K is for Kolchak: The Night Stalker
Reviewed by Kerry E.B. Black
Chicago reporter Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) wrote for Independent News Service, researching cases with troubling, often supernatural mysteries. Irrepressible as any good news hound, fearless in the face of the unknown, Kolchak often ended the episode without a story. “Who would believe it, anyway?”
Such monsters as vampires and a succubus, a murderous android and an immortal serial killer perpetrated murders Karl Kolchak investigated. An Aztec cult attempted to reanimate a mummy god by sacrificing fresh blood. A knight’s suit of armor protected its home. Witches, a zombie, a doppelganger, werewolves, spirits, and a killer android committed crimes. Helen of Troy sought continued immortality. A prehistoric man became murderous after being thawed. A lizard creature sought to protect its eggs. A politician entered a pact with Satan. In the only episode where the bad-guy got away, a space alien sucked the marrow from human bones. And in a nod to Washington Irving’s classic, a headless motorcyclist sought revenge.
Kolchak found aid, albeit for a fee, from Gordy “The Ghoul” Spangler, a morgue attendant. His editor, Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland) provided comedic friction, and Monique Marmelstein (Carol Ann Susi) struggled to prove her worth as a reporter and photographer. Episodes began with Karl Kolchak whistling a cheerful tune put together by musical director Gil Melle. Melle felt the series’ light-hearted approach to the grisly legends detracted from the message and left after a few episodes.
Jeff Rice created the concept and distinctive character, and Richard Matheson adapted it for television. The series was preceded by two made-for-television movies, “The Night Stalker” (1972) and “The Night Strangler.” (1973) The television series aired during the 1974-1975 series. Certainly, the show was a product of its time. The language, fashions, prejudices, and stereotypes of mid 1970’s abound. Kochak drove a yellow Mustang convertible and wore a seersucker suit, a red-banded straw hat, and white tennis shoes, because he needed to be ready to run. The extensive list of guest stars included Dick Van Patten, Ken Lynch, Julie Adams, John Denver, Phil Silvers, and Berne Kopell.
Though “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” received a luke-warm reception from critics and only lasted one season and twenty episodes, modern producers and writers nod to its influence on their own work. Chris Carter incorporated his appreciation of the series by casting Darren McGavin as retired agent Arthur Dales, the “father of the X-files.” Gary Gygax incorporated one of the Kolchak monsters in his Dungeons and Dragons mythology.