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The Night Stalker/The Night Strangler

01/02/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy The Night Stalker/The Night Strangler Double Feature in the USA - or Buy The Night Stalker/The Night Strangler Double Feature in the UK

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Region 1 DVD: pub: MGM. 1 reversible DVD 2 films, 74m & 90m, with extras. Price: about GBP 12.00 (UK)/$28.00 (US) if you look over the pond. ISBN: 0-7928-6141-8). The Night Stalker stars: Darren McGavin, Carol Lynley, Simon Oakland, Ralph Meeker, Claude Atkins and Charles McGraw. The Night Strangler stars: Darren McGavin, Wally Cox, Jo Ann Pflug, Simon Oakland, Richard Anderson, Margaret Hamilton, John Caradine and Al Lewis.

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You know how it is. You buy a boxset and then discover that the two specials that precede it weren’t included. Hence before you buy ‘Kolchak: The Night Stalker’ DVD boxset then you need to have this one just so you’re suitably introduced to newspaper reporter Carl Kolchak (actor Darren McGavin). Formerly from New York but for some unknown reason, although at a guess it’s getting in the way of police investigations, got demoted and now working out of Las Vegas.

It is here, in the first TV movie, ‘The Night Stalker’, where he is called back to report on a murder instead of taking a vacation that he puts together the pieces of successive murders that there is a vampire on the loose. Of course, the local police and city council want to keep things hushed up, including Kolchak at the end. Very much a persona non grata. So much for good intentions but it became the template for his further adventures.

In many respects, ‘The Night Stalker’ is a solid detective story that is very much character driven. Kolchak is intrusive and uses every trick in the book to be ahead of everyone else in the game but forever knocked down at the end. Hardly surprising that it encouraged a repeat.

This time, with ‘The Night Strangler’, as director Dan Curtis points out in a small interview on the DVD is essentially a repeat of the first film to capture the same atmosphere.

Kolchak has become a bit of a sot in Seattle when his former editor, Tony Vincenzo (actor Simon Oakland), enters the bar and gets re-hired there by him as he now edits a newspaper there. He gets handed an investigation of a recent murder of a woman which suddenly becomes a serial killing. Kolchak also discovers through the paper archivist that a number of murders has happened periodically every 21 years with a similar MO, namely the women are killed with a crushed neck and blood drawn by a syringe from the neck. Kolchak quickly discards another vampire theory and draws on the idea that someone has some manner of elixir of youth. There is only a couple victims to go and he can’t convince anyone to believe him although to be fair, the police captain here did do some of the investigations.

The strength of this story is Kolchak putting the evidence together in a logical way for something that is really fantastic. McGavin gives it a sense of feeling, mixing it with some humour which balances out the scares. You can believe the situation which as Dan Curtis points out is the strength of scriptwriter Richard Matheson’s skill and why the story is still compelling today.

If you’re of my age, you probably saw both of these TV movies when they were first on the box back in the 70s. Seeing them now and you’ll no doubt stir the right memories again. If you were too young to remember the first time, then you might consider watching them if only to see how much X-Files creator Chris Carter was influenced by Kolchak. Don’t miss it.

GF Willmetts

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