Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Kolchak: The Night Stalker - “The Vampire” - review (TV Episode)

Director: Don Weis

Season 1, released 1974

Contains spoilers

Following the success of The Night Stalker (1972) and The Night Strangler (1973), reporter Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) received his own TV series. This, the fourth episode, saw Kolchak again face a vampire – although, this time, it was a female one. The series had moved to Chicago, but this episode takes place in Los Angeles, where Vincenzo (Simon Oakland) has, in a brilliant piece of manipulation by Kolchak, sent the reporter to do a piece on a guru. This sub-story provides much of the comedy of the episode as Kolchak misses his appointment for his interview, as he tracks down what he knows to be a vampire, and tries to get realtor Faye Kruger (Kathleen Nolan) to write his story.

The story starts with an air-stewardess getting a flat tyre somewhere in the Nevada region. She freaks as she sees a pair of hands shoot out of the floor, as you would. It is an excellent opening to the story and, perhaps, indicates that our vampire, Catherine Rawlins (Suzanne Charney) has been buried three years before she became active. It is certainly stated that whatever occurred to her to make her a vampire happened in Los Vegas, where she was working as a high class hooker, some three years earlier. I would have liked to have seen this tied firmly with the first film but that never happened, it was only intimated.

She has killed on her way to LA and Kolchak has his first run in with the law as he investigates one of these murders. The officer will not confirm puncture wounds on the throat of a victim found in his car but Kolchak certainly notices that the car windows have been taped, on the inside.

Catherine meets a man she has not seen for three years and goes back to his apartment and feeds on him. This is disturbed by his wife who happens to be her sister and she is despatched also. Kolchak goes to a press conference in the apartment where Lt. Jack Matteo (William Daniels) states that they have two suspects in custody, members of the Dark Star Satanist cult. When Kolchak goes back to the room later he finds the Lieutenant alone in there and tries to convince him that there is a vampire loose – to no avail. I actually thought it would be nice, in this episode, to have the police perhaps believe and co-operate with Kolchak and, unfortunately, the constant battle with the police gives this too much of a feel of the original film.

Kolchak realises that Catherine must be working as a hooker again, through a front company that poses as a catering firm. This leads to the nice line, when describing her pimp, that “in his parlance what he'd just hired was known as a fox. What he couldn't know is what he'd actually acquired had far more in common with the bat."

He tries to hire Catherine, drawing a cross on his hotel room door in lipstick and getting his personal cross and wooden stake out ready. The girl that turns up is not Catherine, however. She has been sent to a football player’s home. Kolchak arrives at the same time as his team-mates; Catherine is feeding and attacks the footballers, dispatching them with ease. Kolchak holds her off, until the police burst through the door and she escapes, by going DIY Van Helsing and making a cross out of a couple of pokers.

The police are not happy with Kolchak, what a surprise, and tell him to get out of town. Something he intends to comply with until he realises he can use Kruger to find out where Catherine lives. By the time they work it out it is night. He goes to the house anyway and is trying to break in when Catherine attacks. Holding her at bay with his cross he manages to run away and leads her to a most spectacular ending.

He has soaked a giant, hillside, wooden cross with gasoline, and made a circle of gasoline. When she reaches it he lights the fuel. The fire stops her escaping and the burning cross paralysis her. Before a stunned Lt Matteo he pounds a stake through her heart.

In the coda we discover that he has to pay for the cross to be replaced, it was a landmark, and had been charged with murder. Mysteriously he was released twelve hours later, perhaps down to the fact that the coroner’s report on Catherine stated that she had the cell structure of a human female who had been dead three years.

McGavin is excellent as Kolchak, though to a degree this episode misses out on the interaction with Vincenzo, which is so good. There are some telephone conversations between the pair, with Kolchak trying to make a bad line with a towel and electric razor but they’re not quite the same. The episode feels a tad too much like the original film, obviously because they are going over the same subject matter, and I would have liked to see a little more of a departure.

As for the vampire, whilst Charney looked good, I have to say that I was a little disappointed. Our vampire from the first film, Skorzeny, had a kind of cool that was severely lacking here. Catherine was much more frantic and was replete with a severe case of bad hissing. It was a shame as, especially given she was posing as a hooker, a much more seductive vampire could have been portrayed.

However, this is a great episode with a fabulous and spectacular finale. 7 out of 10.

The imdb page for the episode is here.

Bonus

Other episodes in the series that are not vampire episodes and yet have some degree (to a greater or lesser extent) of genre interest are as follows:

Episode 3 “They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be” – primarily a UFO episode where to avoid the problem of monster suits the alien is out of the range of human visual perception and therefore invisible. Worth noting, however, as the alien feeds on bone marrow sucked from its victim, thus a very vague genre connection.

Episode 10 “The Energy Eater” - again an invisible foe, though this time a Native American bear god which devours energy. Whilst primarily sucking the energy from electrical equipment as well as radioactive material, the creature does devour the proteins in plasma of a few humans, reducing the blood to almost nothing and killing the victim.

Episode 11 “Horror in the Heights” – co-starring the wonderful Phil Silvers, this is the tale of a Rakshasa. A Hindu evil spirit that, in this, took on the appearance of someone the victim trusted before killing them and eating the flesh from their body. Mentioned because sources such as The Vampire Encyclopedia list the Rakshasa as a type of vampire, though to my way of thinking it is more demonic in nature. The only way, in the episode, to kill one of these is by a crossbow bolt blessed by a priest of Brahma. Whilst it is not necessary to pierce the heart this carries a degree of the stake as well as the holy icon. Interestingly this was written by Jimmy Sangster, who penned the Horror of Dracula (1958) amongst others.

Episode 16 “Demon in Lace” - a succubus is killing young men by possessing the bodies of dead girls. I mention this episode due to the close connection between the succubi and vampire legends. Also rather interesting is the concept that the succubus in this is tied to an ancient tablet and can be destroyed by destroying the tablet. When Kolchak does this the succubus turns to dust, a method of destruction (turning to dust not breaking tablets) common, of course, within the genre.

Episode 19 “The Youth Killer” – victims are found drained of youth. The killer is Helen of Troy who uses sorcery, by sacrificing a person’s youth and beauty to Hecate in order that she might supplement her own, rather than an innate (super)natural ability but the concept of a vampire that drains youth, as opposed to life, has been explored in films such as Captain Kronos Vampire Hunter (1974). It must be said that this episode is criticized as being a rather poor one and, unfortunately, it is.

6 comments:

zombiepunk said...

which do you prefer? the film or the tv series. or do you feel there's not a lot to choose (dependant on the tv episode in question obviously)

Taliesin_ttlg said...

definitely the film, it is darker in nature and you can get more substance into the longer story though the character of Kolchak improved through the series. Beyond anything else the films were original, the series, as a spin off, were not as much

Chick Young said...

Woops - Asked and answered. Duh, should've checked first before I asked. But, your review is great! I LOVE this episode. Especially when he is checking into the Roosevelt on Hollywood Blvd, I had a damn good time at that hotel. Okay, off to bed for real this time. Great post, and an awesome episode.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Chick

you can't just state you had a damn good time in a hotel and leave it at that! What occured in the hotel... inquiring minsd must know!!!!

fenris said...

From Taliesin's review;
It is certainly stated that whatever occurred to her to make her a vampire happened in Las Vegas, where she was working as a high class hooker, some three years earlier. I would have liked to have seen this tied firmly with the first film but that never happened, it was only intimated.

This was apparently due to copyright reasons. Although both the Night Stalker and Night Strangler pilot movies and the subsequent Kolchak: the Night Stalker series were all produced by Universal and screened (in America) on ABC, for some legal reason that I don't pretend to understand, ABC hold the rights to the movies and Universal hold the rights to the series. So despite the characters of Kolchak and Vincenzo appearing in both, the series couldn't specifically refer to any of the events that occurred in the movies.

Likewise, when ABC made a revival series called Night Stalker in 2005 (with Stuart Townsend as Kolchak), they were only allowed to use characters that had appeared in the original two movies that ABC held the rights to - so there was no sign of series regulars such as Ron Updike, Miss Emily, Gordy the Ghoul, etc.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Fenris - thanks for that, interesting stuff.

I remember rather liking the remake but being disapointed in the lack of vampires