I once had a discussion with an old friend about the original Night Stalker film. I say it’s arguably the best vampire film ever made, and he didn’t agree, because it wasn’t frightening to him. I never said it was the scariest vampire movie, I said it was the best.
With that in mind, “The Zombie” is downright horrifying. I remember watching it in 1993 or so and it getting right under my skin, and tonight it burrowed right under there once more. It’s that scene where Carl goes into the junkyard to shut his zombie opponent down, and finds him comatose in a hearse, so he crawls in beside him, armed with candles and salt and a needle and thread, to fill the undead man’s mouth and sew his lips shut.
I don’t know how many seersucker suits this production went through – and I don’t know how in the world the insurance company agreed to let Darren McGavin hop from car to car in a scrapyard after dark – but McGavin is filthy and sweating and covered in dirt and more believably unglamorous than any TV hero you can imagine as this breath-holding nightmare of a scene plays out. Our son was wrapped up tightly around Mom’s arm, his blanket and his dog and a new member of his menagerie, a little beanie-sized tiger, all crushed against his face. This one’s completely amazing. Although, once we could relax after the horror ended, our son did grumble that he prefers zombie apocalypses with bazookas and explosions. We told him that’s a much more modern invention.
Behind the scenes, “The Zombie” was co-written by David Chase, who’d move over to Switch and The Rockford Files after Kolchak ended . It’s one of eight stories that he would contribute, and it introduces two recurring characters, the publisher’s annoying niece, played by Carol Ann Susi, and morgue attendant Gordy, played by John Fiedler. Charles Aidman is the police captain who’s sick of Kolchak this week, and Scatman Crothers gets a short scene. It’s a terrific guest cast for a fine episode, one of the show’s best and most frightening.