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The Night Stalker / The Night Strangler (A TV on DVD Review)

Updated: Sep 7, 2023

The Night Stalker / The Night Strangler

Double Feature (MGM-2004)


Back in 1972, TV movies were still new enough that they were not stuck in the hard and fast rules they suffer by now. Back then it didn't have to be about a brave person fighting a disease. Or a woman being mistreated by a man. It didn't have to have a "message." It was still all about the storytelling. The Night Stalker had a whopper of a story. A hard-bitten reporter named Carl Kolchak is working in Las Vegas on a series of murders in which the women killed had been bitten on the necks and drained of blood. Much to the outrage of the Vegas PD and the frustration of Kolchak's harried editor Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland), Kolchak becomes convinced that the murders are being committed by a vampire. The Night Stalker was at the time by far the highest rated TV movie, stomping the previous record holder, Brian's Song. It was so popular that a year later, Kolchak and Vincenzo popped up in Seattle for the second movie of the series, The Night Strangler. Nice to say that the second film was even a little better than the first, with a knottier mystery and even more humor than the first film. In this one, Kolchak stalks a seemingly immortal serial killer who pops up every twenty-one years for over 120 years. The two movies spawned a TV series the next year, called Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

What's Good About It?

The first thing you notice about the movies is how tight the writing is. Both were the work of sci-fi legend Richard Matheson and the stories crackle with humor and scares. The character of Carl Kolchak has rightfully become a pop cultural icon. Since the series went off the air, Kolchak has become the subject of a comic series and also was written into an episode of The X-Files, whose creator Chris Carter acknowledged that he created the show to try to make something as good as Kolchak. The DVD has a couple of nice extras, interviews with producer and director (of the second film) Dan Curtis, who also created Dark Shadows.

What's Bad About It?

I don't have a single complaint. I suppose that some portions of the films are a little dated, but really not enough so that it is noticeable.

What's Missing?

It is great to get the Kolchak movies on DVD. However, The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler were only the beginning of the Kolchak story. Each of these have also been released on videotape and there was a limited-edition DVD release of these two titles a few years ago. Why not release the series that sprung from these stories, Kolchak: The Night Stalker? The series only lasted one season (20 episodes) and was nearly as good as the movies. Granted, the series has not aged quite as well as the movies, just because some of the special effects were made on the cheap and sometimes now look corny. (Lots of people holding their hands in front of their faces as men in monster suits hover over them.) The writing was crisp, the acting was fantastic (the series was a who's who of early 70s celebrities) and the stories were intriguing, though. Having these two movies is a good start, but it is only a start. final grade: A

With crackling scripts by sci-fi master Richard Matheson and a career-defining role for McGavin, these movies are both funny and scary at the same time. For TV movies (not even feature films!) that are over thirty years old, these have aged incredibly well. It is not a coincidence that Kolchak has a cult following to this day.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright © 2004 All rights reserved. Posted: August 24, 2004.


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