“The X-Files came about as a result of my love as a kid of two movies on television: The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler, which we’re fantastic and scary and had left a really big impression on me.”
X-Files creator Chris Carter
“The Night Strangler” begins with an opening narration by intrepid, veteran reporter Carl Kolchak. The character is portrayed by Emmy nominee Darren McGavin (A Christmas Story). Having been unjustifiably fired from his previous job as a reporter working in Las Vegas, Nevada, Kolchak relocates to Seattle, Washington. Unbeknownst to him, he will soon learn that his former editor, Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland), is working as an editor of a Seattle newspaper. When the two run into each other at a bar, Kolchak asks Vincenzo if he can have a job.
Kolchak is hired, but this time he is no longer answering directly to Vincenzo. Overseeing both men is Llewellyn Crossbinder, the owner of the newspaper, played by Emmy winner John Carradine (Young People’s Special). Kolchak’s first assignment is to cover a series of murders of exotic dancers, all of whom have had a small amount of blood drained from them, after they were strangled. Of course as Kolchak becomes involved he soon learns he is not investigating a serial killer, especially when he learns that all of the victims had traces of rotting flesh on their necks.
The further Kolchak delves into his investigation, the more the elements of the supernatural are put into place. Kolchak gains help from Titus Berry portrayed by two time Emmy nominee Wally Cox (Mr. Peepers), who works in the archives department of the newspaper. The two are able to establish that the killings that are taking place, have happened before. In fact, the same pattern of killings began in 1889. The killings take place every twenty-one years over an eighteen day period and involve six victims. If the current murders are the work of the same killer, that would make the person responsible for them approximately 144 years old.
Kolchak tries to elicit the help of the police, led by Captain Roscoe Schubert (Scott Brady), who doesn’t want anything to do with Kolchak or have him involved in the case. In order to draw the killer out, Kolchak teams up with Louise Harper (Jo Ann Pflug), an exotic dancer, who knew the other women that were killed. Will Kolchak and Louise be able to stop the seemingly immortal killer before he murders his sixth victim and disappears again?
Trivia buffs take note: “The Night Strangler” followed the immensely successful television movie “The Night Stalker” which aired on ABC (American Broadcasting Company) on January 11, 1972. The movie was, at the time, the most watched television movie in history. Originally there were plans to do a third television movie titled “The Night Killers,” but the television series “Kolchak The Night Stalker” which ran from 1974 through 1975 was developed for television. In “The Night Strangler” movie, Margaret Hamilton, who portrayed Miss Gulch and The Wicked Witch of the West, in the “Wizard of Oz” makes a cameo appearance as a college professor. Furthermore, fans of “The Munsters” which aired from 1964 through 1966 on CBS (Columbia Broadcasting Station) will most likely recognize actor Al Lewis, who played Grandpa on the show. In addition, Richard Anderson, should be easily spotted by fans of the series “The Six Million Dollar Man,” which ran from 1973 through 1978. On the series, he was cast in the role of Oscar Goldman. Fans of the rock band Supertramp might spot actress Kate Murtagh, who was the model on the front and back covers of the band’s 1979 LP, “Breakfast in America” which went multi-platinum.
“The Night Strangler” premiered on ABC on January 16, 1973. The television movie was directed by Emmy winner Dan Curtis (War and Remembrance). The teleplay was written by Richard Matheson (Trilogy of Terror) based on some of the characters created by Jeffrey Rice, in his novel “The Night Stalker.” Parts crime, horror, mystery and thriller the movie has a runtime of 90 minutes. (As an aside: In 2013, Richard Matheson was the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films USA).
I realized with the writing of this post, that there is no more of the original Kolchak for me to review. I have reviewed the television series as a whole, wrote a piece on the episode that inspired David Chase to create “The Sopranos” and reviewed “The Night Stalker” television movie. Like Chris Carter, I would have liked for there to have been more Kolchak films and television episodes starring McGavin; an actor whose performances I’ve always admired and enjoyed watching. I have never seen, nor do I have any interest in the “Night Stalker” television show which premiered on September 29, 2005, and lasted ten episodes. I’ve heard that it was absolutely awful, but even though that is the opinion of others, I have no interest in finding out if I would feel differently.
“The Night Strangler” features not only a good performance from McGavin, but the rest of the cast was spot on. I got a kick out of the cameos and small roles from familiar faces from other films and television shows. The atmosphere was outstanding, especially as it pertained to where the killer was shown to have lived. One other part, that I am of the opinion was well handled, was the decision to take the ‘less is more’ approach in regard to the killer. He was not shown on screen often, which made his appearances, when he did reveal himself, to be much more impactful. Overall, it was, and still is, an excellent horror television movie. The movie, which was a repeat viewing for me held my interest from start to finish.