Movie Name: The Night Stalker
Studio: Dan Curtis Productions
Release Date(s): January 11, 1972
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) has a nose for news. When women begin showing up drained of blood in Las Vegas, Kolchak suspects a vampire could be responsible…despite everyone including his editor Tony (Simon Oakland) telling him that vampires aren’t real. Kolchak is out to solve the crime and stop the murders in a quest that could get him his biggest story ever!
Written by Richard Matheson and directed by John Llewellyn Moxey, The Night Stalker is an adaptation of a book called The Kolchack Papers written by Jeff Rice (which actually wasn’t released until after the film’s debut). The made-for-TV movie aired on ABC on January 11, 1972. The film was high rated and even received a theatrical release.
The Night Stalker already was pretty well known when I saw it when I was little. I remember staying up to see it on TV along with its sequel. When it was going to be on, I generally tried to see it. Like many TV horror films of the ’70s, it was better than theatrical horror because it had to work around the TV standards.
The story for the first film is quite good. The movie was totally different than other horror films at the time with a relatively “non-hero” hero leading the plot (his main interest seems to be the story, stopping the crime is secondary). The story manages to remain engaging through the whole story although it is pretty bare bones, but that is partially because of Carl Kolchak himself.
Darren McGavin is perfect casting for this movie. McGavin isn’t too clean cut and he isn’t too rough. He has a manner like Peter Falk in Columbo who just asks the probing question at the right time to incite discomfort for the person he is questioning. He’s back by a so-so supporting cast, and Simon Oakland returned in the sequel film as his boss.
The low budget nature of the film led to more suspense. The “monster” had to work around the costm and it meant that the vampire was seldom scene…and the movie plotted a film with a monster that would work and as a result the film has held up better than some since it didn’t try to be too technical.
Kolchak was a great character that had a lasting effect. The movie’s style and presentation was the basis for Chris Carter’s The X-Files (especially since both had to deal with small budgets). The Night Stalker’s success led to another made-for-TV movie The Night Strangler in 1973 and a series which ran from 1974-1975. An attempt to relaunch the franchise occurred in 2005 with Night Stalker on ABC with Stuart Townsend taking over as Carl Kolchak…only lasting ten episodes.