Terror Tube: Kolchak: The Night Stalker

By Kraven: The She Wolf

  Today horror theme TV series are a well common place in the landscape of the
airways.  With series such as Supernatural, The Walking Dead, True Blood and
Grimm, all on TV at this time as well as past shows like Charmed, Reaper, Forever
Knight and of course Buffy, one has to wonder where did it all start.  Now you can
say that the horror soap Dark Shadows was the beginning of horror on TV and in
a way it was.  Never before was a vampire the star of a series but for this case in
point we are going to talk about a series that is the grand-daddy of all of today's
horror series past and present.

  Forty years ago on January 11, 1972, a new vampire hunter was introduced to
the world.  His name was Carl Kolchak, a pain in the ass, 3rd rate investigative
reporter who discovers the lead story of a life time.  He was following a serial killer
in Las Vegas, who was besides being a murderer was also a real vampire.  The
made for TV movie was based on an unpublished novel by author Jeff Rice with a
screenplay by horror writer Richard Matheson.  The movie told the story of
reporter Kolchak trying to find out who the killer was and trying to convince the
cops and anyone who would listen to him that what they had on their hands was a
real living vampire.  The film was such a hit that ABC ordered a follow up movie to
be made.  One if not the best part of this movie was not the vampire menace
although very well done but no, it was the films real star Kolchak himself played by
the amazing actor Darren McGavin, who brought the bumbling in your face almost
Columbo-like (Older readers will get this connection) reporter to life.

  With the big hit of The Night Stalker and its sequel The Night Strangler, it was
just a matter of time before a TV series would bloom from this idea.  In the fall of
1974 and much to the delight of fans, ABC launched Kolchak: The Night Stalker
with Darren McGavin returning to play the monster hunting reporter.  The series
much like its two film intros was a mix of comedy and all out horror with Kolchak
now meeting all kinds of creatures of the night in each episode.  There would be
vampires, a werewolf, a mummy, black knight in full armor, killer dogs, headless
biker, shape-shifters, big ass Indian killer, a dream monster, a mail man dressed
killer robot and as underground dinosaur.  You name it, Kolchak faced it.  The
show had just the right amount of funny to mix with the creepy in the mid 70's and
even with a really sad budget this was one scary show.

  Now grant it, that this was in the days of very low budget TV and some of the
monsters by today's standards would be down right silly looking and make you
giggle, yet the show worked then as it does today even with all its low tech
effects.  What made the show really work as well as it did was not the monsters
but the man seeking them out.  Darren McGavin was just so good in this role that
no matter what the show was about that week...you knew it was going to be good if
not for McGavin's great acting and his love of the role of Carl Kolchak.  One of the
things that made the show tick was how the story always unfolded with the
narrative voice overs made by Kolchak as he took us on this hunt for the monster
of the week.

  Playing some of them monsters was the 7 foot 5 actor Richard Kiel best known
for playing Jaws in the James Bond films The Spy Who Loved Me and
MoonRaker.  Kiel played many of the creatures Kolchak would face such as the
Swamp Monster and The Diablero.  Richard Kiel's size made him a shoe in for
playing creatures and bad guys all through out the 60.s, 70.s and 80's.

  Sadly like most shows misunderstood or not given the best chances in time slots
even this great and classic series fell prey to poor vewership.  You also have to
remember that in 1974 Kolchak: The Night Stalker was the only and I mean only
show of its kind.  It may have only lasted one short season and produced only a
hand full of 20 episodes but its legacy lives on in all horror related shows since.  
The X-Files creator Chris Carter openly acknowledges and credits The Night
Stalker series as being one of the things that made him create his own horror
based series since he was like all us children of the 70's were fans.

  In 2005, a remake was tried to bring back the classic series to a new generation
of horror and tv fans.  With the title Night Stalker, the new show with Queens of
the Damned star Stuart Townsend taking over the role of Carl Kolchak.  Sadly
right from the start the show, though it tried, lacked the magic that the classic
series had almost 30 years earlier.  Maybe because no one could play Carl
Kolchak like Darren Mcgavin or the fact that the show just didn't have that little
spark that made the original what it was.  The new series only lasted a few weeks
and then was gone.

  Still today's weekly horror shows all owe it to Kolchak: The Night Stalker for
leading the way in horror TV series.  Without it, hits like Buffy, X-Files, Grimm and
Supernatural may have never made their way to prime time telavision.  The very
idea of someone going out into the night and looking for monsters all started with
that little show from forty years ago.  If you ever get to chance to see this classic,
if you are younger and have not seen it in re-runs on SyFi Channel, G-4 and
other networks that have shown it over the years, please seek it out.  But just
remember that this show is done with men in rubber monster suits, long before
CGI and the budget of a YouTube video.......and still its a great show.  For without
it, all horror shows that came since would maybe never have been.