Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Vampire Awareness Month: Carl Kolchak

This post is part of Vampire Awareness Month, the cooperative effort of many vampire fans. This post is X-posted at Amy Mah's blog. Amy is kindly hosting the VAM posts as well! Below is a subject near and dear to my heart: 

Carl Kolchak: the Night Stalker
In 1972, a TV movie grabbed my imagination and wouldn't let go. Its name: The Night Stalker. The main character, Carl Kolchak, is a reporter covering a series of murders in Las Vegas. During the investigation, he discovers clues that the suspected killer is a vampire. He is skeptical at first, but becomes a True Believer by the conclusion of the film and takes the vampire down alone, at great risk to himself.

Kolchak was inconveniently thrown out of Las Vegas in the first film, so the second TV movie starring this unusual hero was set in Seattle. No vampire this time, but the second film was so successful that a television series was born. In the series, Kolchak set up house in Chicago with his editor, Tony Vincenzo. Vincenzo was his editor in the films, too, which makes you wonder how good Kolchak was when he wasn't chasing monsters - or if something else was going on there.

Kolchak: the Night Stalker was my "absolutefavoritegottasee" show during its run from 1974-75. Kolchak, with his often-damaged tape recorder, never-ready camera, and dumb-looking straw hat was the perfect hero for a girl who wanted to go to Duke for a degree in parapsychology. Carl (given name Karel as per the Jeff Rice book) wanted to explore the paranormal - and offer proof to everyone else. Alas, the latter was always denied. I loved Darren McGavin's voiceovers, giving us the story of each monster - and each victim. They were always so much more convincing than the schemes he used to wangle his way into crime scenes and out of trouble with Vincenzo.

The vampires, like the other creatures in the Night Stalker series, were not like the werewolves, witches or vampires in today's popular fiction. They were true monsters, inhuman creatures with human form. They preyed on their victims without remorse or angst. About the only thing they have in common with modern paranormal heroes is that many of them were good-looking. 

I dearly loved the show, but my major beef with it was Kolchak's tendency to go after the monsters he chased during their time of greatest power. Usually, this meant after dark, during the full moon, etc. Didn't he realize that this was a great way to get killed? After spending some years writing, though, I've realized that stopping the monster was not his first objective - getting the story was. Stopping the creature was a bonus, but often connected to self-preservation. Just like a reporter...

The series lived for only one season, but the legend of Kolchak continues. Copies of Jeff Rice's book and the videos of the two TV movies can be had, but at an exorbitant price. An anthology was released a few years back with various authors' versions of Kolchak stories. The Night Stalker is cited as one of the inspirations for the X-Files television series, and this was acknowledged in 1998 when Darren McGavin came on the show as FBI Special Agent Arthur Dales, the first agent to investigate what became the "X-Files". In 2005, ABC tried airing a new Night Stalker series, but it was an enormous flop. It just wasn't the same without McGavin. I hear that a film version with Johnny Depp may be in the works, but people think Johnny Depp is going to play everything.

Its legacy for this author? I didn't get a degree in parapsychology, but I did get one in journalism. The major focus of my writing has been the occult and paranormal, including vampires. I call it fiction, but you never know...



Marian Allen said...

The creepiest moment anywhere ever is the moment in the opening when the fan stops. It takes my breath, just thinking about it!

Marian Allen
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Sarah Glenn said...

It was a nice little touch. Sometimes the subtle things have more impact than the most expensive special effects.