By Mark Rahner
On this week’s Special Ops, we talk about Kolchak: The Night Stalker and his creator, Jeff Rice, who just passed away in Las Vegas.
I’ve been a fan from childhood, and I’m fairly certain that growing up with a show about a smart alec reporter who disobeys and shouts at his editors didn’t work wonders for my own newspaper career.
If you’ve never seen the show, you’ve probably seen The X-Files. Chris Carter has been up front about Night Stalker being its inspiration. And while star Darren McGavin didn’t reprise his Carl Kolchak character in X-Files, he did appear in the show as retired agent Arthur Dales.
I indulged in some nerd wish-fulfillment for that in my story for the recent Vampirella 100 special. Altering names a bit – because I don’t want to be sued – an elderly “Kovak” hands off the tape recordings of his adventures to a pair of young FBI agents who resemble Mulder and Scully.
And I wrote a Kolchak story for Moonstone Books a while back. Here are the covers for both.
But enough about me. Some Night Stalker people went on to bigger things.
McGavin – a Spokane native – went on to play the Old Man in A Christmas Story, and it kind of annoys me that that’s what punks know him best for. If you dig him as Kolchak, check him out the detective in the 1958 Mike Hammer series.
David Chase, who wrote eight Night Stalker episodes, cranked out an obscure show called The Sopranos later.
After the two hit TV movies, there were 20 episodes of the Night Stalker series on ABC. Reasons there were so few – in addition to the lousy ratings – was that their quality declined and they got sillier, and McGavin wanted the hell out.
As for the 2005 Night Stalker revival starring Stuart Townsend, avoid that like I avoid sunlight.
All right, back to me now. Here are my top five episodes, in no particular order. And look, they’re on YouTube!
Back to Vegas, where Kolchak encountered a vampire in the first movie. One of the female victims has risen and she’s thirsty. Killer climax.
A werewolf on a cruise ship at sea. No escape. From the Carl’s brilliant plan to acquire silver bullets to the final confrontation, a beauty all around. It predated The Love Boat on the same network, so I can only assume the idea came from this.
Try not to tense up when a nervous Kolchak attempts to sew salt into a temporarily dormant zombie’s mouth inside a car in a wrecking yard. Crap!
The first episode to air. And that’s right, Jack the Ripper, alive somehow – and killing again – in the present day. Well, 1974. This has the great scene with Kolchak hiding from the Ripper in his closet and getting so frightened that he loses his cool and bolts.
Horror in the Heights (in three parts, for some reason)
Kolchak faces a monster you may never have heard of: the Rakshasa, which appears to victims in the form of people they trust – and then kills them gruesomely. What else would it do?