Kolchak: The Night Stalker 1.19 – The Youth Killer

By the time they filmed Rudolph Borchert’s “The Youth Killer,” Kolchak was running behind in production and ranking near the bottom of the weekly Nielsen ratings. They pulled in their usual mob of interesting guest stars, including television’s first Captain America and first Wonder Woman, Reb Brown and Cathy Lee Crosby. They’re joined by John Fiedler, making his last appearance as Gordy the morgue attendant, and by Dwayne Hickman, who weirdly enough Marie and I just saw two nights ago in an Ellery Queen made the following season, as the new cop of the week. This one starts out being nice to Kolchak, figuring that our hero can’t possibly be as much of a “pinwheel” as his fellow cops claim, only to find that Kolchak just helps himself to evidence and personal effects from the morgue.

But the whole affair is a rushed Kolchak by the numbers. Our kid was impressed, and mildly creeped out by the young twentysomethings being aged to death, but my favorite scene is a nice little location shot where Kolchak gets some info about ancient Greek demigods from a cab driver played by George “Demosthenes” Savalas. And that moment’s enlivened by an old Bell Telephone van driving by, prompting me to say “Hey, I remember that color scheme!”

Kolchak: The Night Stalker 1.14 – The Trevi Collection

On the casting front alone, Rudolph Borchert’s “The Trevi Collection” would be worth a spotlight for all the great actors and actresses who appear in it. Familiar faces that we’ve seen and heard before include Richard Bakalyan, Bernie Kopell, and Marvin Miller, who’d be providing the voice of the Zarn a few months later for Sid and Marty Krofft. They provide some background color for Nina Foch and Lara Parker, who I don’t believe that we’ve seen before at our blog, and who are playing a pair of witches locked in a magical struggle that’s leaving a lot of corpses around Chicago.

Lara Parker had played the witch Angelique in the popular Dark Shadows for a few years prior to this episode. Maybe that was obvious casting, but she knew how to cackle and laugh like she’d lost her mind. I remember thinking that she went over the top in a couple of scenes when I watched this ages ago, but she scared the pants off our kid. She ends the episode screaming and laughing maniacally while charging after Karl, and I could feel the poor fellow tense up so much that he was shifting the sofa.

But it wasn’t all terrors from the witchcraft story. Bakalyan is in only one scene, as a hood who wants Carl to turn over some evidence about a union shakedown, but the heavies come back to the INS offices after hours to smash up the place, write threats on the windows, and, just to be obnoxious, smear peanut butter all over Tony’s homburg. Poor Tony complains “My favorite hat smells like a kid’s lunchbox,” and our son laughed so hard that he begged me to pause and wind it back so he could hear it again.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker 1.10 – The Energy Eater

I did promise you good readers a look at the unbelievably awful sports coats that you can see in this show, and tonight, guest star William Smith is wearing an eyeball-bruising doozy. It was 1974. What could you do?

I had never seen “The Energy Eater,” co-written by Rudolph Borchert and Arthur Rowe, before tonight. It wasn’t syndicated; it was paired with “Firefall” as a sausage-linked TV movie. We all really enjoyed it, but I liked it best because it’s really unlike the usual format for a Kolchak story.

Our hero isn’t alone this time. When he realizes that a new hospital is covering up some strange deaths on the property and some absolutely bizarre structural failures, Kolchak starts gathering experts to investigate. Eventually, the hospital muckity-mucks have to admit – privately – that the story Kolchak has brought them must be true. There is a powerful, invisible force on the land where the hospital was built, and they have no choice but to deal with it in the way Carl prescribes. For once, our hero isn’t standing alone in a sewer or in a junkyard. Not that he’ll get the credit for it, of course.

Our son was most creeped out by a fabulous scene where Kolchak and William Smith’s character assemble a stack of X-rays that – without rational logic but with plenty of coolness factor for the TV – each caught a glimpse of the invisible beast. They assemble the X-rays like a jigsaw puzzle, revealing the size and the face of the beast. Well, part of its face, anyway.

And with that, we’ll return Kolchak: The Night Stalker to the shelf for a few weeks to keep things fresh, and to give our son a break from the scary stuff. But Carl will be back with more monsters in Chicago in mid-November, so stay tuned!

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 1.1 – The Ripper

Shortly after we moved to Chattanooga three years ago, I got a part-time job at a good non-profit agency, and one afternoon, I was bringing some of our clients back to the house. One of the clients mentioned she’d received a gift of a season of Justified. By chance, I’d been in Walmart earlier picking up something my boss had ordered and noticed a rack of ’70s TV comedies, just about all of Norman Lear’s and Garry Marshall’s hits, all dirt cheap. (Sadly it was Walmart and sadly it was only the hits. We’ll never see Hot L Baltimore on DVD, will we?)

So I mentioned my trip to the store, just in a “TV on DVD is so cheap these days” way, and another client started reminiscing about McCloud, of all things, which was one of her favorite shows as a girl. Then she said “But my favorite show was one nobody ever heard of. It was called Night Stalker.”

I said “Kolchak: The Night Stalker! I know that show. It was a great one.”

She exploded. “That was the best show ever! Nobody ever believed him and he was all up to everything! He’d be down in the sewers and all by himself because nobody believed him! He was always wearing that hat and looking for vampires in the sewers. That was my favorite show! I had nightmares for weeks and weeks watching Night Stalker! I never met anybody who knew the Night Stalker before!”

“If you don’t mind my saying so, you must have been very small when the Night Stalker was on TV.”

“I was! That’s why I had nightmares! I didn’t sleep right the whole time that show was on. You know when Matlock started, I said ‘That man’s got a seersucker suit like the Night Stalker,’ and he did, didn’t he? And nobody knew who the Night Stalker was!”

I’d like to meet that client’s mother and ask her what in the name of heaven she was thinking letting that poor little girl watch that show.

* * *

But as a weekly series, I feel like The Night Stalker – they didn’t add the Kolchak: until week five, I think – led with one of its weakest installments. Rudolph Borchert wrote or co-wrote five of the twenty episodes, including some very fun ones, but this one is too much of a retread of the two movies, which wouldn’t have been quite so obvious had the second one not been a retread of the first anyway.

Our son thought it was creepy, but not particularly scary. A lot of the context sailed over his head. We had to explain that our heroes have landed in a very low-rent news agency with a lousy location next to Chicago’s elevated – and noisy – train, and that Carl’s most recent incident of aggravating the cops has had him demoted to writing the news agency’s “Dear Emily” column. I enjoyed the characterisation, the humor, and the direction, even if the plot was nothing new.