Kolchak: The Night Stalker 1.6 – Firefall

“Firefall” really breaks away from what’s been starting to feel like a Kolchak formula, particularly with five single-word-description supernatural beasts each week. This one is about a ghost, but in a pretty convoluted explanation, the ghost has taken the physical appearance of the living man that it plans to replace, and it also has the power to cause spontaneous human combustion in anybody who falls asleep. After three and a half days awake, our hero is running on fumes but doesn’t dare doze.

Our son told us that he really liked this one. It’s not really frightening, but it’s got some incredibly neat and occasionally freaky imagery. The most memorable visual comes when Carl and the ghost’s target are in a church for some level of protection, and the ghost, taking the form of its target, is staring at them from the windows like a malevolent imp.

One odd thing for me is that I’d misremembered which four episodes of the series had been removed from the syndication package. Remember when, once upon a silly time, production companies would make sausage-linked TV movies from two episodes of a short-lived TV show, figuring that since it was unlikely the show would be purchased for syndication, they could still make a little money back with a TV movie for UHF stations? Universal made two Kolchak TV movies that way, but I thought they used four of the later episodes. So I was scratching my head with this unfamiliar story, wondering how I missed this one, when the Sci-Fi Channel actually never showed it at all. (It was mashed up with episode ten as the movie Crackle of Death.)

Obligatory actor notes: not too many familiar-to-me-faces this time. Carol Ann Susi makes her last of three appearances, and David Doyle’s in it for one scene. Fred Beir, who guest starred in everything in the sixties and seventies, plays the man the ghost wants to become.

Postscript: Last week, I mentioned our son’s newest security plush, “Metal Bringer,” a cuddly Saturn V that he picked up at the US Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville. He’s been a little rocket-happy since our trip, as you might expect, and he quietly mentioned tonight that, in the penny arcade where some of the action takes place, he saw a Saturn. I didn’t follow it up; I figured he saw it on one of the pinball machines. I didn’t spot it until I’d posted this. There’s the rocket, on that shelf behind Carl with some other prizes. Good eye for detail, our kid!

Kolchak: The Night Stalker 1.3 – They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be…

This past weekend, we took advantage of the Smithsonian’s free museum day and drove down to Huntsville, where we enjoyed several hours at the US Space & Rocket Center. There, our son picked up a fourth member of his comfort menagerie, a plush Saturn rocket that he’s named Metal Bringer.

Since we’ve returned, he’s changed his routine for the movie and the two programs we’ve watched. Since none of those were frightening, his security blanket and the three plush cuddlies all wait for him on the other couch. But now that we’re watching another episode of Kolchak, he wanted all four to hold during the scary bits. There was a brief delay while Pal # 3, the beanie named Tigey, couldn’t be found. I told him to knock it off; he was perfectly capable of handing scary TV with only one blanket, surely three out of the four would suffice.

Then the episode, Rudolph Borchert’s “They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be…,” proved to be decidedly not frightening. “Weird, but unsatisfying?” I asked him. “Yeah,” he grumbled. “Very unsatisfying.” Although the cute finger of coincidence crossed our paths again. The highlight of our trip to Huntsville was an hour enjoying a splendid show in their planetarium. That’s where tonight’s episode reaches its strange climax, as an invisible force moves the observatory around, like a lost traveller consulting a map.

For posterity, tonight’s story features return visits from the recurring players Carol Ann Susi and John Fiedler, along with guest roles for Mary Wickes and Len Lesser, and blustery James Gregory as the police captain of the week. I’m not looking ahead, but I swear I remember that one of these cops appears twice.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker 1.2 – The Zombie

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.