Kolchak: The Night Stalker - The Complete Series/Original 1974 – 1975
DVD/NTSC Region One Set)
Picture: B- Sound: B- Extras: D Episodes: A-
PLEASE NOTE: A PAL import DVD edition of this series with
some different music and footage has been issued in Australia by Madman Entertainment
and you can read more about that edition at this link:
It took a very long
time, but particularly thanks to ABC-TV’s launching their own latter-day
revival, Universal Home Video has issued the Kolchak: The Night Stalker
series on DVD after the original TV movies made it out in the format
twice. Running 20 episodes, no American
TV series that ran for a single season has been more influential or inspired
more imitators. After the phenomenal
success of the two telefilms, The Night Stalker (1972) and The Night
Strangler (1973, both reviewed as a double feature from MGM elsewhere on
this site, and are the only sources for the cancelled, 2005 ABC show),
Universal backed the series and ABC continued to broadcast the adventures of
the reporter who had a knack for uncovering the supernatural.
Darren McGavin is Carl
Kolchak, a once on-the-verge-of-big-time success and still-great reporter who
was almost one of the top newspapermen in the country. He had fallen from grace years ago and in
trying to get the next big story, had been fired from many newspapers
nationwide. No matter what, whether it
was police interference or threats from potential subjects of his writing,
Kolchak would stop at nothing to get all the facts. It is not known how crazy this made his
career up to the early 1970s, but coming across a vampire in old Las Vegas
changed his life forever. He continues
to get rehired by his old friend and always editor Tony Vincenzo, played
brilliantly by the late, great Simon Oakland from the original TV movies to the
end of this series.
Originally, a third
Kolchak telefilm called The Night Killers (which was just
published only recently) was planned where robots (or aliens) would replace
politicians or other figures of interest.
Originally an angle in the original 1967 Avengers episode Never,
Never Say Die with Christopher Lee, the idea soon came to fruition in
the 1976 film Futureworld (the underrated sequel to Michael Crichton’s
1973 hit Westworld), was hinted at in the original Stepford Wives
(1975) and surfaces in 1988 with a new sense of darkness in John Carpenter’s
remarkable They Live.
The other telefilm idea
that was suggested involved Jack The Ripper, but the great Richard Matheson
refused to write up that one since good friend Robert Bloch (of Psycho
fame) had just written a book featuring the legendary serial killer. With the series in the hands of new
producers, Matheson and producer/director Dan Curtis left for lack of interest
and on September, Friday the 13th, 1974, the series made its
premiere. What follows are the episodes
that changed TV, Horror and even Comedy forever as the shows that followed has
a great tradition of casting comedy actors on purpose. Unlike the amusing and brief descriptions in
the DVD menus and on the back of the nice slender cases, we have tried not to
give away too much:
The Ripper – This debut episode went for the infamous
Ripper, somehow alive and stalking the streets of Chicago three quarters of a
century later. The great Beatrice Colen
plays Jane Plumm, a terrific, neurotic reporter for a rival news publication
that is a bit more of what we now know as a tabloid. She quickly went on to play Etta Candy in the
Lynda Carter Wonder Woman series for ABC. The tone of the show is remarkable and though
they had less time than a telefilm, Rudolph Borchert’s teleplay and Allen
Baron’s directing made for the perfect launch of the series.
The Zombie – Sopranos creator David Chase was
the story consultant for the series and co-story editor with Borchert wrote a
quarter of all the teleplays for the show and this was the first. Needless to say, it involves organized
crime. Italian mobsters are being killed
off in gruesome ways that are not typical of gangland-style or execution-style
killings. Black numbers operators are
suspected, but it turns out a Jamaican man the Italians killed has come back
from the dead. Kolchak has to find out
who is pulling his strings before he becomes the next victim. This show introduced a regular that lasted
(John Fiedler as Gordon “Gordy The Ghoul” Spangler) and one that sadly did not
(Carol Ann Suzi (the unseen mother on Big
Bang Theory) as Monique Marmelstein), and also features Charles Aidman,
Joseph Sirola, Val Bisoglio, J. Pat O’Malley, Antonio Fargas and Scatman
Crothers in great supporting roles.
Directed by Alex Grasshoff.
They Have Been,
They Are, They Will Be – Also known as
U.F.O., this is one of the most underrated shows in the series. Dead animals are turning up dead in a bizarre
manner. When humans are next, Kolchak
has to figure out why, starting with what made a ton of lead disappear and
police go flying (minus any sound as if in a vacuum) before the situation gets
worse. Mellé’s music is exceptional and
has leisurely stretches that are very rare even in television today. The show was combining comedy and horror in a
way never done before, but this was an existential layer even the telefilms
were missing. James Gregory, Mary Wickes
and Dick Van Patten guest star. Borchert
and Baron build on their success with the first show.
The Vampire – Sometimes confused as being the pilot,
this is a terrific sequel to the pilot, as Vegas authorities missed one body
for cremation, a female prostitute. She
comes to Los Angeles and when Kolchak hears about it, gets a benign assignment
just to go out there and tie up loose ends.
Kathleen Nolan, William Daniels, Jan Murray, Larry Storch and Suzanne Charny co-star. Chase adapted Bill
Stratton’s story with Don Weis directing another classic show.
The Werewolf – Chase and early series producer Paul
Playdon came up with this terrific winner about Kolchak going on the last
voyage of a cruise ship, only to find out a werewolf is on board killing the
passengers. The love boat turned death
boat as Bernardt Stieglitz (Eric Braeden) does what he can to stop himself from
transforming, but it will take some quick thinking by Kolchak to stop his more
barbaric half. Henry Jones, Dick
Gautier, Jackie Russell, Barry Cahill and an especially hilarious Nita Talbot
guest star. Directed by Allen Baron.
Firefall – Also known as The Doppelganger,
this is the first of four shows pulled from future broadcast for reasons we’ll
explain later, but is a disturbing show about the ghost of a former gangster
(teleplay by Bill S. Ballinger this
time) trying to reenter the world of the living by taking over living
bodies. Instead, spontaneous combustion
cremates each of them on sight and the famous conductor Ryder Bond (Fred Beir)
is the next big target. Kolchak has
discovered that all the victims were asleep when they were engulfed, so he is
in for a deadly, long night. Very
underrated work by Don Weis and Carol Ann Suzi’s last appearance as Monique.
Platform – Tom Skerritt is the
title character, a devil worshiper who has made a deal that allows him to cheat
death and eliminate his more popular and able competition. Here’s a way to fix an election no one has
used lately! Jeanne Cooper and Stanley
Adams guest star in this Donn Mullally teleplay that involved several writers
and was nicely directed by Allen Baron.
Bad Medicine – Also know as The Diablero,
Richard Kiel is the title monster and Native American legend (and more
noticeably so in the first of two monster appearances in a row) who goes around
stealing wealth, changing into a variety of animals and killing his victims or
anyone else who gets in his way. In this
case, it is the rich, elderly elite of Chicago.
Though Kiel’s Bond appearances have dated the show in odd ways, it has
plenty of creepy moments, great sound design and more unforgettable
moments. Alex Grasshoff directed.
Murders – With a Science
Fiction edge, a sleeping experiment brings the legendary Boogie Man to life,
known as the Cajun horror Peremalfait.
Kolchak investigates, which leads him to a lab run by a clever doctor
(Severn Darden) who is at first also oblivious to what is going on. Keenan Wynn is outstanding as the annoyed
Captain Joseph Siska, who knowns Kolchak all too well, and Richard Kiel is
great as the swamp monster. The climax
of the show is also another classic, written by Al Friedman with Chase, based
on Friedman’s original story. Gordon
Hessler, so good at directing this genre in film, helmed this show memorably.
The Energy Eater – Also known as Matchemonedo, this
second of four shows pulled from future broadcast has four writers (teleplay by
Arthur Rowe and Rudolph Borchert) involves people being electrocuted to death
under strange circumstances. The catch
is that they all died at a hospital that was just built on sacred Native
American ground, which is suddenly having all kinds of trouble with its
electric. Though it is uneven at times,
the Native American elements do not date as badly as Bad Medicine
and the last of director Alex Grasshoff’s works has more interesting moments
and twists that work. The guest cast
includes William Smith, Elaine Giftos, Marvin Kaplan (somewhere in this show),
Robert Yuro and even Joyce Jillson before she gave up acting.
Horror In The Heights – This episode is also known as The
Rakshasa. Considered by many to be
the peak of the series, written by Hammer Horror veteran and great genre writer
James Sangster, this classic involves a creature that can manipulate the mind
of its victims before literally engulfing them by tearing and consuming their
flesh. In one of the greatest twists of
the series, this takes place in a neighborhood of elderly and often-Jewish
residents, so the sudden appearance of Swastikas at first suggest hate
crimes. However, the true source is The
Rakshasa, an evil Hindu monster who especially shows up in times of
crisis. This increases its chances of
victims to feed on. Kolchak has to cut
through the anti-Semitism and other unusual problems before its too late. Michael T. Caffey did a great job directing
this one, which is one of the great shows, with a cast that includes Phil
Silvers, Benny Rubin, Abraham Soafer, Murray Matheson, Barry Gordon and Shelley
Mr. R.I.N.G. – At a time when Bell Telephone was a
monopoly and there were problems unfolding with U.S. Government policy, this
great, creepy show (written by L. Ford Neale & John Huff) has the
provocative title that makes it sound like the title character is an insider,
but it turns out to be a self-sufficient robot and not one controlled by a
darker force. Not dating too badly, this
intelligent show once again involves Kolchak facing the worst possible forces,
monsters and organizations. Julie Adams,
best known for being the target of The Creature From The Black Lagoon in
that classic, is appropriately the wife of the creator of the robot. Corrine Michaels, Bert Freed, Robert Easton
and Henry Beckman co-star in this gutsy show directed by Gene Levitt.
Primal Scream – This episode is also known as The
Humanoids, in what is the last of a little-acknowledged storyline of
Kolchak taking on the federal government.
A new series of brutal murders starts with a scientist, then spreads to
all over Chicago. Despite more comedy,
there is darkness like nothing before or after this show would feature. An oil conglomerate is also involved and the
“ownership” of a missing link is at stake.
John Marley, Pat Harrington, Katharine Woodville, Regis J. Cordic,
Barbara Rhodes, Jeanie Bell and Jamie Farr co-star in this Robert
Scheerer-directed show co-written by Bill
S. Ballinger and David Chase.
The Trevi Collection – Kolchak’s underhanded friend Mickey
Patchek (Chuck Waters) has him meet in Chicago’s fashion district. Before Kolchak can get the information to be
offered, Mickey “falls” to his death from atop a building, though its window. When he decides to investigate, he discovers
the fashion season is loaded with unexpected carnage and someone on the runway
is a killer witch. A fine episode with a
great cast including Nina Foch, Lara Parker, Marvin Miller and Bernie Kopell. Rudolph Borchert wrote and Don Weis
directed. Also remembered for its
classic use of mannequins.
– This episode turned out to be the first-ever professional sale of a script by
future feature film hitmakers Bob Gale and Robert Zemeckis, focusing on revenge
and bike gangs. Years ago, a young and
now defunct bike gang accidentally beheaded (or “chopped” of the head) of one
of their members. They broke up then and
there, vowing never to discuss the matter and were never sought out or charged
with murder. However, the victim has not
and had returned headless in his leather and denim, riding a vintage chopper
motorcycle, and wielding a sword to return the favor at top speeds. More comical than intended due to some dated
visual effects, it is still effective enough and has its won classic moments. Steve Fisher and David Chase wrote the final
teleplay with Gale and Zemeckis, directed well enough by Bruce Kessler. The guest cast includes Sharon Farrell, Larry
Linville, Frank Aletter, Jesse White and Jim Backus.
Demon In Lace – The third of four shows pulled from
individual rebroadcast after the show ended was written by Stephen Lord, with a
final teleplay by Lord, Chase and Michael Kozoll, involving male college
students suddenly dying of heart attacks.
However, they are all in great health and there is no medical reason for
their deaths. It turns out a professor
(Andrew Prine) has brought an ancient tablet back that has demonic implications
attached. In this case, it is a
Succubus, who feeds on the life energy of her male victims. It uses dead (or newly killed) female
students to get to the males, so Kolchak has to stop it before the campus is
wiped out! Directed by Don Weis, in the
last of his great work for the show, the episode co-stars Keenan Wynn back as
Capt. Siska, Kristina Holland, Jackie Vernon, Ben Masters, Donald Mantooth,
Carmen Zapata and Caroline Jones as The Registrar.
Legacy Of Terror – Also known as Lord Of The Smoking
Mirror, this is the last of four shows pulled from individual rebroadcast
after the show ended, though this one is such a hoot as you are about to find
out. An Aztec Cult is on the loose and
they are cutting out the hearts of their victims, but leaving them behind in a
pattern based on some kind of numerology.
Kolchak investigates when one of the victims is a Vietnam hero, but
things get worse. It turns out they are
making sub-sacrifices on track to the ultimate sacrifice. They need a perfect and well-treated subject
to being a very powerful Aztec Mummy Nanautzin to life to take over the
world. That final sacrifice will be Pepe
Torres, played by a then-unknown Erik Estrada!
If that was not enough, Sorrell “Boss Hogg” Booke is taxidermist Mr.
Eddy! Though funny intentionally and
unintentionally, some of the series creepiest moments are included. Arthur Rowe wrote the teleplay Don McDougall
directed here, making for a show everyone will be talking about thanks to this
set all over again, particularly clever in dealing with certain aspects of
Vietnam without letting that interfere with the creepy story one bit. The guest cast also includes Ramon Bieri,
Pippa Scott and Victor Campos and has one of the great surprise endings of the
The Knightly Murders – If it was bad enough to build a hospital
on sacred Native American ground, what about using sacred ground to replace a
museum that resides on it with a discothèque?
Bad idea! That is what is exactly
planned, until all connected with the project are brutally murdered in remarkable
ways. When Kolchak looks more closely
into the case, he suspects the museum’s resident Black Knight has come to life
and is out to keep his home as is.
Vincent McEveety directed this show with more of an offbeat sensibility
than a Horror genre show would be, but it still has some great moments via the
Kozoll/Chase teleplay. John Dehner, Hans
Conreid and Lucille Benson make for a fine guest cast.
The Youth Killer – Dating turns deadly when clients start
turning up dead. No one can tell who
they are, because they have aged to death and are unrecognizable. They were all part of the new electronic
dating service Max Match, run by Helen Surtees (Cathy Lee Crosby), but when
Kolchak shows a picture of her to a Greek friend of his (Demosthenes), he is
certain she is really Helen Of Troy! At
this point, the lighter side of the show that was starting to set in took over
in these last few shows, but the interesting and even innovative ideas kept on
coming. Dwayne Hickman, Kathleen
Freeman, Joss White and TV Captain America Reb Brown co-star in this
Rudolph Borchert-penned teleplay, directed by Don McDougall.
The Sentry – The final show has McGavin’s real life
wife Kathy Browne butting heads with him as the only female police opponent he
would have in the series, something that never happened in the telefilms
either. People are being killed deep in
the underground vaults of a corporate archive and Kolchak is just dying to find
out. He may get his wish, depending on
how fast he can get one of their golf carts to go when the
alligator/crocodile-like monster comes to get him in those tunnels. More humor than expected, but like all the
shows, some great funny moments, followed by moments of amazing horror. Neale & Huff wrote the final teleplay,
directed by Seymour Robbie. The guest
cast also includes Albert Paulsen, Frank Campanella, Margaret Avery and Tom
The show was supposed
to run 22 episodes for the season, but McGavin and later producer Cy Chermak
(who replaced Paul Playdon after the initial episodes and some other key work
for the series) could not get along and as the show became lighter, the ratings
were not as strong as reruns in later years and video sales would prove to
be. The show was on at 10 P.M. EST on
ABC, then the reruns in 1975 were moved to 8 P.M. the same night when the
network moved The Six Million Dollar Man to Sundays. They had to be edited slightly, but that was
all. Ratings did not improve and the
show was cancelled. That also meant the
end of seeing other regular characters Ron Updyke (played by Jack Grinnage) and
Miss Emily (one time Edith) Cowles (played by Ruth McDevitt). The Independent News Service was finished and
even comic book and novel revivals put the company out of business.
About a dozen of
scripts were in production and three were completed, two of which were ready to
go for this first season. Eve Of
Terror and The Get Of Belial did finally make it into print as comic
books within the last year, while The Executioners (a good script) has
yet to see the light of day in any form.
The comics did great justice to the series and the scripts they came
from. There were several near-revivals
of the character before ABCs’ 2005-6 revival, including a few with Darren
McGavin that sadly failed and a theatrical feature film at Morgan Creek
Productions set to star Nick Nolte as Kolchak that was also cancelled. Therefore, this would sadly be McGavin’s last
screen appearance as Kolchak. More on
what happened to those four withdrawn episodes in a few paragraphs.
The 1.33 X 1 full color full frame image varies
throughout, as is the case with television shows of this age. In its time, the series had some of the most
elaborate and expensive nighttime shooting in TV history, set bound or
not. This is especially apparent in the
early episodes, which remain some of the darkest and best nighttime shooting in
television history. The catch to this
was that the nighttime stocks tend to be grainier and you can see that in each
episode. Sometimes, the footage is
slightly dull, other times color is slightly faded, but the color is much more
often vibrant and detailed as expected from the remastering. The result is warmth that has never been seen
before in the shows, plus there are no scratches or artifacts, though I
originally missed a cracked frame in an early scene of Episode 2. An early review of the set claimed the image
was too dark. I disagree. It is as dark as it is supposed to be and
some people can use this show to reconsider how their TVs (HD or otherwise) are
adjusted. Despite some flaws, these are
very good transfers otherwise and among the best classic TV images we have seen
Cinematographer Donald Peterman shot the first episode and
made it very visually effective, even inspiring the look for the first episodes
of Millennium (reviewed elsewhere on this site) and setting the tone for
the best this show offered visually.
Alric Edens, A.S.C., shot the second show and added to the vocabulary
and feel of Kolchak’s Chicago. Eduardo
Ricci shot the third episode, which has some chilling slow motion work and
creepy uses of the zoom lens. Ronald W.
Browne took over for the rest of the series and continued to make it visually
interesting and exceptional, though as the scripts got lighter, so did the
The Dolby Digital 2.0
Mono is interesting in that it sometimes has some compression in parts, but not
for an entire episode, while a few spaces even had slight (and brief) touches
of harshness. The audio fidelity does
show its age, but not in ways you’d think.
The series always had an interesting mix of location taping, sound
effects audio, in-studio dubbing and looping, plus exceptionally recorded,
engineered and recorded music. Unlike
previous video versions of the series, you can hear the differences, with some
audio sounding remarkably good for an old TV series. Some of the audio has intended echo that
makes the sound almost stereophonic and as a huge fan, would have wanted the
show remastered in 5.1 DTS. As compared
to the audio from the TV movies on DVD and the CD soundtrack Varese Sarabande issued,
this set more than holds its own.
Gil Mellé’s theme song
was partly derived from the theme to the 1974 Gene Roddenberry TV movie The
Questor Tapes, and was already on the map with the theme to the Rod Serling
series Night Gallery and also did the score one of the first three Six
Million Dollar Man telefilms, for Larry Cohen’s controversial 1972
theatrical film Bone and the 1971 Andromeda Strain, often sited
as the first all-electronic score for a motion picture. Mellé had helped to invent the drum machine
and was exceptionally aware of sound and the coming of new kinds of music,
which is why his music for Kolchak holds up so well.
Mellé left the series
after the fourth episode and felt it might be lightening up too much. The great Jerry Fielding took over for
virtually the rest of the series, while Mellé was sometimes still credited when
his music was reused. Greg McRitchie,
one of the best film and TV music orchestrators in the business, did the 11th
show on his own, but that was the only exception. Hal Moone added music for episode 9, while
Luchi De Jesus added scoring for episode 10.
I should add that Universal Television was as state of the art as any TV
production operation in their time and the high quality we have here thirty
years later has much to do with that.
Even for fans who have seen the show dozens of times before, the jokes
and jolts have a whole new life as a result of this high fidelity combination.
The Ripper and The Vampire originally
were issued on VHS by Universal under the name Two Tales Of Terror, with
the fourth show included because CBS used to show that one first to relaunch
the series anytime they went through the series’ 16 shows that were available
for broadcast. They looked and sounded
adequate, but fared better when Columbia House licensed the entire series,
which took up 10 VHS tapes. All had
Hi-Fi FM analog 2.0 mono, while the whole series came out in two 12” LaserDisc
box sets from Japan that were pricey, heavy, expensive and in print for a
limited time. The English was limited to
one analog Hi-Fi mono track, while the other analog track and digital PCM 2.0
Mono sound was a Japanese dub of each show, so the Dolby here is superior to
the English on those sets. The qualities
of those prints were also reportedly mixed, so these DVDs surpass those easily
as well. Like the tapes, the later
episodes’ prints seemed to have color that was fading. That is not the case here, where the great
color in the majority of scenes in each episode is full and rich.
One extra Universal
could have included for kicks are to show what happened to the withheld
episodes above. They were cut into two
artificial TV movies, with some new voice-overs by McGavin and Oakland to tie
the show together. Crackle Of Death
combined shows 6 & 10 into a tale that could have been dubbed
“deaths-a-poppin”, while The Demon & The Mummy crossed shows 16
& 17 with an ending too silly to believe.
Ironically, they are the last times either actor would portray those
classic characters, if only in voice.
Perhaps NBC/Universal thought that was repetitious, but that would have
been nice for the blank sixth side of DVD 3.
Grinnage and early regular Carol Ann Suzi as Monique (shows 2, 3 &
6) are still around, as are Cy Chermak, David Chase,
Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale and many of the guest stars are still with us. Interviews and audio commentaries would have
been nice. The paperboard case is nice,
though. And to repeat, side six is
BLANK, not a defective side that will not play.
Though very recent
print revivals turned up (comic books and a novel so far), that was the end of
the show for good. We’ll reserve any
comments on ABC’s 2004 – 2005 revival show, but this DVD release of Kolchak:
The Night Stalker finally completes one of the most sought-after TV
releases on home video. At one time, there
were those who tried to write this show off as a cult series only. Now, we all know better. The case says “Classic Television” and this
set more than lives up to that label.
Needless to say, this is as much a must-have as any TV on DVD set you
can get. No wonder it is already a
surprise (except to us) top seller.
- Nicholas Sheffo