|Kolchak: The Night Stalker|
|Created by||Jeff Rice|
|Theme music composer||Gil Mellé|
|Country of origin||United States|
|No. of episodes||20|
|Running time||50-51 minutes|
|Original release||September 13, 1974 -|
March 28, 1975
|Preceded by||The Night Strangler|
|Followed by||Night Stalker|
Kolchak: The Night Stalker is an American television series that aired on ABC during the 1974-1975 season. The series followed wire service reporter Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) who investigates mysterious crimes with unlikely causes, particularly those involving the supernatural or science fiction, including fantastic creatures. The series was preceded by the two television movies, The Night Stalker (1972) and The Night Strangler (1973). Although the series lasted only a single season, it rapidly achieved cult status and has remained very popular in syndication.
Chris Carter cited Kolchak as a "tremendous influence" in creating his franchise The X-Files. Following that success in 2005 The X-Files producer Frank Spotnitz resurrected the series with a new cast and characters, as well as subsequent novels and comic books. The new series was a ratings bomb and was quietly cancelled after only six of the ten episodes produced were aired.
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The main character originated in an unpublished novel, The Kolchak Papers, written by Jeff Rice. In it, a Las Vegas newspaper reporter named Carl Kolchak tracks down and defeats a serial killer who turns out to be a vampire named Janos Skorzeny. Although the reporter uses the name "Carl", the novel reveals that his birth name is "Karel". After the success of the TV film and its sequel, the novel was published in 1973 by Pocket Books as a mass-market paperback original, titled The Night Stalker, with a photo of Darren McGavin on the cover to tie it to the film.
The second television film, The Night Strangler, was also turned into a novel (written by Jeff Rice but based on a script by Richard Matheson), published in 1974 by Pocket Books.
Both novels were republished in 2007 by Moonstone in an omnibus edition called The Kolchak Papers. Moonstone Books continues to produce Kolchak comic books.
ABC approached Rice with an offer to option The Kolchak Papers, which was adapted eventually by Richard Matheson into a television movie, The Night Stalker. It was produced by Dan Curtis and directed by John Llewellyn Moxey. Darren McGavin played the role of Carl. The cast also included Carol Lynley, Simon Oakland, Ralph Meeker, Claude Akins, Charles McGraw, Kent Smith, Stanley Adams, Elisha Cook Jr., Larry Linville, Jordan Rhodes, and Barry Atwater as the vampire Janos Skorzeny.
The Night Stalker first aired January 11, 1972, and garnered the highest ratings of any television movie at that time (33.2 rating – 54 share). Matheson received a 1973 Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best TV Feature or Miniseries Teleplay.
Impressed by the success of the first television movie, ABC commissioned Richard Matheson to write a second movie, The Night Strangler (1973), which featured another serial killer in Seattle who strangled his victims and used their blood to keep himself alive for over a century. Kolchak recruits exotic dancer and psychology student Louise Harper (Jo Ann Pflug) to assist him in tracking down the eponymous strangler.
A fictitious version of the Seattle Underground City was used as a setting for much of the movie's action, and provided the killer with his hiding place. Dan Curtis both produced and directed the second movie, which also did well in the ratings. Rice wrote a novelization based on Matheson's screenplay. The novel was published in 1974 by Pocket Books as a mass-market paperback original under the title The Night Strangler with a close-up photo of the monster's eye to tie in with the movie.
Simon Oakland reprised his earlier role as Kolchak's editor, Tony Vincenzo. The cast also included Richard Anderson, Scott Brady, Wally Cox, Margaret Hamilton, John Carradine, Nina Wayne and Al Lewis.
Several scenes were filmed with George Tobias playing a reporter who recalled a series of murders he had investigated during the 1930s. These scenes were cut before airing because of time constraints.
In late 1973, Matheson and William F. Nolan completed the script for an intended third television movie, to be titled The Night Killers, a story about android replicas. ABC decided that it wanted a weekly series instead.
After some negotiation, McGavin agreed to return as Kolchak and also served as the series' executive producer, though he was not credited as such. However, neither ABC nor Universal had obtained Jeff Rice's permission and he sued the studio. The suit was resolved shortly before the series aired in the fall 1974 season, replacing Toma on the network's Friday night schedule. Rice received an on-screen credit as series creator. The first four episodes aired under the title of The Night Stalker. After a month-long hiatus, the series was renamed and returned as Kolchak: The Night Stalker.
The later home video releases of the television series also used that title. The series theme had originally been part of the music score that Gil Mellé had composed for The Questor Tapes. While the show was set in Chicago and some generic location/background filming was done there in summer and early fall, the show was filmed primarily in Los Angeles and at Universal Studios.
The show featured a wide range of guest stars and many Hollywood veterans, including: Ken Lynch, Charles Aidman, Randy Boone, Scatman Crothers, Dick Van Patten, Jan Murray, Larry Storch, Jeanne Cooper, Alice Ghostley, Victor Jory, Murray Matheson, Julie Adams, John Dehner, Phil Silvers, Bernie Kopell, Marvin Miller, Carol Ann Susi, Jesse White, James Gregory, Hans Conried, Mary Wickes, Henry Jones, Carolyn Jones, Jackie Mason, Stella Stevens, Abraham Sofaer, David Doyle, Jim Backus, Kathleen Freeman, John Hoyt, Dwayne Hickman, Eric Braeden, Tom Skerritt, Erik Estrada, William Daniels, Jamie Farr, Lara Parker, Pat Harrington Jr., Larry Linville and Richard Kiel. Jimmy Hawkins appeared on the series as a Catholic priest on November 1, 1974, in what proved to be his last acting appearance. McGavin's wife and assistant, Kathie Browne, appeared in the final episode as Lt. Irene Lamont.
In addition, the series provided the first professional writing credit for Robert Zemeckis and his writing partner Bob Gale, who wrote the script for the episode "Chopper". David Chase, creator of The Sopranos, also worked on the series as a story editor, his first regular crew position in Hollywood. Though Chase is credited on eight episodes as story editor, he also helped rewrite the remaining 12. McGavin and others attribute much of the show's quirky humor to his creative input.
The show's ratings were mediocre and McGavin was growing dissatisfied, resulting in its cancellation after one year. The series aired on Friday nights at 10 p.m., a virtual graveyard for most TV series, particularly one aimed at a younger audience. In January 1975, the show was moved to Friday nights at 8 p.m., where it remained until June 1975. In August 1975, ABC moved Kolchak to Saturday nights at 8 p.m for four final weeks of reruns. McGavin found himself rewriting scripts and doing much of the work of a producer, but without getting either the full credit or the full compensation of one. McGavin had been unhappy with what he felt was the show's "monster of the week" direction, and an exhausting filming schedule. He asked to be released from his contract with two episodes remaining to be filmed, which the network granted in light of the show's dwindling ratings.
Two television movies, The Demon and the Mummy and Crackle of Death, were cobbled together in 1976. Each contains new footage as well as previously screened episodes from the series. McGavin provided a voice-over for both, which allowed the narrative to maintain some continuity.
The Kolchak series completely vanished after ABC's final repeat, which was the premiere episode "The Ripper", broadcast early September 1975. On May 25, 1979 The CBS Late Movie resurrected Kolchak with the fourth installment "The Vampire". The return of Kolchak proved a smash success. CBS pulled the series during midsummer and saved it for the fall premiere where it was expected to bring in more viewers. Universal held back four episodes to make two television movies. So successful was Kolchak on CBS late night, it was brought back two more times in 1981 and 1987-1988. After 1990, Universal pulled the two episodic "TV movies" and finally released the missing four episodes that CBS was not allowed to air. All 20 episodes of Kolchak were seen for the first time since 1975 in their original format on the Sci Fi channel in the early 1990s. They soon followed on Columbia House home video and later on DVD in 2005.
Besides Amazon carrying the DVD set for sale on its website, Netflix would offer it for rental and, by 2013, for on-demand streaming. During the early 2010s, Netflix would have it available to stream for a time, then take it off again. Kolchak: The Night Stalker would return for a last time in August 2016, just as Universal was about to release it again on DVD, this time digitally remastered. It was then dropped from the streaming site by 2017.  Although the series was not added as part of NBC's new Peacock streaming site in 2020, it was available on the free ad-supported NBC.com. In September, it was added to the MeTV lineup at 11PM Central on Saturdays, along with lots of trivia on its website.
The series managed in its short run to tackle most of the major monster myths, including classics such as vampires, werewolves, mummies and zombies. It also included stories about a doppelganger, witches, a succubus and a pact with Satan. Four episodes focused on monsters and spirits based in native folklore (two involving Native American legends, one Hindu and one Creole).
The series also featured some more esoteric antagonists, including a headless motorcycle rider that hinted at the headless horseman myth and an animated knight's suit of armor possessed by a spirit. A story about Jack the Ripper was one of the few based on an actual historical figure, though the series provided a supernatural explanation. An episode about Helen of Troy (Cathy Lee Crosby appeared in the role) dealt with immortality and aging.
Robert Cobert scored the music for the original television movies. Gil Mellé wrote the music for the TV series, beginning with the theme that begins with Kolchak whistling in the opening credits. Mellé was hired and the theme was written in 20 minutes, just before the opening credits were shot.
Mellé left the series after the fourth episode, saying it was becoming too light-hearted. Composer Jerry Fielding took over scoring music for the remaining series, augmented by one score each from Greig McRitchie (best known for his collaborations with Fielding, and James Horner), and Luchi De Jesus. Music Supervisor Hal Mooney re-used much of Mellé's score in various later episodes (most notably The Spanish Moss Murders which has no credited score composer) along with material from the other composers.
Two soundtrack albums have been produced. One released in 2000 by Varèse Sarabande features two suites of Cobert's music from the TV movies. The other, a bootleg copy of Melle's private tapes, features his theme and scores written for the first three episodes ("The Ripper", "They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be..." and "The Vampire"), and two cues from the TV movie The Questor Tapes.
The Mellé theme also appears on the TVT Records' Television's Greatest Hits Volume 5. However, all licensed soundtrack recordings of the theme use an otherwise rare original recording alternate take of the theme. Initially identifiable by the altered opening whistle, an off-key electronic note is seemingly randomly introduced towards the end, but when synchronized with the picture it corresponds to a specific visual. Mellé was known for his innovative use of electronic orchestration (which was used throughout the series); however, the producers chose not to include this stylistic element in his main title for broadcast, instead opting for a more conventional all-orchestral sound.
|No.||Title||Directed by||Written by||Original air date|
|1||"The Ripper"||Allen Baron||Rudolph Borchert||September 13, 1974|
|2||"The Zombie"||Alex Grasshoff||T : David Chase;|
S/T : Zekial Marko
|September 20, 1974|
|A woman whose grandson was murdered by mobsters uses voodoo to turn him into a zombie and take revenge. Originally listed in TV Guide as the show's debut episode. Guest stars: Charles Aidman, Joseph Sirola, Val Bisoglio, J. Pat O'Malley, John Fiedler, Antonio Fargas, Scatman Crothers.|
|3||"They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be..."||Allen Baron||S : Dennis Clark;|
T : Rudolph Borchert
|September 27, 1974|
|Dick Enberg can be heard on Kolchak's car radio calling game 1 of a fictional World Series between the Chicago Cubs and Boston Red Sox.|
|4||"The Vampire"||Don Weis||S : Bill Stratton;|
T : David Chase
|October 4, 1974|
A sequel to the first movie The Night Stalker. An overlooked victim of Janos Skorzeny, the Las Vegas vampire, makes her way to Los Angeles and begins killing anew. Guest stars: William Daniels, Suzanne Charny, John Doucette, Larry Storch, Kathleen Nolan, Jan Murray.Typically shown as the first episode of the 16 originally available for syndication and included with "The Ripper" in The Night Stalker: Two Tales of Terror video compilation.
|5||"The Werewolf"||Allen Baron||David Chase and Paul Playdon||November 1, 1974|
|In snowy Chicago, the INS crew hold a send-off for Tony Vincenzo, headed on a singles cruise, but he gets audited instead. Carl wheedles his way into taking his place and ends up battling a werewolf on a killing spree. Guest stars: Eric Braeden, Dick Gautier, Henry Jones, Nita Talbot, Bob Hastings|
|6||"Firefall"||Don Weis||Bill S. Ballinger||November 8, 1974|
The ghost of an arsonist tries to take over a renowned conductor's body as his doppelganger, and kills a number of the conductor's associates by spontaneous human combustion. Guest stars: Fred Beir, Philip Carey, Virginia Vincent, Alice Backes, David DoyleThis episode was combined with "The Energy Eater" and new narration by Darren McGavin to compose the television film Crackle of Death, effectively removing it from the original syndication. One of the locations used, St. Joseph Catholic Church in Los Angeles, burned down in 1983.
|7||"The Devil's Platform"||Allen Baron||S : Tim Maschler;|
T : Donn Mullally
|November 15, 1974|
|A politician (Tom Skerritt) on a meteoric rise murders his opposition through a pact with Satan which gives him the ability to turn into an invulnerable dog.|
|8||"Bad Medicine"||Alex Grasshoff||L. Ford Neale & John Huff||November 29, 1974|
|The first episode based on a Native American legend, a shaman spirit called the Diablero (Richard Kiel) murders for jewels to pay back his debt and be released from his Earthly bonds. Guest stars: Richard Kiel, Ramon Bieri, Victor Jory, Alice Ghostley|
|9||"The Spanish Moss Murders"||Gordon Hessler||T : David Chase;|
S/T : Al Friedman
|December 6, 1974|
|A dreaming host who is part of a sleep study project conjures up the Creole legend of Père Malfait (French: "father [of] mischief/wrongdoing/sin")  (Richard Kiel) willing to kill anyone who threatens its survival. Guest stars: Richard Kiel, Severn Darden, Keenan Wynn|
|10||"The Energy Eater"||Alex Grasshoff||T : Rudolph Bochert;|
S/T : Arthur Rowe
|December 13, 1974|
A hospital is built on reclaimed land inhabited by the Native American bear-spirit legend Matchi Manitou which threatens to destroy anyone who inhabits it. Guest stars: William Smith, Tom Drake, Elaine Giftos, Michael Strong, John Alvin, Michael Fox, Robert Cornthwaite.This episode was combined with "Firefall" and new narration by Darren McGavin to compose the television film Crackle of Death, effectively removing it from the original syndication.
|11||"Horror in the Heights"||Michael T. Caffey||Jimmy Sangster||December 20, 1974|
|A Hindu demon called the Rakshasa, which can assume the form of someone its victim trusts, terrorizes a Jewish neighborhood. Guest stars: Phil Silvers, Murray Matheson, Benny Rubin, Abraham Sofaer, Barry Gordon.|
|12||"Mr. R.I.N.G."||Gene Levitt||L. Ford Neale & John Huff||January 10, 1975|
|An escaped android (Craig R. Baxley) murders anyone that threatens its survival. Guest stars: Julie Adams, Corinne Camacho, Bert Freed, Henry Beckman, Don "Red" Barry|
|13||"Primal Scream"||Robert Scheerer||Bill S. Ballinger and David Chase||January 17, 1975|
|Defrosted ancient cell samples discovered in the Arctic grow into a savage prehistoric primate which goes on a rampage. Guest stars: John Marley, Jamie Farr, Katherine Woodville, Pat Harrington Jr.|
|14||"The Trevi Collection"||Don Weis||Rudolph Borchert||January 24, 1975|
|A witch (played by Dark Shadows' "Angélique," Lara Parker) desires to control the world of high fashion. Guest stars: Lara Parker, Nina Foch, Marvin Miller, Bernie Kopell|
|15||"Chopper"||Bruce Kessler||S : Robert Zemeckis & Bob Gale;|
T : Steve Fisher and David Chase
|January 31, 1975|
|A headless motorcycle rider murders those responsible for his death. Guest stars: Larry Linville, Art Metrano, Jim Backus, Frank Aletter, Sharon Farrell, Jay Robinson, Steve Franken.|
|16||"Demon in Lace"||Don Weis||T : Michael Kozoll and David Chase;|
S/T : Stephen Lord
|February 7, 1975|
An ancient Mesopotamian clay tablet is presided over by a succubus (a female demon). The succubus possesses the corpses of recently deceased young women to murder young men (by giving them heart attacks) to maintain her immortality. Guest stars: Andrew Prine, Jackie Vernon.This episode was combined with "Legacy of Terror" and new narration by Darren McGavin to compose the television film The Demon and The Mummy, effectively removing it from the original syndication.
|17||"Legacy of Terror"||Don McDougall||Arthur Rowe||February 14, 1975|
|Darren McGavin to compose the television film The Demon and The Mummy, but it is still in syndication airing on MeTV in New Jersey.|
|18||"The Knightly Murders"||Vincent McEveety||S : Paul Magistretti;|
T : Michael Kozoll and David Chase
|March 7, 1975|
|To prevent the destruction of its home, the spirit of a knight reanimates his suit of armor to kill those responsible. Guest starring John Dehner.|
|19||"The Youth Killer"||Don McDougall||Rudolph Borchert||March 14, 1975|
|Helen of Troy returns to drain the youth out of unsuspecting perfect victims, sacrifices for the goddess Hecate, in her quest for immortality. Cathy Lee Crosby guests as Helen of Troy, and Dwayne Hickman also guest stars as a police officer.|
|20||"The Sentry"||Seymour Robbie||L. Ford Neale & John Huff||March 28, 1975|
|A humanoid lizard creature kills subterranean workers who have stolen its eggs. In the final scene, Kolchak says these events happened on April 20 and 21, 1975.|
The series was cancelled with only 20 episodes completed but the initial order of 26 meant there were scripts that were completed but unproduced for the series. Three additional scripts commissioned before the series was cancelled still survive.
The story is summed up by one of Kolchak's lines in the episode: "What if I told you that a deranged feminist murdered a Casanova lab technician, a sex goddess, and her purveyor?"
Kolchak is assigned to cover a miners' strike in the mountains of West Virginia. He uncovers gruesome murders associated with a backwoods family and Kolchak suspects that they have some sort of inbred monster living with them.
Kolchak is demoted, and is given the choice of writing obituaries or writing articles for the arts section. He chooses the latter, and discovers a painting tied into a series of murders that Vincenzo is covering. These murders occur in a series of three, in which the first victim is hanged, the second executed with an ax, and the third poisoned. Working with an art expert, Kolchak attempts to unravel who or what is behind these bizarre murders and what they have to do with the painting, without alerting Vincenzo that he is working on the same story.
Though Kolchak was short-lived as a series, its impact on popular culture has been substantial. In particular the series has been described as a predecessor to The X-Files (1993-2002, 2016, 2018). The X-Files creator, Chris Carter, has acknowledged that the show had influenced him greatly in his own work. In one interview when mentioned that the majority of the viewing public considered the success of The X-Files series as being inspired by other such past shows such as The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits, Carter mentions that while those shows were indeed an influence on The X-Files, it was only about 10 percent, with another 30 percent coming from the Kolchak series and the rest derived as being based upon original 'pure inspiration'. Carter paid tribute to Kolchak in a number of ways in the show. A character named "Richard Matheson", named for the screenwriter of the first two pilot films, appeared in several episodes. Carter also wanted McGavin to appear as Kolchak in one or more episodes of The X-Files, but McGavin was unwilling to reprise the character for the show. He did eventually appear in several episodes as Arthur Dales, a retired FBI agent described as the "father of the X-Files". In the third episode of the 2016 revival series, a character prominently featured in the episode Mulder and Scully Meet the Were-Monster is conspicuously attired in Kolchak's trademark seersucker jacket, black knit tie, and straw hat.
Though Rice retains the rights to written Kolchak works, and Universal Studios owns the rights to the TV series, ABC maintained dramatic rights to the character and ownership of the two TV movies. The network began airing a new Night Stalker series on September 29, 2005, with the character Carl Kolchak portrayed by Stuart Townsend. On November 14, 2005, ABC and creator Frank Spotnitz announced that the new series was being cancelled due to low ratings. The complete 2005 series is available on DVD.
In a nod to the original series, the pilot episode has a brief shot from the original TV series of Darren McGavin in the INS newsroom, as the new Kolchak (Townsend) is walking through it. Inserted digitally, McGavin is dressed in the same frumpy clothes he wore as Kolchak in the original series and smiles knowingly while touching his hat. The satchel in which Kolchak carried wooden stakes and a cross to battle Skorzeny is shown. In another shot, when fellow reporter Perri Reed (Gabrielle Union) is searching through Kolchak's room, the hat McGavin wore in the original series is seen hanging on a coat rack. Other character names from the TV movies are referenced in various episodes, and one episode ("Timeless") recycled much of the plot of the TV movie The Night Strangler. In the 1970s, the Kolchak character was often seen in his yellow 1966 Ford Mustang convertible, while the new series' Kolchak drives an orange Mustang from 2005.
In 1991, author Mark Dawidziak wrote Night Stalking: A 20th Anniversary Kolchak Companion detailing the production of the movies and TV series. In 1994, Dawidziak worked with Rice to produce the first official "Kolchak" material since the end of the TV series. The novel, Grave Secrets, moved Kolchak from Chicago to Los Angeles where he obtained a job at the Hollywood Dispatch newspaper (nicknamed the "Disgrace"). Most of the recurring characters from the TV movies and series also appear. Kolchak investigates a ghost who is killing those responsible for the destruction of the cemetery where its body is buried. An expanded and updated version of Dawidziak's Night Stalking was published in 1997 by Pomegranate Press as The Night Stalker Companion: A 30th Anniversary Tribute. In 2003, the scripts for The Night Stalker, The Night Strangler and the unfilmed The Night Killers were published by Gauntlet Press as Richard Matheson's Kolchak Scripts (edited with introductions by Dawidziak).
A comic book based on the property was published in 2003 by Moonstone Books, with some commercial success. Moonstone continues to publish both a bimonthly serial magazine and a series of prose novels and graphic novels featuring the characters. Moonstone also adapted Rice's original The Night Stalker script as well as two unfilmed scripts for the TV series: "The Get of Belial" and "Eve of Terror".
In 2006, Moonstone published a short fiction anthology, The Night Stalker Chronicles, with short stories contributed by writers such as Peter David, Mike W. Barr, Stuart Kaminsky, Richard Dean Starr, C. J. Henderson, Dawidziak and Max Allan Collins. A second volume, Kolchak: The Night Stalker Casebook, was published in January 2007 featuring new short fiction by authors including P. N. Elrod, Christopher Golden, Richard Dean Starr, Dawidziak and Elaine Bergstrom. Between 2007 and 2012, Moonstone published several Night Stalker novels and novellas, including The Lovecraftian Horror, The Lovecraftian Damnation, The Lovecraftian Gambit, A Black and Evil Truth and The Lost World, all by C. J. Henderson. A Black and Evil Truth was later released as an audiobook. In 2017, Moonstone published Kolchak: Double Feature: Nightkillers, which included a prose adaptation of Richard Matheson's unproduced script for the third tv film, now adapted by Chuck Miller for the prose format.
20th Century Fox released the first TV movie on VHS, The Night Stalker, as part of its "Selections" series. MGM Home Video released the two TV movies on DVD on August 24, 2004. Universal Studios released Kolchak: The Night Stalker - The Complete Series on DVD a year later. Madman Entertainment released the complete series on DVD in Australia and New Zealand on July 15, 2009.
The two TV films, The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler, were each released on Blu-ray October 2, 2018.
|DVD name||Ep #||Release dates|
|Region 1||Region 2||Region 4|
|Kolchak: The Night Stalker - The Complete Series||20||October 4, 2005||August 21, 2006||July 15, 2009|