I know that everyone in this room, Bernie Fain included, thinks I’m some kind of a nut with my so-called fixation on this vampire thing. OK, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe he only thinks he is. But there are things here that can’t be explained away by so-called common sense. Not even Bernie’s report can explain some of them.
— From Jeff Rice’s The Kolchak Papers (1970)
A dirty, rumpled seersucker suit. A worn-out blue shirt and knit blue tie that’s always askew. Scuffed white sneakers and a straw pork-pie hat worn tilted far back on the head. This is the uniform of Carol “Carl” Kolchak, an all-American ghost-breaker from the 1970s. On January 11, 1972, millions of TV viewers tuned into the ABC Movie of the Week. On offer was an original film directed by John Llewellyn Moxey, a British journeyman whose major claim to fame was the 1960 horror film, The City of the Dead (aka Horror Hotel). The made-for-TV movie, called The Night Stalker, was a throwback of sorts but turned out to be refreshing in its newness.
The Night Stalker features veteran Hollywood actor Darrin McGavin as Kolchak, a smart-aleck reporter in Las Vegas who stumbles upon the murder case of the century. Kolchak, and only Kolchak realizes that the exsanguination murders of several Las Vegas women are the work of a mysterious transient named Janos Skorzeny (played by Barry Atwater). Skorzeny is no normal serial killer; according to Scotland Yard, the FBI, and Interpol, he was born at the turn of the 20th century in Transylvania. Although legally a 70-something geezer, Skorzeny is impervious to LVPD bullets and has the strength of several men. Given his vigor, and given his love for drinking blood and avoiding the sunlight, Kolchak pieces together the fact that Janos Skorzeny is a real vampire.
Thanks to an excellent script by horror fiction legend Richard Matheson, and thanks to McGavin’s portrayal of the lovable loser Kolchak, The Night Stalker earned an unprecedented 54 share in ratings. This means that 54-percent of all Americans households had ABC on during the original airing. The popularity of The Night Stalker led to a sequel, 1973’s The Night Strangler. Here, in another made-for-TV movie, Kolchak, after being booted from Las Vegas for trying to tell the truth, finds himself in rainy Seattle just when that city is plagued by a supernatural serial killer. The Night Strangler followed the formula of The Night Stalker, with McGavin reprising his role and Matheson penning the script. The one major difference was in the director’s chair. The competent Moxey was replaced by Dan Curtis. More… “The Night Stalker Blues”