31 Days of Horror: #6 – Double Feature! The Night Stalker & The Night Strangler
Your daily bitesized guide to the films you should be watching this Halloween season…
Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey
Written by Richard Matheson, story Jeff Rice
Starring Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Carol Lynley, Ralph Meeker
The ABC movie of the week (1969-76) aired some memorable features that have gone on to etch themselves into moving picture history, but for me none can equal the lasting legacy of this pair of The Night Stalker / Strangler for their originality, verve or sheer terror. With his unkempt and creased appearance, Kolchak wasn’t a prime candidate to assume a prominent position in the annals of television, but being cited as a key influence on The X Files certainly dragged this tardy newspaperman into the consciousness of this generation for a timely re-evaluation.
His first bow was made in The Night Stalker which saw him investigating a string of Las Vegas murders where blood is being drained from the victims. A doubting police force and cynical “lovable managing editor” Tony Vincenzo (Oakland) meant Kolchak was forever being dismissed, but his dogged determination soon proved him vital to the investigation. Rated PG, the idea of this piece of work being scary may seem inflated to some. However, with its simple make-up, imposing villain and heightened eerie score by Bob Cobert it’s left an indelible mark as a milestone in television horror.
The Night Strangler (1973)
Directed by Dan Curtis
Written by Richard Matheson, characters Jeff Rice
Starring Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Jo Ann Pflug, Ralph Meeker, John Carradine
With The Night Stalker receiving the highest ratings for any TV movie at the time, and with the legend Richard Matheson receiving an Edgar Award for his script, the idea of a sequel was a no brainer. ABC commissioned Matheson to write another screenplay, The Night Strangler, where he switched the action to Seattle. Here, Kolchak finds himself down on his luck, drunkenly lecturing uninterested bar patrons with the minutiae of the Night Stalker case. A chance meeting with Vincenzo sees Carl back in business, and before he knows it, he’s pounding the streets on the trail of a killer who’s strangling his victims and using their blood.
The Night Strangler may see a different case and a different location for Carl Kolchak, but this ground-breaking series still retains its air of chilling intrigue thanks to the brilliance of McGavin as well as the comforting familiarity of fiery newspaper editor Tony Vincenzo. After these initial two TV movies Kolchak was commissioned for a full series and Carl went on to face such adversaries as zombies, werewolves and demons in an acclaimed 20 episode run. The adventures of this Chicagoan journalist may seem tame towards contemporary genre TV shows like The Walking Dead and American Horror Story, but much of the genre entertainment that graces our small screens today does owe a notable debt to this bedraggled reporter in the cheap blue suit and the straw hat.
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