Although the 1960’s saw the advent of many a great television series, the 1970’s was just as competitive and one of the best of the TV programs of the 70’s was Kolchak: the Night Stalker, which has a cult following even today.
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In this TV series, the late and great Darren McGavin portrayed Carl Kolchak, a rumpled, misanthropic reporter who has often been fired due to his abrasive attitude and insubordination. As such, he can’t be any too choosy when it comes to assignments, and he thus gets assigned to cover weird events that no one else wants to cover. Strangely enough, these all invariably seemed to be supernatural events.
It all began in 1972 with a TV movie, The Night Stalker, which, as per the IMDb, concerned an abrasive Las Vegas newspaper reporter investigating a series of murders purportedly committed by a vampire. Response was positive enough that a second TV film was made in 1973, The Night Strangler, which concerned Kolchak hunting down a 144-year old alchemist who is killing women for their blood. It too was a tremendous success and so the stage was set for the launch of the TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker in 1974.
The early episodes were tremendous and often genuinely frightening. One of these is embedded below and is probably the scariest thing I have ever seen on commercial television. The scene where a trembling Kolchak attempts to nullify a zombie, which reanimates during the process, will make you jump out of your seat. At least it did me in 1974.
Although the two TV movies were great successes, and the early TV episodes were excellent, the TV series itself soon flopped due to formulaic repetition and it lasted just the one season for only 20 episodes. I think it was all my fault, since so many TV series that I have liked in the past were doomed to a short life. The second video below contains a fan’s comments on what made the show so great. I have to concur.
Darren McGavin went on to other things, among which was his portrayal of the foul-mouthed father (The Old Man Parker) in the 1983 film A Christmas Story. Just as he made the role of The Old Man his own, so did he make the role of Carl Kolchak. A subsequent attempt at rebooting the TV series years later was unsuccessful, mainly because the actor portraying Carl Kolchak was really not up to the task. Ironically, near the end of his career, Darren McGavin appeared on The X-Files in a couple of episodes as Agent Arthur Dales. I have to wonder if Mulder knew who he was dealing with.
Happily, and surprisingly, the two TV films and all 20 TV episodes are available in full-format on YouTube. I can recommend them unreservedly. If you have never seen these, give them a try; they’re well worth the watching.
The TV Movie that started it all in 1972.
A dedicated fan explains why this series was classic horror TV.
The Zombie episode.