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Kolchak: The Night Stalker boxset

01/03/2011. Contributed by Geoff Willmetts

Buy Kolchak: The Night Stalker boxset in the USA - or Buy Kolchak: The Night Stalker boxset in the UK

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region 2 DVD: pub: Universal Playback 8243281. 5 DVDs 16 hours 15 minutes 20 * 50 episodes. Price: about GBP 7.00 (UK) if you know where to look) stars: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Jack Grinnage and Ruth McDevitt.

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With the series, ‘The Night Stalker’ was kept as part of the title for ‘Kolchak’. The question really is was that because of the reporter’s activities or the people or creatures he discovered or just needed a couple more words to point out this wasn’t a normal police show which might have been a problem when a bald lollipop sucking detective arrived on the television?

Carl Kolchak (actor Darren McGavin) and his editor, Tony Vincenzo (actor Simon Oakland) are now relocated in Chicago with the Independent News Service with the latter trying to keep the former from making too much trouble. Considering that Kolchak got people believing he was the police commissioner referenced in the opening episode, ‘The Ripper’, then one could well believe he wasn’t succeeding. There’s an interesting comparison to the reporter on the case and Kolchak who knows how to investigate. Vincenzo might not like Kolchak’s way of getting things done but he doesn’t hold back simply because something is ‘horrid’ as another reporter, Ron Updyke (actor Jack Grinnage) does so pitifully. It’s interesting that the newsroom photograph developer points out that Kolchak’s flashlight isn’t strong enough to bring out detail at night also doesn’t point out that his camera doesn’t have a suitable wide-angle lens neither.

The twenty stories that makes up the season has been invariably slagged off over the years, mostly because of the lack of budget, especially in the special effects department. However, the scripts themselves are colourful and enthusiastic and it’s understandable why they have a cult following and was part of the inspiration that led to Chris Carter creating ‘The X-Files’.

Some of Kolchak’s practices, like walking over the evidence, would never be tolerated today and certainly bribing the mortuary attendants to look up dead bodies would certainly have them both locked up. However, what Kolchak often tends to illustrate is the need to look at what is really happening and avoiding any cover-up either city officials or the police force want to do to give an illusion of law and order which is often what gets him into so much trouble. The variety of people Kolchak needs gets more and more like the kinds of people we take for granted in ‘The Avengers’ and is interesting to see from an American perspective. At the forefront of all of this, Kolchak is an investigative reporter who just wants to know what is going on to get the best information for his stories. It’s a shame we rarely see the fruits of his labours as they are either suppressed or no one believes him.

The stories cover the range of all things that will make you jump, being most effective when you can’t really see the creatures, and I doubt if the series would have lasted two seasons had it been given the budget without becoming too formulaic than it already was. However, as I pointed out above, it is the characters that pulls the stories along and there hasn’t been anything like it since to make up for it. I would also defy you not to be incapable of whistling the theme music after watching the show and not get a wry sense of pleasure from it. An odd effort from 1974-75 that might surprise a few people even today.

GF Willmetts

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