If you were a sci-fi nerd and watched television in the 90's, one of the shows that you watched was The X Files. No arguing with me, you watched The X Files (you may not have watched it all the way to the end, but you did watch it). Which means that you would have had drilled into your head that one of the shows that influenced The X Files, with some saying that it was probably the main influence, was Kolchak: The Night Stalker.
Originally starting as two telemovies that were made to cash in on the supernatural craze of the early 70s, Kolchak soon spun off into a pretty fun and cheesy TV series that is remembered by all good sci-fi nerds everywhere. However, I am not here to talk about the series, merely the first of the telemovies, which was called The Night Stalker. Adapted for the screen (TV in this case) by Richard Matheson, the film was amazingly successful (becoming the highest rated television movie up to that time) and spun off a sequel and subsequent TV series.
The original film sees ace reporter Carl Kolchak investigating a series of disappearances in Las Vegas. He soon starts to suspect that something a lot more supernatural is behind it and he soon comes to believe that a modern day vampire is the cause. And, as oft happens in situations such as these, it’s up to him to not only prove the vampire, but also to stop the creature. Of course, he is met with a lot of resistance, not just from the learned elders of Las Vegas, but also his boss at the newspaper. There is really not a whole heck of a lot to say about the plot asides from that.
There was something about TV movies from the 70s, at least as far as those I have seen – they were all really dark in tone. Even those that didn’t have anything to do with supernatural things all conveyed a sense of dark. It seems that producers back then knew that adults were adults and could actually handle things of a more adult nature. This style of thinking shows up a lot during The Night Stalker, especially with the vampire, whose look has no doubt been heavily influenced by not only Christopher Lee’s Hammer portrayal of Dracula, but also Dark Shadows’ Barnabas Collins (this coming as no surprise as Dan Curtis, Dark Shadows creator, was also producer of the Kolchak movies and series).
Now, the thing about supernatural TV shows (hell, supernatural anythings) is, they can get really cheesy if not handled right. A lot of things I could think of have fallen into this trap, so you need to have “human” players that are believable and are able to show the right amount of actual emotion for the situation. Darren McGavin was one of those people who could – even though the situations that Kolchack found himself in were very silly indeed, he was still imbued with actual human emotions, there was not a single knowing nod to the audience, even in the first film.
Much like everything to do with Kolchak, it was just fun. And that all rests on the shoulders of Darren McGavin, who is just plain likable in everything he does. I’ll admit to not having heard of Kolchak until the show was bought up in conjunction with The X Files, but as soon as I knew it existed, I did all I could to hunt it down (thankfully, it was aired on cable TV here in Australia not long after) and I was immensely glad I saw it. If you have any love of supernatural cheese, I highly recommend the film/s.