The Night Stalker/The Night Strangler
By: Michael Helms on March 7, 2005  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
MRA (Australia). Region 4, PAL 4:3. English DD 2.0. 163 minutes
The Movie
Director: John Llewellyn Moxey / Dan Curtis
Starring: Darren McGavin, Carol Lynley, Simon Oakland, Ralph Meeker, Kent Smith, Elisha Cook Jr., Claude, Akins, Charles McGraw, Larry Linville / Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Richard Anderson, John Carradine, Wally Cox, Margaret Hamilton, Jo Ann Pflug
Screenplay: Richard Matheson
Music: Robert Cobert
Country: USA
Year: 1972 / 1973
A man enters a room and plunks a cassette into his clunky portable player. He then sits back listening intently as the voice on the tape (which we soon learn is his) invites us to hear an incredible story that until now has had it's facts supressed in order to save political careers. A story, he adds, that he's only ever going to tell once. With this great device we're introduced to The Night Stalker and the dogged, enterprising and irrepressible Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin), ace reporter, all-American horror icon, less than snappy dresser, and permanently displaced individual who's just not going let that shot at the big time pass him by, no matter what.

With no messing around (this is a TV production after all) we're thrown straight into the action of The Night Stalker just as the first victim, a nighshift change girl, is picked up by the neck and thrown onto a garbage pile (yep, we're still talking TV). Next we're introduced to Kolchak's boss, the vitriolic newspaper editor Anthony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland), a man who's never afraid to give Kolchak a piece of his mind usually as loudly as possible. At first Kolchak is reluctant to accept the case only for things to immediately get strange. The story proceeds at breakneck speed from both the visual perspectives of victims combined with voice-over narration from Kolchak who's trying to make as much sense from the situation as possible. Before you can say body on the beach Kolchak finds himself looking at one with wounds that weren't self-inflicted but no visible footprints around it. A blood supply goes missing from a hospital but a press conference called to address the matter is only an exercise in containment with government and law officials calling for a complete media blackout. Of course, this situation only encourages Kolchak and that's despite even louder calls from his boss to also drop the story. Meanwhile the bodies keep piling up including that of a canine a victim defiantly sets on the red-eyed man in black who kills it before launching an attack on it's owner. Kolchak knows he's onto something but has to seek assistance from his librarian buddy just one of the offbeat characters he deals with in order to get a story. In this case Kolchak is encouraged to read a vampire reference book. As skeptical as possible Kolchak's assemblage of facts as he knows them tells him something otherworldly is going down and he naturally continues the chase. Another more traumatic blood bank scene later and Kolchak is arming supporters with wooden stakes and standing outside a suburban Las Vegas house that more than slightly resembles the Bates Psycho house.

The inevitable difficult confrontation with the undead resident, Janos Skorzeny, occurs just before dawn but with the story neatly wrapped you might reasonably expect a happy ending for Kolchak and his proposal of marriage to his beautiful blonde girlfriend played by soap star (literally) of the time, Carol Lynley. This is The Night Stalker though and the Las Vegas police department and other areas of officialdom including his place of employment have other ideas for Carl. Unceremoniously ran out of town separately from his girlfriend who apparently recieves the same treatment we're back to square one except with the veracity of the tape confirmed and a serious anti-hero on our hands.

That the initial Night Stalker movie became a massive US ratings record setter was no mistake. Talent positively drips from the production on both sides of the camera from premier American horror screenwriter Richard Matheson's script of the original Jeff Rice story that mixed up detective fiction and horror in a way that was later aped by the likes of Tarantino, to a supporting cast of outstanding character actors (from Ralph Meeker to Elisha Cook Jr.) all firmly guided by expatriate-British director John Llewellyn Moxey (Horror Hotel). The die was cast and it's no wonder The Night Strangler appeared the next year with a few minor refinements (no impossibly beautiful gal pal) including the new setting of Seattle.

The Night Strangler revolves around the disappearance of belly dancers who worked out of the nightclub Omar's Tent. A more baffling link between victims is soon discovered to be the residue of rotted flesh found on the necks of victims as if they'd been strangled by a dead man! The script, this time an original from the returning Matheson, may lean on Oscar Wilde's The Picture Of Dorian Gray for inspiration but is definitely given it's own wild spin that includes a forgotten subterranean version of the city, a history of strangulation and Al Lewis (The Munsters) as an old derelict. The support cast is again excellent featuring The Wicked Witch from The Wizard of Oz (Magaret Hamilton) as a hoary old academic and Simon Oakland back to harrass Kolchak as he would for the twenty episodes of the single season series that would follow.
As most of the scenes in both films occur at night the transfers are superb in reproducing all the shades of black neccassary to keep the viewing from being a dim experience. The Night Strangler especially is far removed from it's previous tape existence.
The use of music and sound effects is integral to all things creepy and while a surround mix would be nice the Dolby version is more than sufficient.
Extra Features
None, but package comes with highly detailed and well-written 24 page booklet that gives a thorough history of the making of the two TV movies before launching into an episode guide to the series which is yet to surface on disc.
The Verdict
Unlike the original Playaround two-on-one tape release MRA have gone with the bulky twin disc in separate cases here. This is perhaps the only drawback to an otherwise excellent double feature presentation. As noted on the slick Carl Kolchak and The Night Stalker have been an inspiration to Chris Carter and his scifi/horror TV creation THE X-FILES but in reality it's influence is far more widespread. From Stephen King who describes The Night Stalker as the best made for TV horror ever produced to Tobe Hooper visualising Stephen King for TV in Salem's Lot and way beyond this disc should be required viewing for any sort of horror enthusiast.
Movie Score
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