The Night Stalker (film)
|The Night Stalker (film)|
Barry Atwater as The Night Stalker
|Format||Thriller / Horror|
|Written by||Richard Matheson (teleplay)
Jeffery Grant Rice (novel)
|Directed by||John Llewellyn Moxey|
|Country of origin||USA|
|Running time||74 minutes|
|Original airing||January 11, 1972|
|Followed by||The Night Strangler|
The Night Stalker is a made for television movie which aired on ABC on January 11, 1972. In it an investigative reporter, played by Darren McGavin, comes to suspect that a serial killer in the Las Vegas area is in fact a vampire.
Based on the then-unpublished novel by Jeff Rice entitled The Kolchak Papers, Rice wrote the novel because "I'd always wanted to write a vampire story, but more because I wanted to write something that involved Las Vegas." Rice had difficulty finding any publisher willing to buy the manuscript until agent Rick Ray read the manuscript and realized the novel would make a good movie. The 1973 novel (renamed The Night Stalker ) wasn't published until after the TV movie had already aired, and was delayed according to Rice because the publisher wanted both Rice's original novel and the 1974 sequel The Night Strangler (written by Rice but based on the screenplay by author Richard Matheson) so "they could be placed on the top of the publisher's list in the 1 and 2 positions for 1974.".
Directed by John Llewllyn Moxey, a veteran of theatrical and TV movies, adapted by Richard Matheson and produced by Dan Curtis, best known at the time for Dark Shadows, The Night Stalker became ABC's highest rated original TV movie, earning a 33.2 rating & 54 share which was unheard of for an original TV movie at the time. The TV movie did so well it was released overseas as a theatrical movie and inspired a sequel TV movie entitled The Night Strangler, which aired in 1973, a short lived TV series entitled Kolchak: The Night Stalker which ran on ABC between 1974–75, and a short lived 2005 TV series called Night Stalker.
Actor Darren McGavin recalled his involvement began when "My representatives called to say that ABC had purchased the right to a book called The Kolchak Papers. They were into a kind of first draft of a script by Richard Matheson, and they called the agency to ask them if I’d be interested in doing it. My representative read it and called me." The popular TV movie, along with its sequel and the TV series, provided inspiration for Chris Carter's The X-Files. Carter featured actor Darren McGavin in two episodes of the TV series as a tribute to the actor and the project that inspired his popular series. Originally Carter had wanted McGavin to play Kolchak, but the actor elected not to, so the role was rewritten, making McGavin's character Arthur Dales the "father of the X-files".
In the opening of the film, Kolchak is sitting on the bed of a sleazy hotel room, dictating a book into his trademark portable tape recorder. The book is about a series of unusual events in Las Vegas, and a cover up of those events by the authorities. He describes a series of murders that had plagued the world-famous Las Vegas Strip. All of the victims had their blood drained, and Kolchak comes to suspect that the killer believes himself to be a vampire, much to the chagrin of his cantankerous boss Anthony (aka Tony, Antonio) Vincenzo, portrayed by actor Simon Oakland. Kolchak also has a girlfriend named Gail Foster (Carol Lynley) who earns her living as a dancer. During the movie, Kolchak attempts to get her to give up her night job, though he does not offer her a proposal of marriage, or other commitment. At the urging of this girlfriend, Kolchak begins to look into vampire lore, but is skeptical.
Inexplicable events lead Kolchak to begin to believe that something supernatural is occurring, and the evidence of his own eyes eventually persuades him that this is in fact a real vampire. Kolchak is able to convince the police that they are fighting a vampire, but it is he who ultimately takes the vampire down and unlike subsequent productions, he does so with the help of his friend in the FBI (a credible eyewitness).
Kolchak writes his version of the story for the newspaper, and proposes to his girlfriend, telling her that they will both move to New York City. However, in quick succession, the authorities print a false version of the newspaper story, with his byline, and threaten to charge Kolchak with first degree murder unless he quietly leaves Las Vegas. Kolchak is told that his girlfriend Gail has also been "asked to leave town" for engaging in unsavory activities, and has already been forced to leave the city. Carl exhausts his savings placing personal advertisements across the country in an attempt to find her but is unsuccessful.
The final scene is of Kolchak in the sleazy hotel room, finishing his book. He explains that if anyone tries to verify the events described in the book, they will find that all of the evidence has been destroyed by the authorities, and all of the bodies cremated.
- Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak
- Carol Lynley as Gail Foster
- Simon Oakland as Tony Vincenzo
- Ralph Meeker as Bernie Jenks
- Claude Akins as Sheriff Warren A. Butcher
- Charles McGraw as Police Chief Ed Masterson
- Kent Smith as District Attorney Tom Paine
- Elisha Cook Jr. as Mickey Crawford
- Stanley Adams as Fred Hurley
- Larry Linville as Dr. Robert Makurji
- Jordan Rhodes as Dr. John O'Brien
- Barry Atwater as Janos Skorzeny
The film is based on an original unpublished novel written by Jeff Rice. In the story, Las Vegas newspaper reporter Carl Kolchak comes across a serial killer while working on the Las Vegas Strip who is a modern day vampire named Janos Skorzeny. Pocket Books finally published the book as a paperback original using the title The Night Stalker, with a photograph of McGavin wearing his trademark porkpie hat and seersucker suit.
The Night Stalker garnered the highest ratings of any TV movie at that time (33.2 rating - 54 share). It did well enough that it resulted in a 1973 follow-up movie called The Night Strangler and a planned 1974 movie entitled The Night Killers which instead evolved into the 1974-75 television series titled Kolchak: The Night Stalker, with McGavin reprising his role in both. An episode of the series entitled "The Vampire" was an actual sequel to this movie, deriving its story from characters introduced in it.
Following the series cancellation, the franchise itself was still thought well enough of to prompt two more movies which were created by editing together material from 4 previous episodes of the series, with some additional narration provided by McGavin as Kolchak to help connect the plot lines. No new footage was included, however.
On September 29, 2005 ABC aired a remake of the 1974 series Kolchak: The Night Stalker, titled Night Stalker. ABC owned the rights to the original TV movies, but not the Universal TV series, and were limited only to using characters that had appeared in those movies.
Differences from subsequent productions
While Carl Kolchak and Tony Vincenzo both appear, no other characters from the movies appear in later productions (One small exception: newspaper archivist Titus Berry, played by Wally Cox in The Night Strangler reappears in Timeless, an episode of Night Stalker which did not originally air, but which appears on DVD and has since been shown on cable). In this film and the next, Kolchak establishes the use of both a portable tape recorder which is considerably larger than that used in the series and clearly labeled Sony. His ubiquitous camera with flash attachment is also established but rather than the Pocket instamatic he uses in the series, he employs a standard 35mm in the first movie. He also introduces the trademark straw pork-pie hat. However, unique to this movie alone, Kolchak actually wears more than one suit as well as in a variety of materials, not the same identifiable seersucker suit seen in every production thereafter, à la Columbo. In the second movie, he permanently adopts the classic seersucker suit (though he alternates with one other in blue), but continues to wear different colored shirts and ties, the last production in which the character would do this. He wears white loafers in the movies, not adopting white leather tennis shoes permanently until the series. In contrast, Tony Vincenzo would only appear in the first movie without his identifiable 3-piece suits and instead sporting a substantially more casual look in open-collard short-sleeved shirts. Also, the first two movies found Kolchak driving an old rusted blue 1968 Chevrolet Camaro Rallye Sport Convertible, rather than his usual 1965 pastel yellow Mustang convertible driven throughout the series. Perhaps most importantly, Kolchak has a girlfriend in the first movie, the only relationship he would have during Darren McGavin's portrayal of the character.
The film was released on a double feature DVD with The Night Strangler by MGM Home Entertainment in 2004. It is currently out of print. The DVD also had a 21 minute interview with producer and director Dan Curtis divided up for each film (14 minutes for the first film and, then, on the flipside, a 7 minute interview discussing "Strangler").
- The Night Stalker Companion," by Mark Dawidziak
- Satian, Al, and Heather Johnson, "The Night Stalker Papers," in Monsters of the Movies Vol. 1, No. 1, (June 1974), p. 16
- The Night Stalker Companion," by Mark Dawidziak