Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"The Night Stalker" (1972)

Kolchak was a short-lived yet inspirational TV series about a reporter who investigated strange, unexplainable, often supernatural stories that no one wanted to let him tell. The world, they claimed, just wasn’t ready for the truth. Translation: the truth would hurt the powers that be, and therefore must be repressed.

Before there was a series, there were two TV movies made, “The Night Stalker” in 1972 and “The Night Strangler” in 1973. In the former he investigated a vampire in Las Vegas, while the later dealt with an alchemist strangling women in Seattle. Darren McGavin (the dad in A Christmas Story) plays our reporter with a carefree attitude far too joyous for the stories he sets out to investigate, but that is likely a large reason why the show had the success and influence it did.

That, and the ending of the first movie, which is really a unique moment in vampire fiction, and a bit of genius. Kolchak fights the entire movie to convince the authorities that they are indeed dealing with a monster only to have to save the city himself. The reward for his effort—that he had arranged with the district attorney beforehand—was to be an exclusive on the world shaking story. Instead, he is run out of town on the threat of a murder charge. Even though they saw him kill what was clearly a vampire with their own eyes, the city leaders were prepared to slap him with a murder charge rather than let the news get out and ruin tourism.

It is a down-letting, dark, cynical moment of classic seventies. You don’t really see something like this anymore these days. For all our mistrust of government and cynical attitudes we don’t tell these kinds of stories anymore. We like to have our cake and eat it too; to have evil treacherous authority figures but still have the hero get his due somehow. Somehow, I think the seventies may have been more honest with themselves.

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