Newspaper reporter Carl Kolchak would do just about anything to get a story.
He could be aggressive and obnoxious or charming and humorous.Whatever it took, Kolchak had his camera, tape recorder and notepad ready for action.
The only problem was Kolchak always had a tough time selling those scoops to his disbelieving editor.
Little wonder. His tales always dealt with the bizarre and the supernatural.
Americans got their first look at this fast-talking newshound in early 1972 when ABC telecast the made-for-TV movie "The Night Stalker." Darren McGavin, in his rumpled blue seer-sucker suit, played the role of Kolchak with an infectious enthusiasm. The production scored the highest rating of any TV movie up to that time.
It spawned an equally successful sequel, "The Night Strangler," and that in turn led to the short-lived, 20-episode weekly series. While the series had some nifty moments, it never quite matched the chills and quality of the two movies. Both are now available on video from Anchor Bay Entertainment. Each is priced at $14.95 and each has been digitally remastered, resulting in brilliant high-quality prints.
"The Night Stalker" was adapted by Richard Matheson from a script called "The Kolchak Papers," written by Jeff Rice. Matheson was a top-notch fantasy and science-fiction writer who had been responsible for some of the finest "Twilight Zone" episodes.
The movie is set in Las Vegas, where the much-traveled Kolchak (he had been fired from several news organizations) is working for the local paper under the guidance of editor Tony Vincenzo, excellently played by Simon Oakland.
After three young women are murdered over the span of several nights, Kolchak attempts to find out more details about the slayings.
Despite efforts by the authorities to keep him at bay, the persistent Kolchak soon discovers the victims all have one thing in common - most of the blood has been drained from their bodies (not to mention those two small holes in their necks). After a little more snooping, he is convinced a modern-day vampire is on the loose in America's glitzy gambling mecca.
When Kolchak turns in his story, Vincenzo is incredulous and angrily throws the copy back at the reporter. What ensues is the first of many shouting bouts the two would have throughout the movies and the series. With the help of a local vagrant (Elisha Cook Jr.), Kolchak finally tracks the vampire to his shadowy lair and a hair-raising showdown unfolds.
The police and Vincenzo now know the truth, but agree to forget the story (why panic the tourists?) and a disgusted Kolchak is sent packing, to look for a new job.
As good as "The Night Stalker" is, "The Night Strangler" (1973) is even better. The script is an original written by Matheson and its premise is a spine-tingler.
This time we find the unemployed Kolchak (probably in search of a job) attending a press function in Seattle. Who should he run into but Vincenzo, now editor of a newspaper in the Northwest city. Reluctantly, Vincenzo agrees to give Kolchak another chance.
Not long after that, a young woman is murdered in the Pioneer Square district of Seattle. A few nights later, the body of another young woman is found in the same area. As soon as Kolchak learns that both women's necks have been crushed and each has a small puncture at the base of the skull, he smells another big story.
After a fourth woman is killed, Kolchak enlists the aid of the newspaper's librarian (Wally Cox) to gather some background information on the victims. The librarian points out the murders are similar to several that had occurred in Pioneer Square 21 years earlier, in 1952.