, that ending! And Darren McGavin is always fun to watch as Kolchak, even if the monster is dumb.

So, The Non-Drinker Recommends. Check it out if it interests you.

If you don't care about Carl Kolchak, obviously this is an open thread. You can talk about how excited you are for the Strong Empowered Female Replacement Character in the "Indiana Jones" movie, as well as the stunning, top-of-the-line, totally-not-done-in-a-crunch floor-to-ceiling CGI.

Hey, remember when Indiana Jones' calling card was practical effects and real stunts and a gritty do-it-on-the-day style of filmmaking? Well those days are back, baby!


The Critical Drinker talks about how excited he is to Consume Next Product.

I've mentioned this, but the rumor is --

Before getting to that, the rumor was that this movie would be about Old Indy going into the past with his grand-niece or whatever to meet the Young Indiana Jones, and that's now all confirmed.

So this other rumor might also be true. This was rumored at the same time as the rumor about the time travel plot.

The rumor is that the movie ends not just with Old Indiana Jones dying, but with Young Indiana Jones sacrificing himself in the past, and thus also dying, and thus also vanishing from the timeline, with the time-transported Phoebe Waller-Bridge (who hails from 1969) now taking Indiana Jones' place in the past and going on all of his adventures, including Raiders.

The rumor claims that there is a closing montage showing key moments from the Indiana Jones trilogy, with Phoebe Waller-Bridge now wearing the hat and leather jacket and doing the things that Indy did in the movies.

Supposedly, they have screened alternate endings besides that one.

But rumors claim that this is the ending that Kathleen Kennedy really, really wants, and she was fighting with Chapek about it before he was fired. Chapek said "No way," she insisted she was going to replace another (spit) male character with a brunette self-insert character or she'd make trouble.

Per rumors.

Director James Mangold denied the rumor that Indiana Jones gets replaced on twitter but 1, he said something like "There's no replacing Indiana Jones" and that could just mean "There's no replacing him in terms of cultural impact, or his place in our hearts," or 2, it could mean, at the time he denied it, the Kathleen-Kennedy-Self-Insert-Female-Replacement-Replaces-Indy ending had been rejected by Chapek.

But now, who knows. Like herpes, it could be back.

As wise men say, there are only three Indiana Jones films.

digg this
posted by Ace at 03:45 PM

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