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Cult TV: Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episodes 16-20

September 7, 2018 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER

Cult TV Issue #4: Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episodes 16-20

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

If you missed the first three editions of Cult TV, you can check them out at the links below:

Cult TV: Issue #1
Cult TV: Issue #2
Cult TV: Issue #3

And now, without any further what have you, the final five episodes of the 1970’s thriller TV show Kolchak: The Night Stalker!

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Episode 16: “Demon in Lace”
Directed by: Don Weis
Written by: Stephen Lord, Michael Kozoll, and David Chase, based on a story by Stephen Lord

“Demon in Lace” starts with a big time college football player on a date with a hot blonde chick. While fucking around, as big time college football players and hot blondes are known to do, the hot blonde transforms into a ghastly looking old woman demon thing. And that old woman demon thing causes the football player to have a heart attack and die in the middle of a field. Our hero Kolchak shows up the next day at the scene (he decides to ditch his original assignment, covering some auto show) and starts poking around to find out what the hell happened. It’s here that Kolchak meets campus newspaper reporter Rosalind Winters (Kristina Holland), a somewhat mousy but determined journalist who no one takes seriously because she’s a college student and, most likely, a woman. Kolchak sort of likes her, sort of puts up with her, but he’s also kind of mean to her (in a mentor sort of way, not in a “macho he-man” kind of way). The police, as usual when Kolchak is around, refuse to cooperate with the media, and Kolchak realizes that he’s going to have to get “creative” in trying to find out what really happened. Healthy, able bodied badass college athletes don’t just drop dead of a heart attack. It just doesn’t happen. Not in the 1970’s, man.

So Kolchak goes poking around the college campus to get a better sense of who the ball player was and what he was into (Rosalind basically disappears here and doesn’t show up again until later). Kolchak eventually runs into Professor C. Evan Spate (Andrew Pine), an archaeologist who is researching a big ass stone tablet thing that was picked up during a recent dig. It’s here that we learn/get to figure out that the ball player’s death, and another eventual death, are the result of this stone tablet thing being removed and researched. But why would that happen? And, shit, what the hell is actually happening anyway?

Apparently, the tablet summoned a succubus, a demonic entity that, in this case, kills young women, takes over their bodies, and then uses that “disguise” to attack young men (or, really, any man). It all seems like a pretty complicated process to frighten people to death, but then demonic entities are demonic entities and they operate under their own auspices.

There are some great scenes in this episode featuring Kolchak working the case and just generally fucking with people. He messes around with the cops, (Keenan Wynn’s Captain “Mad Dog” Siska shows up again to spar with our hero), he messes around with Rosalind, and he messes around with the college registrar, played by Morticia Addams herself Carolyn Jones (she forces Kolchak to “write legibly,” which is hysterical). Kolchak’s scenes with the college professor are also a hoot, as Spate is exactly the kind of douchebag professor everyone hates (the guy is a pretentious asshole, he really is).

Kolchak, of course, also spars with his boss Vincenzo, and Vincenzo lets out more of his personal background. The man was a drummer in a band in the 1940’s. That little detail seems ridiculous, but once Vincenzo goes on about it you can totally see him doing it. A big band man, for sure. It’s also great listening to Vincenzo talk about how the Independent News Service outfit that he works for wants “positive, uplifting stories,” even though all the news seems to be about death and destruction and “bad stuff” in general. I mean, I get it, the world can’t really be that bad, but at the same time what the hell business does he think he’s in? And he has Carl goddman Kolchak on his payroll. That just isn’t going to work out if it’s all about “positive” news and whatnot. No freaking way.

“Demon in Lace” moves along at a decent pace and rarely drags. The demon lady succubus makeup is pretty dang gruesome and freaky. I’d imagine that if you saw a woman like that, up close, in real life, you’d have a heart attack, too (or would pass out from distress). The only real weird sequence in the episode is a bit towards the beginning of the episode where we see Kolchak driving to the college campus to find out what happened. The scene seems to go on for several minutes and comes off as padding to meet the “normal” episode length of 50-51 minutes.

The coolest scene, though, in the episode, is where Kolchak talks with the ball player’s coach, Toomey. It’s cool because right there, in the flesh, is the voice of Frosty the Snowman, Jackie Vernon. Jackie Vernon! And he looks exactly like you expect him to. And Toomey’s bit about “hygiene” is bizarre as hell. Check out the episode, listen to that bit, and tell me you aren’t weirded out by it. Again, it’s just so bizarre.

And I do think that, had there been a second season, Rosalind would have showed up again, maybe as a new hire for the INS. She had a good back and forth with Kolchak and I’d imagine that the show would have wanted to show that again. It would have worked.

Good episode.

Rating: 4.5/5

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Episode 17: “Legacy of Terror”

Directed by: Don McDougal
Written by: Arthur Rowe

“Legacy of Terror” is the episode that forces the audience, just in case it didn’t ask/wonder about it earlier, how the hell does all of this stuff keep happening in Chicago? I mean, sure, Chicago is a big city filled with all sorts of people and whatnot and shit always happens in big cities filled with all sort of people and whatnot. But this? This shit is happening in Chicago?

The episode is all about a series of bizarre, gruesome murders that keep happening to seemingly random people, all in the span of a few days. First, a professional football player and a soldier both get their hearts cut out with a dull blade, something that wouldn’t happen to able bodied people like a football player and a soldier. An Air Force woman is attacked later on, her heart also cut out. Who the hell would do that kind of thing?

Well, our hero Kolchak eventually finds himself on the case. When we first see him he’s driving to a big event at a major Chicago hotel where he’s supposed to schmooze with some big wigs, under Vincenzo’s direct orders. Kolchak is supposed to show up at the event dressed to the nines and be charming. Kolchak, of course, shows up wearing what he always wears, the seersucker suit, that hat, and dirty sneakers. And Kolchak doesn’t stay at the event very long (in fact, he leaves the event as soon as he gets to it). Kolchak has stuff to find out about the murders.

Now, Kolchak does go back to the hotel, but he goes there to find stuff out, not to be a charming schmoozer. And he finds an Aztec mummy in the basement, and a painting that resembles the killers. An Aztec mummy? A gang of killers that look like Aztec warriors/priests/whatever the hell you call Aztecs beyond Aztecs?

The mystery at the heart of this episode, at least to me, takes too long to be revealed, and then it isn’t as interesting as it wants you to believe it is. The idea of a gang of killers decked out in Aztec warrior gear is a messed up image, and the murder scenes we get are well done and somewhat suspenseful for a 1970’s TV show, but it isn’t as scary as it should have been. Things do get weird towards the end, when the Aztec mummy comes to life, but we should have had more of that throughout the episode. The final sequence in the sports stadium is quite good, as the stadium is freaky looking when it’s empty. Much like the mummy weirdness, I wish the episode had more of that in it.

A young Erik Estrada is the big guest star in this episode, and, man, he was a smooth motherfucker back in the day. Not that he isn’t cool today, but, Jesus Christ, how wasn’t he an even bigger star back then? His charisma just radiates off the screen, and he’s never boring to watch, even when he seems lost and confused about what the hell is going on. Why wasn’t he a big deal movie star? He was in Midway and Airport 1975, but why did he stick around as a TV guy for so long? Granted, he became a big deal with CHiPs, but that didn’t happen until 1977. Anyone out there know? Anyone an Erik Estrada expert that can fill me in on what the hell happened?

The swanky hotel that is used as the episode’s main location is pretty cool. I wonder where it is in California (the show was filmed in California). Is it still a hotel? Was it ever a hotel in the first place?

Kolchak speaks directly to the camera in this at the beginning and end of the episode. He does it for the rest of the season. He does it during the whole “talking into his tape recorder to set up the story” thing he does in every episode, but he’s looking into the camera here more than even before. Why? Was it something the show wanted to try out? It works, but at the same time, when you look at the previous episodes, he doesn’t do that. What caused the change?

“Legacy of Terror” is an okay episode. It has its moments but it doesn’t quite work. I still liked it, though.

Rating: 2.7/5

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Episode 18: “The Knightly Murders”

Directed by: Vincent McEveety
Written by: Michael Kozoll and David Chase, based on a story by Paul Magisretti

“The Knightly Murders” is an episode that’s a very cool idea that’s undermined by the fact that it’s an episode of a TV show in the 1970’s. It needed a bigger budget and more resources to work the right way. It might have made for a cool movie (a TV movie or a feature film released theatrically). But as a TV episode, it falls short.

The episode begins with our hero Carl Kolchak checking out the murder scene of an old guy killed by a giant crossbow arrow. Who the hell gets killed with a giant crossbow arrow? The cops don’t have any immediate leads (the captain in charge of the crime scene, Vernon Rausch, as played by John Dehner, gives a hilariously deep monologue about what happened and the world at large). So Kolchak does his thing and starts digging. He talks with a local gun shop owner and finds out that the arrow is actually called a missile and that the crossbow that would have been used to shoot it was a medieval weapon. Like a “middle ages” weapon. How the hell does that happen in the 1970’s? Who would go to all of the trouble of using a weapon like that? Kolchak then talks with a guy at a museum that specializes in medieval history, and it’s here that we find out what the heck is happening.

Well, we sort of find out. We don’t actually find out until a little later in the episode.

While talking to the museum operator, Kolchak finds out that the museum is set to be closed soon so it can be turned into a disco. Does the world need another disco? The owner of the building sure thinks so, and the area’s young people are into the idea (it’s always a good idea to have another place to engage in youthful 1970’s debauchery), but the museum operator is pissed. The museum is his life and the things inside are historical treasures. They don’t deserve to be destroyed and replaced by some goddamn disco.

So then another person, a rich man, is killed with a mace. The cops are once again dumbfounded by it all, but Kolchak figures out that the guy was killed with a mace, another medieval weapon, and that this murder is connected to the previous one. And it’s at this point that Kolchak theorizes that the killer is a guy in knight’s armor. Knight’s armor?

The cops don’t buy it. Vincenzo, as he’s been known to do, doesn’t buy it. In fact, no one seems to believe beyond Kolchak. But when you think about it the idea makes sense. If you’re going to kill someone with medieval weaponry why wouldn’t you also dress up in medieval fighting gear to do it? But then who is doing it? Who is wearing the armor? That’s what Kolchak spends the rest of the episode trying to figure out.

And what does Kolchak find out? A suit of armor from inside the museum is directly responsible for the murders. No one is in it, at least no physical being is inside the armor, but the armor is, in essence, alive, and is fucking pissed off. See, the guy who owned the armor back in 1227 reportedly said that he wouldn’t allow dancing around him when he was dead and gone, and it’s his spirit that’s inside the armor. With the museum about to be replaced by a disco, where dancing is omnipresent, the old dead knight isn’t going to allow that shit at all. So the spirit inhabits the armor, and the armor goes on a killing spree, taking out all of the people responsible for the upcoming change.

Now, of course, the cops think the museum operator is the one behind the murders, but he doesn’t fit inside the armor. The cops also suspect that Kolchak may have had something to do with the murders. That suspicion makes no sense, but then the cops don’t have any real leads to begin with, so why not have Kolchak be the perpetrator?

The episode ends with Kolchak battling the knight’s armor inside the museum, with Kolchak trying to use medieval weaponry on the armor (modern weapons and tactics don’t do shit against the armor). It’s funny watching Kolchak try to wield a giant axe because, well, it’s a giant axe. Giant axes always look ridiculous in regular people’s hands.

The knight’s armor is huge and kind of scary when it isn’t moving, but when it does start moving it suddenly isn’t as scary. Normally, an inanimate object moving around would freak me the fuck out and, I would imagine, freak out anyone. But in this case it just doesn’t work. The headless motorcycle rider in episode 15 was more convincing. Perhaps if there was more stalking by the knight throughout the episode? That’s one of the reasons why this episode would have likely made for a cool movie. The movie would have had more time to do that kind of thing. You can only do so much in 51 minutes.

The museum set could have been more imposing, too. It needed more to it, more rooms and hallways and exhibits. A movie would have allowed for that kind of thing.

This episode features a scene with a phone company technician talking about “unauthorized phone equipment.” What the hell is that? Was that a thing back in the 1970’s? There’s also a thing about diet soda not being healthy for people. If people knew back in the 1970’s that diet soda wasn’t exactly on the up and up, why do people still drink the stuff?

My favorite part of the episode is a brief argument Kolchak has with Vincenzo and Vincenzo asks Kolchak “Carl? Carl, what is happening with your life?” It’s a little moment that ends with a typical smart ass remark from Kolchak, but it shows that Vincenzo really does care for Kolchak, even though he yells at him all of the time and constantly undermines his weird stories. I’m shocked that no one has written a deep analysis of their relationship through the two movies and the TV show. I mean, if someone has, it isn’t easy to find.

I like the idea behind this episode. I like some of the acting in it. But the episode falls short. Again, it needed more money and time. It would have made for a great movie.

Rating: 2.5/5

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Episode 19: “The Youth Killer”

Directed by: Don McDougall
Written by: Rudolph Borchert

“The Youth Killer” is, hands down, one of the best episodes of the entire Kolchak: The Night Stalker run, and is also the best of the last five episodes of the series. It’s funny and messed up at the same time, and is a perfect example of what the show could be when it was firing on all cylinders.

The episode concerns a series of mysterious deaths involving what appear to be incredibly old people. I say “appear to be” because, as we see after the first death, that the circumstances surrounding the death make no sense. I mean, why the hell would a ninety year old man be out jogging? If that was a regular thing, people would have talked about it. And yet, no one seems to know anything about it when the dead man’s body is found. The cops don’t seem to be all that curious about the whole “90 year old jogger” thing. Kolchak, though, is very interested and incredibly curious about the whole thing.

Now, Kolchak is supposed to be working on a “swinging singles” story for the INS big wigs in New York City, and while he doesn’t really want to do that story (he’s an investigative reporter, for the love of God. He always has more important shit to be doing), it’s a good idea that he’s on it because it provides him with the leads he needs to look into that strange old dead guy. Kolchak goes to a rather low rent personals service run by a woman who runs the whole thing by herself and uses her “intuition” to figure stuff out (this woman is played by the great Kathleen Freeman, who was awesome later in life in Dragnet and Naked Gun 33 1/3: The Final Insult). This avenue doesn’t work out all that well, but it leads to Kolchak checking out a different personals outfit in the city run by a woman named Helen Surtees (Cathy Lee Crosby). This encounter sends Kolchak on the right path to figuring out what’s going on.

And what the hell is going on? Helen is killing beautiful people, both men and women, so she can steal their beauty and continue living the hot babe life. That dead jogger? Dude was really in his 20’s. That old woman who died while exercising in her apartment? She was in her 20’s, too. Helen, using her personals business, finds suitable beautiful young people to kill, gives them all a ring, and then starts killing them one by one as she needs to have her own beauty “recharged.” It takes Kolchak a little while to figure this all out, but when he does find out he makes damn sure he stops Helen’s shit.

And, yeah, what Helen is doing is shit of the highest order. Kolchak goes to her personals business and gets rejected by her out of hand because he’s old and craggy and that pisses him off. He doesn’t have a meltdown or anything like that, but you do get the sense that, as he works the case, he’s a little more into this one than normal. He wants to see Helen go down and go down hard. How dare she reject him out of hand like that? How the hell does she know what’s beautiful and what isn’t?

Watching Kolchak work the details of a story is always a hoot, especially when he gets in trouble with the cops. You’d think, by this point in his relationship with the cops, that the cops would use Kolchak and his tenacity to help them figure shit out. Because he always figures it out. Granted, Kolchak does engage in illegality at times to get to the heart of the story, but then why not use that to their advantage? Kolchak can do things that the cops can’t. The cops never figure any of that out, though. They just continue to keep Kolchak at arm’s length. That’s just frigging stupid.

So why is Helen all into this “eternal beauty” stuff? It has something to do with the old Greek Gods, and Helen is sacrificing all of these beautiful people to those Gods, or at least that’s what Kolchak finds out from his Greek source on the streets, cab driver and former college professor Kaz (George Savalas). Does it sound ridiculous? Well, yeah. How the hell would the old Greek Gods still be a thing in the 1970’s? And yet it’s the only thing that makes sense. After getting that info from Kaz and scoping out Helen’s weird beard room in the back of her office (there are marble statues and shit in there in a circle), Kolchak comes up with a plan. He’s going into that room and he’s going to destroy the whole fucking thing.

Now, Kolchak also has to do this because, in the course of his investigation, he finds one of those rings that Helen used to identify people she wanted to use and puts it on his finger. He then tries to take it off, but he can’t. The damn thing is stuck. Kolchak’s inability to remove that ring makes him the next potential target of Helen. Kolchak isn’t young and beautiful, but at the same time, with that ring on, he can still die at Helen’s hand. Kolchak can’t allow that to happen. How would he be able to uncover future shit if he’s dead?

Cathy Lee Crosby is so damn great in her part as Helen. She’s hot and charismatic and, at the same time, has a dark sensibility about her that’s dangerous. You can tell that even with her killer smile and dynamite body she’s up to no good, even if you’re not entirely sure what it is she’s really up to, and you want nothing to do with her. The young people, in hindsight, should have been a little more suspicious of her. Although, when you look at her, Jesus, can you blame them for not being suspicious?

I’m a big fan of the “glass eye” part of this story. It’s a great, messed up detail to an overall messed up story. I didn’t see it coming at all.

A great episode. Definitely one you should watch. Oh, and be on the lookout for a brief scene involving the immortal Reb Brown. It really is him, five years before he could play Captain America.

Rating: 5/5

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Episode 20: “The Sentry”
Directed by: Seymour Robbie
Written by: L. Ford Neale and John Huff

The final Kolchak: The Night Stalker episode, “The Sentry,” is both a sad and fitting way to end the show, as it’s weird as hell, kind of disappointing, and still entertaining anyway. The episode also doesn’t feel like a final episode, or a final adventure or anything like that. It’s just another story that Kolchak works on that turns out to be insane. In the big scheme of things, that’s the best way for the show to end. By doing that, the show ends up being timeless and kind of eternal.

The episode starts with people working in a cave, moving rocks and shit around and then getting attacked by some mysterious monster. Then a janitor working at a data storage center in Chicago is attacked by the same creature. Kolchak shows up at the crime scene and, as he always does, tries to figure out what the hell happened. While at the scene he meets the new police Lieutenant Irene Lamont (played by Darren McGavin’s wife Kathie Browne), a cop that he immediately despises. Lamont isn’t too keen on Kolchak, either, but, unlike the other cops Kolchak has deal with throughout the series, she’s kind of nice about her distaste for him. Kolchak prefers that people be hostile to him right to his face.

After sneaking into the dead janitor’s autopsy, Kolchak decides to go back to the data storage site and get more direct information on what happened. Lamont doesn’t want him there, but Kolchak goes anyway. Kolchak poses as a businessman that wants to use the storage site and interacts with Jack Flaherty (the immortal Tom Bosley), an official with the data company. Kolchak gets a tour of the facility and, while sneaking away on his own for a little bit, he talks with a union employee to get some details on what the data storage facility is really all about (there’s some bullshit going on concerning the city’s water department). And it’s here that Kolchak finds out what’s in the caves under the building.

It’s a fucking lizard. A bipedal lizard that also looks like an alligator with a giant head. It has razor sharp teeth and can tear a person apart quite easily. Where the hell did that thing come from?

Lamont arrests Kolchak for trespassing and tries to make him understand that he needs to stop looking into this story. Vincenzo also shows up and tells Kolchak to drop the story. The cops, the water department, the city as a whole wants this story to die. What happened to the janitor was just an accident. That’s all. An accident.

So Kolchak ignores all of that shit and pursues the story anyway. He talks with a lizard expert and then finds a way to sneak into the data storage facility again. He wants to get a picture of the lizard creature and find out what the hell it’s doing in the caves under the building. Is the creature protecting something? Kolchak finds out that the creature is protecting something (it’s a bunch of eggs that people in the cave took and locked up).

The rest of the episode is Kolchak watching heavily armed cops and facility storage guards attack the creature and try to kill it. To say that they are all unsuccessful would be a serious understatement. This big headed alligator thing may look ridiculous but it just refuses to fucking die. The creature wipes out the cops and the security guards and then goes after Kolchak. Kolchak is saved when he figures out how to keep the monster at bay and give it what it wants.

There’s some decent enough monster action at the end of this episode. The long hallway that Kolchak rides down in a golf cart is terrifying and provides the episode’s best suspense. There’s also a great scene where the monster smashes through the wall and attacks the cops and security guards. The lizard’s big head makes the lizard look ridiculous, but when it starts taking out people the monster suddenly isn’t so ridiculous.

That lizard head is going to annoy some people because, again, it’s just ridiculous looking. The show’s creature budget throughout may have been tight, but they couldn’t find a better looking monster head for this episode?
The data storage facility building is quite imposing, even if the caves and tunnels and shit that we later see Kolchak rooting around in are built sets or other locations. That hallway Kolchak drives down on the golf cart is freaking insane. Waiting for something that wants to kill you to come down that thing would drive anyone crazy.

Kolchak has some very funny arguments with Vincenzo, although Vincenzo isn’t in this episode all that much. Kathie Browne’s Irene Lamont is an intriguing character that probably would have had a bigger presence in a second season. Kolchak’s utter disdain for her could have been an interesting reoccurring bit.

It’s unfortunate that this is the last episode of the series and the last time McGavin would don the suit and hat and lug around the camera and tape recorder. The way he scurries away down the hallway at the end of the episode is both annoying and a god enough way to end things. It’s annoying because it’s the end. Kolchak deserved a better finish. But then, with the way the episode ends, it really isn’t the end for Kolchak. The show is over, yes, and we’re never going to see Kolchak working a story again, but we do know that there are other stories out there for Kolchak to look into. We won’t get to see him work those stories, but it’s sort of comforting to know that he’ll still be out there doing his thing. And that’s cool.

I just wish it wasn’t the end. I wish we could have seen more.

Rating: 3.5/5

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Conclusion

After watching the show’s entire run, it’s easy to see why Kolchak: The Night Stalker didn’t get a second season. As it currently exists, it’s twenty episodes of essentially the same thing over and over again. That kind of thing might work with a formula cop show, but with a show about a newspaper reporter investigating monsters in a big city, it wasn’t going to work. There are only so many different monsters you can do battle with (lizards and aliens and shit are not bank robbers and terrorists) before viewers get tired of it. And it looks like that’s what happened. Maybe the Kolchak property should have remained a TV movie franchise. Two movies a year would have worked out fine and would have allowed bigger stories and a better chance for freshness. That’s what I think killed the show. A lack of freshness.

Now, some forty years later, Kolchak: The Night Stalker is a timeless bit of television. McGavin is a classic TV character through and through, and it’s still fun to watch him investigate those twenty different monsters. Would a second season have been fun, too? Maybe. It would have been interesting to see what the show’s writers would have come up with. Would there have been all new monsters, or would we have seen call backs to season one monsters? Would we have seen any two-part episodes? Would Kolchak have been given a sidekick or a partner (like the college newspaper writer Rosalind)? Who knows?

And maybe a second season would have looked at what Kolchak did with all of the tapes that he made for stories that he couldn’t print. I think a Kolchak “weird stories” book tour would have made for a great TV movie or mini-series of some sort.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker will no doubt live on for decades to come. Fans of the show will continue to love it, and other people will no doubt discover it and its legacy will continue. And that’s the way it should be.

Now, if we could get Kolchak: Crackle of Death and Kolchak: Demon and the Mummy back into circulation. They may just be movies that are really two episodes of the show combined, but I bet people would still like to see them one day. I know I would.

Now, should I make an effort to check out the 2005 reboot that Frank Spotnitz did starring Stuart Townsend? It might be worth doing. But that will have to be something to look at in the future. Much like there are other monsters out there to investigate, there are other Cult TV shows out there to check out.

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“Youth Killer” image from Thiel a Vision. All other Kolchak episode images from imdb.