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I thought I'd kick the new year off with another movie marathon. I thought it was time to check out a few old school mystery flicks. Som...

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Night Stalker (1972)

The made for T.V. Mayhem keeps rolling along here at the Horror Dude Blog. I figured that I’ve given you enough of the lesser known flicks that it was time for me to reward myself by reviewing a classic and personal favorite of mine. If you call yourself a horror fan and don’t know who Carl Kolchak is… then you really aren’t a fan. The Night Stalker was the first appearance of the character and at the time of broadcast was the highest rated television movie in the history of the medium! Let us take a look at the Night Stalker.

Things start off with a reporter telling his story while sitting in a seedy hotel room. The tape plays while he sits quietly on the bed listening to his dictation. Carl Kolchak is a reporter looking to make it back to the big time and out of the small market that is Las Vegas. He gets involved in covering a murder spree and ends up with more than he bargained for. The bloodless bodies that start to pile up around the Vegas strip is a big story, or at least he thinks so. Continually butting heads with the local authorities and his own editor who won’t let him print the story about a nut stalking the streets. One whom thinks he is a vampire. The powers that be don’t want a panic and are keeping a lid on it.

Eventually with the prompting of his girlfriend and after seeing the killer tear thru multiple groups of police Kolchak starts to believe that maybe they have a real “live” vampire. When he suggests that this might be the case he is laughed at, but eventually he makes a deal and helps them to track down and kill the creature. The cost of his help is an exclusive on the vampire story, one that will send Carl back to the big time. But those in charge double cross Kolchak and threaten to throw him in jail for murder (he staked the vampire himself) if he even thinks about publishing the story. Not only that but they run him and his girlfriend Gail out of town as undesirables! Adding insult to injury by separating the two so that Carl can’t find her.

I’ve always enjoyed The Night Stalker, both for how great of a movie that it is and for it spawning one of my favorite genre characters. I’m a huge fan of Kolchak and of Darrin McGavin the actor that brings him to life. Here we get to see the character first encounter the unknown and watch as he goes from skeptical to a believer. This is both due to a superior performance from McGavin as well as some great writing. The screenplay is from legendary author Richard Matheson and doesn’t disappoint. The vampire story is a cool combination of classic (super strength, afraid of crosses, and of course the stake in the heart) and contemporary (using his mental powers on a used car salesman, robbing blood banks). It also has that emotional kick in the butt ending that was unexpected and perfect. I also thought that later portrayals of the character have a certain sadness that might harken back to this movie and his loss of Gail.

Kolchak rules! So does Darrin McGavin...
The movie also does a great job of building tension and paying it off with a couple of “jump” scares that work. The Las Vegas setting was an inspired choice. The place never shuts down so a weird guy walking around in the middle of the night is no big deal. I mean where would any modern-day vampire want to hang out at more than Vegas? The vampire is your basic grey skinned fanged corpse, but it works. Lighting and music are used to great effect in building the tension that runs throughout. The ending with Kolchak sneaking around the house avoiding the vampire is creepy enough and a good payoff. 

What can you say about a cast that is headlined by the wonderful and always great Darrin McGavin? His performance as the headstrong, grouchy, reporter is the heart of the show and why it succeeded (and why the heartless redo failed!). The rest of the cast is filled out with TV and genre regulars like Larry Linville, Simon Oakland, Claude Akins, as well as the great Elisha Cook Jr. This strong supporting cast serves to make the movie all that much better. There really is a lot of talent on display in the Night Stalker. But the actors aren’t the only supporting “star” on display. Shot on film like a low budget movie The Night Stalker captures the flashy colors of the Vegas Strip and the dark shadows of Vegas’s back alleys equally well. Seeing the strip in all of its early ‘70s glory is a blast. We get many scenes of Kolchak cruising along in his convertible Camaro with familiar but long-gone marquees in the background. Check out some of the headliners that are playing those casinos.

The Night Stalker is the gold standard for these Made for T.V. movies. I had to include it in the marathon. But then I couldn’t cover this one without checking out the equally fun sequel The Night Strangler, could I? Guess what the next movie in the marathon is? Until then check the link at the top of the review to watch this classic on YouTube. 

© Copyright 2018 John Shatzer

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