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Cult TV: Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episodes 6-10

June 26, 2018 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER

Cult TV Issue #2: Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episodes 6-10

Hello, everyone, and welcome to the second issue of Cult TV. I’m Bryan Kristopowitz.

In this second issue of Cult TV, we continue our look at the classic 1970’s thriller TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker. In issue one we looked at the first five episodes (if you didn’t see that check it out here). Now we’re going to look at episodes 6-10.

And so, without any further what have you, here are episodes 6-10 of Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

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Episode 6: “Firefall”

Directed by: Don Weis
Written by: Bill S. Ballinger

At first, I thought that “Firefall” was going to be an episode about some random evil spirit that has decided to show up in Chicago and start killing people who fall asleep in its general vicinity. Instead, it’s actually about an evil spirit that has decided to mimic someone it admires, acting as that person’s doppelganger, and that doppelganger intends to kill a bunch of people and, eventually, fully assume the body and identity of the person it admires. Complicated? A bit. But it’s also a terrific idea, deftly handled, and “Firefall” ends up as one of the best episodes of the series.

The episode starts with a notorious arsonist getting killed in some sort of mob hit at an arcade. The scene then shifts to a world famous classical music conductor named Ryder Bond (Fred Beir) cutting off the dead arsonist’s funeral parade on his way to a concert or something. It’s at that moment that the arsonist’s spirit creates a doppelganger version of Bond and starts up a kind of revenge spree. The Bond doppelganger goes all over Chicago and waits for the people it wants to kill to fall asleep so it can then set those people on fire. It almost looks like spontaneous human combustion, but the cops think the people fell asleep while smoking a cigarette. None of the dead people smoked, but the cops believe that’s the best explanation for what happened. It certainly seems the most plausible. But then Kolchak gets involved, and quite quickly that whole cigarette thing is found to be just so much nonsense. Something else is going on, something far more sinister than a hapless person falling asleep while smoking.

The first thing Kolchak wants to know is why do the fires only consume the dead person and not the area around the dead person? How is it possible to create what amounts to a super contained fire? The cops don’t have any answers, and the arson investigator seems to think there could be a military connection to the fires, as there are experimental chemicals that can be used to attack a specific area that the military has at its disposal. While that is very interesting, Kolchak doesn’t think that’s what’s going on. There are witnesses who claim that Bond was in the area when these deadly fires occurred. What kind of military connections could a classical music conductor have? No, something else is going on.

Kolchak goes to see Bond, who is upset by Kolchak’s questions, and then Kolchak goes to see an old gypsy friend to see if she has any insight into what the hell is going on. It’s here that Kolchak finds out about the doppelganger idea and the whole “falling asleep and then dying horribly” thing. Eventually, the doppelganger sets its sights on both Bond and Kolchak himself. Kolchak tries to stay away from the killer and sleep in a church, as doppelgangers can’t enter sacred ground for some reason. It’s a good plan until the doppelganger starts showing up just outside of the church. If the evil spirit can get inside the church, what happens then? Will Kolchak die because you can only stay awake for so long before your body decides it needs to sleep?

Well, yeah. So he’s going to have to find a way to stop this before falling asleep. Is he going to have to dig up a dead body in order to finish this?

Yes, yes he is.

On the INS office front, Kolchak’s boss Vincenzo is upset again because Kolchak just refuses to do the stories he’s assigned to cover. Kolchak also can’t stop putting his own weird spin on things, a trait that just annoys Vincenzo to no end. Because where is the evidence for all of this wild speculation? Why the hell can’t Kolchak cover the stories the newspapers need? Why can’t Kolchak ever think of making a profit? And Updyke pisses Kolchak off with his own strange goddamn filing system. Updyke is the only one who seems to understand it. Why is that? And how the hell did it happen?

We’re six episodes in and Kolchak keeps discovering weird explanations for the stories he ends up covering, explanations that you and I know have merit but are ignored/ridiculed by all others. So it makes you wonder how Kolchak still has a job. We know that he’s friends with Vincenzo, that they go way back, but is it that friendship that keeps Kolchak employed or does he do such a good job with the non-weird shit stories that he can’t be let go for stuff like doppelgangers? I don’t know, the show doesn’t address it.

The INS office seems to have an actual staff. We don’t know who any of the other people are beyond Updyke, Monique, and Miss Emily, but we do see them milling about, leaving and entering the office and whatnot. It’s nice to know that the INS is a functioning news agency.

You’ll also notice that this episode has Kolchak driving around more than usual and we actually see him driving around. Kolchak has a sweet, on the verge of breaking down convertible and it’s just as iconic as his blue suit, hat, and tape recorder. Now, are these driving around scenes actually in Chicago, scenes that the show filmed in the Windy City to eventually insert into the show later on, or are these from somewhere in California, where the show was made? I’m going to assume it’s California. It doesn’t really look like the stock footage of Chicago that we see every so often. I could be wrong, though.

This episode is creepy as hell. You will see the Bond doppelganger trying to get into the church in your own mind when the episode is over. It’s what happened to me. Awesome stuff.

Rating: 5/5

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Episode 7: “The Devil’s Platform”

Directed by: Allen Baron
Written by: Don Mullally, based on a story by Tim Maschler

“The Devil’s Platform” has our hero Carl Kolchak looking into a series of bizarre occurrences surrounding up and coming politician Robert Palmer (a very young looking Tom Skerritt). It seems as though anyone and everyone opposing Palmer in his run for state Senate is dying. At first, it would all seem to be a series of dark coincidences. I mean, weird stuff just happens sometimes. But then Kolchak notices that there’s a scary looking dog at all of the crime scenes, a dog that, in normal circumstances, would have no business being at any of them. Kolchak has pictures of the dog, but then, inexplicably, the dog disappears from those pictures. How the hell is that possible? How can something that was there when the picture was taken suddenly not be there anymore?

And what the heck does the pentagram keychain thing mean, the thing that Kolchak found after he was cornered by the mysterious dog? Kolchak attempts to get some background info on Palmer by talking to his wife Lorraine (Ellen Weston), but she doesn’t provide anything useful. The dog shows up, though, and once again corners Kolchak (the dog actually takes the pentagram back).

So then some stuff happens, Palmer’s actual opponent in the state senate race is killed in a fiery car accident (the dog was there, too!), and suddenly Kolchak suspects that Palmer made a deal with the Devil, perhaps sold his soul so he could win the election. Kolchak starts reading up on Satanism and witchcraft and finds out that his “soul selling” suspicions are correct. Considering what’s happened to the people around Palmer, the Devil explanation is the only one that makes sense.

So how the hell do you stop a guy who has sold his soul to the Devil?

This is a very cool episode featuring a great idea and an absolutely smarmy performance by Skerritt. Tom makes you despise his character. The only “bad” part of the episode involves Miss Emily coming back from a trip to Italy with presents for everyone, including Kolchak (she brings him back a pretty sweet hat). She also has a bottle of holy water, a present that you just know is going to figure into the ending before you even really know what the episode is about. It all makes sense and works and all, but I think I would have preferred to see Kolchak trying to scrounge up some holy water on his own. You know, he’s got a friend who knows a guy who knows a priest who can hook him up with the stuff, something like that.

The dog angle of the story is pretty terrifying. For one thing, the dog is a pit bull that has a pentagram collar, so you know that the thing is demonic before you even know what the hell is going on. Think about how freaky that would be in real life. I’m getting uneasy just imagining it in my head right now. And then when you realize that the dog is actually a young Tom Skerritt and that Tom can transform into that thing whenever he wants to, I mean, Jesus, how do you stop that?

The final sequence in Palmer’s basement, where he has his lair and sacrificial alter to Satan and all that, is way more mundane than you expect it to be (shouldn’t an altar to Satan be a little more grandiose?), but that’s what also makes it scary. It’s just some thing in this guy’s basement and yet, as long as he wears his swanky Satan robe and says the words he can, maybe, rule the world someday. That’s insane.

And ruling the world one day is Palmer’s plan. He wants to be President of the United States one day, and the deal he made with the Devil is going to make that happen. Palmer’s wife also sold her soul, too, and she’s in as much deep shit as he is. I love how she thinks that all she and her husband have to do to get out of their deal with the Devil is drop out of the state Senate race and then drive off and disappear. Because Satan isn’t going to be able to find them at some other address. That’s hilarious.

Another great episode. The holy water thing should have been handled differently, but other than that “The Devil’s Platform” is superb.

And, yes, if you see a pit bull with a pentagram collar coming towards you it’s best to get the hell out of the area. It just isn’t going to end well for you or, really, anyone. Run!

Oh, and be on the lookout for the great Robert DoQui, St. Reed in Robocop, who shows up briefly in this episode as a cop that Kolchak talks with. It’s a great little scene.

Rating: 4/5

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Episode 8: “Bad Medicine”

Directed by: Alex Grasshoff
Written by: L. Ford Neale and John Huff

“Bad Medicine” is the first of two episodes where the great Richard Kiel plays the bad guy. In “Bad Medicine,” Kiel is the Diablero, an old Native American/Indian spirit that basically roams the world looking for rare jems and jewels and whatnot. The Diablero has the ability to appear as different animals, usually either a crow or a coyote, and to sort of hypnotize people into doing what he wants them to do. At the beginning of the episode we see the Diablero going after old rich women, killing them and then taking their jewels. These sequences are weird because you really don’t know what’s happening with these old women. When the Diablero appears in Indian form, it isn’t clear if these women are scared of him or if something else is going on. Yes, the Diablero is eight feet tall, but would these old money women really suddenly back down from this monster as soon as they see him? I doubt it. So there has to be some other kind of power or technique at play here.

The Diablero also has a penchant for killing dogs. This usually happens during the “coyote” phase of the Diablero’s attack, and, man, the dogs are brutalized. If a TV show or movie did this today, there would likely be protests and endless complaints from the audience. No matter what, you just can’t kill a dog in a movie or TV show. I mean, if you do see a dog getting killed, there has to be a “damn good reason” for it, like it was rabid or an alien or something. You can’t just kill a dog just to kill a dog. How the hell did they get away with this in the 1970’s?

Now, when Kolchak gets involved he’s fully on board with the weird as hell part of the murders sooner than usual, something that sends Vincenzo off the rails quickly. And maybe it’s me, but Vincenzo is pretty mean to Kolchak here. Vincenzo makes fun of Kolchak’s hat, his clothing, his general appearance. It’s pretty nasty stuff. And when Kolchak decides to fight back it isn’t pretty. In fact, it’s downright uncomfortable to watch. Kolchak’s “decision” to “get new clothes” is a great defense against Vincenzo’s, for the lack of a better word, bullying.

I am disappointed that we don’t see Kolchak actually shopping for new clothes, though. I’m guessing that the ultimate point of the sequence is not to showcase Kolchak standing up for himself but instead to just get him out of the office. It would have been a hoot to see a throw away scene of Kolchak trying on a new suit coat or something. And maybe he gets a new hat, or commits to wearing that new hat Miss Emily got for him in the last episode. He goes out for a drive wearing his new hat and it blows off his head on the highway. The scene then cuts to Kolchak back wearing his “regular” clothes. That’s what I would have done, just to have a funny moment.

After Kolchak talks to some old Indians, finds out about Diablero (he’s seen it in Indian form but he can’t get a picture of the monster), and does more digging, he figures out that the Diablero is holed up in an abandoned high rise and is set to jack a major jewelers meeting. The Diablero goes through with his big jewel heist, and Kolchak finds the specific high rise he’s hiding in. Kolchak walks up several flights of stairs (what a pain in the ass) and eventually finds the monster. And then Kolchak fights the monster with a mirror.

Yes, a mirror. That’s how you defeat the Diablero. Make it look at itself.

This is the better of the two Kiel episodes, mostly because you see him and his deadly stare (it’s terrifying). You also get a real sense of his size as compared to the other actors in the episode. As for Kolchak, man, how the hell is he allowed to just tag along on these police raids? He doesn’t even ask if he can go in somewhere with the cops, he just shows up and joins in. How the hell does he do that? And why don’t the cops put a man on Kolchak to protect him from harm? I mean, think about what would happen if Kolchak was shot in the head or accidentally set on fire? Would the INS sue the police?

Some stuff to think about as you go through the rest of the series.

Rating: 4/5

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Episode 9: “The Spanish Moss Murders”

Directed by: Gordon Hessler
Written by: Al Friedman and David Chase, based on a story by Al Friedman

Okay, so “The Spanish Moss Murders” is a great title, and a great idea for the most part. It’s about a guy who is participating in a dream deprivation research experiment who somehow manages to conjure up a deadly swamp creature from the bayou. The college professor in charge of the experiment (Dr. Aaron Pollack, as played by Severn Darden) is a total fucking douchebag, and there’s a Jewish guy who makes money on the streets of Chicago posing as some sort of French guy. That’s how street artists operate, I guess. I would say that the episode is riveting for about 4/5ths of its runtime. Things get bad/subpar when Kolchak figures out what he has to do to kill the bayou monster, goes into the sewer to confront the creature, and we see the creature in all of its “glory.”

Yeah, glory. It’s goddamn Richard Kiel wearing what appears to be a bedsheet covered in grass. That’s what everyone is scared of. On paper, we all should be scared of the bayou monster. It’s 8 feet tall, it lives in the goddamn sewer, and it’s in town because some guy who can’t dream anything anymore thought it up. That’s insane. How the hell are you supposed to fight that? When we end up seeing the creature, though, it’s just not scary anymore. Even in the dank sewer, with the lights all messed up and moody and whatnot, it looks like some guy wearing a grass covered bedsheet. And why are the creature’s hands human looking? Shouldn’t they be covered in moss?

And, come on, all it takes to kill the creature is a poke by a stick? Yes, it’s a very specific kind of stick (Kolchak steals the stick from the Chicago botanical garden), but just one poke? Even for a low budget 1970’s broadcast network TV show that’s lame.

The stuff concerning the sleep and dream study is fascinating, especially when you find out that the guy has been asleep for six weeks. Would you like to sleep for six weeks? Hell, would you like to sleep for one week? It’s a damn shame when the poor guy dies.

My favorite part of the episode, though, is the scene where Vincenzo is practicing a speech that he has to give at an awards ceremony and he wants Kolchak’s input. Kolchak doesn’t want to participate, he just wants to keep working on his story, but he has to give his boss a few moments of his time. It’s his boss. And so Kolchak “listens” and the entire speech is a shot at Kolchak’s conclusions. We know that, on some level, Vincenzo adores Kolchak as a friend, reporter, and colleague. He wouldn’t have him at the INS if he didn’t like him. But Vincenzo can’t stand what his friend reports. It’s all just so… ridiculous. Vampires? Space aliens? Doppelgangers? What bullshit. How can any of that be really real? How? Kolchak doesn’t acknowledge the shot taken at him, but you can imagine there being a major throw down between the two in Vincenzo’s office. There would be yelling, more yelling, and even more yelling.

I really wanted this episode to succeed. It almost gets there. Almost.

If and when anyone decides to remake any of these episodes, “The Spanish Moss Murders” is the one I’d like to see done first. I want to see a better, more satisfying ending.

I also want to see someone try to duplicate the performance of Keenan Wynn, who plays Captain Joe “Mad Do” Siska, the latest police higher up that Kolchak has to deal with. It’s interesting how Siska is uber calm right up until he isn’t and loses his goddamn mind. It’s hilarious.

Rating: 3/5

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Episode 10: “The Energy Eaters”

Directed by: Alex Grasshoff
Written by: Arthur Rowe and Rudolph Borchert, based on a story by Arthur Rowe

Out of the first ten episodes, I would say that “The Energy Eaters” is the most sadistic. The episode is about a new hospital in Chicago that seems to be falling apart. The walls are crumbling like the building is on an earthquake fault line, there are serious electrical issues in the walls (this causes the air conditioning to go wacky), and there are sections of the building that are hotter than hell for absolutely no reason. Random people are also being electrocuted and set on fire, including a woman who appears to be a quadriplegic. Man, that’s messed up.

So what the heck is going on with the hospital? Apparently, there’s some sort of Indian bear spirit, a Matchemonedo, that was disturbed when the hospital was built. And, as tends to happen when ancient Indian anything is disturbed, the bear wants revenge. It’s bad enough that it’s an old spirit, but also being a bear? A bear? Who the hell wants to fight a bear?

The immortal William Smith shows up in this episode as an Indian high steel worker who helps explain what the heck is potentially going on. Apparently the majority of the Indian high steel workers who worked on the hospital quit midway through construction. Why? That damn bear spirit. They knew what the heck was going on and didn’t want any part of it. Can you blame them?
Now, Kolchak starts the episode in the hospital, dealing with the aftermath of the Matchemonedo, and it ends with him in the hospital. That’s disconcerting. Kolchak is a little too rough and tumble to end up in a hospital, isn’t he? He regularly goes on police raids and starts taking pictures while the bullets are flying. How is that guy going to end up in the hospital unless he’s, you know, paralyzed or something?

I will say that the first half of this episode is spectacular. There’s mystery, there’s messed up visuals (that paralyzed woman still gets to me), and there’s William Smith. And then second half hits and I’m confused. Outside of the bear spirit’s need for revenge, what the hell else is going on? Perhaps I need to watch this episode again so I can, maybe, one day, appreciate the second half.

And what the heck is the deal with the liquid nitrogen? And why isn’t there a good Vincenzo scene in it? A good argument? That’s what we come to see, man.

I really wanted to like this episode. There’s some cool stuff in it. It just didn’t hit me like it should have. I think I’m going to have to watch it again.

Anyone else out there not enamored with this episode?

Rating: 2.5/5

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Things to Watch Out For This Week

CorbinNash

Corbin Nash: Holy crap this looks awesome. The trailer seems to suggest the movie is a kind of low budget Blade homage, with Dean S. Jagger as the badass monster killer. And it looks like the monsters in question here are vampires, although the description on the movie’s imdb page suggests that the monsters are demons or something like that. Malcolm McDowell, Rutger Hauer, and Bruce Davison are in this in some capacity, and it looks like Corey Feldman is the bad guy/a bad guy and is doing some sort of transvestite thing. Hopefully, this kicks as much ass as the trailer suggests and we have a low budget franchise on our hands. The world needs more low budget franchises.

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Alien Predators: The fine folks at Shout! Factory/Scream Factory are behind this Blu-ray release, so you know that it’s going to be a damn good home video release. I have yet to see a bad DVD or Blu-ray from Scream Factory. As for the movie, which is also apparently known as The Falling, Alien Predator, and Mutant 2, is some sort of low budget horror flick from the 1980’s, an “American-Spanish co-production.” A group of American students on vacation in Europe come into contact with some sort of alien stuff that turns people into zombies for some reason. Ridiculous? Probably, but that shouldn’t keep you from checking it out. I know I want to check it out. I’ve never seen it (none of the titles sound familiar to me, and I had two video stores back in the day that had a good selection of movies like Alien Predators). Anyone out there know this movie?

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Next issue: Kolchak: The Night Stalker episodes 11-15!

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All Kolchak episode images from imdb.