The Night Stalker / Night Strangler Kolchak Double Feature DVD Review

 

Written by Neon Maniac

 

DVD released by MGM

 



 

The Night Stalker

 

Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey

Written by Richard Matheson 
1972, Region 1 (NTSC), 74 minutes, Not rated

DVD released on August 24th, 2004

 

Starring:

Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak
Carol Lynley as Gail Foster
Simon Oakland as Tony Vincenzo
Claude Akins as Sheriff Warren Butcher
Elisha Cook Jr. as Mickey Crawford
Larry Linville as Medical Examiner Robert Makurji

 

 

The Night Strangler

 

Directed by Dan Curtis

Written by Richard Matheson 
1973, Region 1 (NTSC), 90 minutes, Not rated

 

Starring:

Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak
Jo Ann Pflug as Louise Harper
Simon Oakland as Tony Vincenzo
Richard Anderson as Dr. Richard Malcolm
Wally Cox as Titus Berry
John Carradine as Llewellyn Crossbinder
Al Lewis as Tramp

Movie:

 

The Night Stalker: Hardboiled reporter Carl Kolchak is on the case of a vampire that's stalking downtown Las Vegas. Favorite victims include female casino employees working the late shift

The Night Strangler: Washed up reporter Carl Kolchak is on the case of a bizarre murderer that's stalking downtown Seattle. Favorite victims include female Go-Go dancers working the late shift.

 

 

 

Stalker and Strangler were early '70s TV movies that preceded the short lived TV series "Kolchak: The Night Stalker". Carl Kolchak is a newsman like none other. A throwback to the days when news was about the truth, he's a hard drinking, bad dressing reporter more concerned about getting the facts than making friends. He used to be a prominent reporter in all the major US cities, but for reasons left to the viewers imagination Kolchak has either been fired from or run out of said major cities.

 

 

In Stalker we find him in Las Vegas working for the only paper that will still hire him. When a serial killer emerges in downtown Las Vegas Kolchak sees it as his break back into the big leagues and starts tracking the case with the keen determination of a man on a mission. When it turns out the serial killer is really a vampire, even better yet! Unfortunately his Editor (Simon Oakland) and the Clark County Sheriff (Claude Akins) don't feel the same way. Kolchak eventually figures out the case long before the police do and instead of being rewarded he gets run out of another town.

 



 

In Strangler we see that Kolchak has wound up in Seattle, a drunken shell of the man we saw in Stalker. He's unhireable and ekes out a living as a freelance journalist. As it happens, his old Editor was also ran out of Las Vegas for the vampire story and also winds up in Seattle. Taking pity on Kolchak, his Editor hires him once again with the admonition of no more vampire stories. That works out great, because when another serial killer emerges in downtown Seattle, this time strangling Go-Go girls and draining something out of their head, it's definitely not a vampire! Kolchak cleans up and is once again trying to solve a case that will get him back into the big time. He find out the killer has been working Seattle and other areas for decades, seemingly immortal, and ends up on a chase that takes him all over Seattle and even under the streets to Old Seattle (or Underground Seattle as the tourists call it.) 

   

 



 

Review:

 

Even though these movies are 30+ years old, they are not dated. The stories themselves are out of time and Kolchak's 'rube suits' with his straw hat are as out of style today as when the films were made. McGavin does a wonderful job as Kolchak, making him both a lovable yet irritating character. The movies are a bit more serious than the TV series that followed it, especially Strangler which is fairly dark. Like the series, the films are narrated by McGavin's voice over taken from his ever present tape recorder. I have to admit I'm a sucker for a good narration, and these are done very well.

The character of Kolchak is an interesting one. He could have walked out of a '30s noir (which these movies are very reminiscent of). McGavin wears the character like Kolchak wears his cheap suits, comfortably; like they're old friends. We see all sides to him, from soft to hard, from Schmoozer to Brute. He'll use his looks to appear befuddled and harmless one minute, then come on aggressively the next. I think one of McGavin's greatest achievements as an actor was to take a simple character from a simple script and make him more complex and believable at the same time.

I do recommend both of these movies, although Strangler is the weaker of the two. Strangler does hold a special place in my heart for two reasons, one is that it takes place in my home town; two is that it uses Old Seattle, an interesting place that has never been seen much in TV or movies outside of this film and an old episode of Scooby Doo. 

 

While the series isn't on DVD yet, you can catch the occasional marathon of it on the Sci-Fi Channel. Hopefully this double feature disc is a portent of things to come, and we'll be seeing a series set soon.

 



 


Video and Audio:

 

For 30+ year old TV movies, the picture quality is above average. For Stalker it's better than many newer TV on DVD releases that have come out recently. Very colorful, bright, clear picture. It was either lovingly restored or the master has survived better than it should have. Unfortunately Strangler's picture is extremely dark and muddy. Whether this was on purpose or the master didn't hold up well I don't know, but it does make the movie hard to watch at times. Action is often lost in the darkness, and what could be a beautiful night time scene of a ferry crossing the Puget Sound becomes some lights moving across darkness.

 

Again, for 30+ year old TV movies the audio on both of these films is better than it has a right to be. While they are both mono tracks, they are crisp and clear. There's no odd cuts, snaps, hisses, etc. that you can find on old material like this. It's not going to give your system a work out, but it doesn't need to. I would've enjoyed stereo for some of the music and effects, but that's just me. Very good sound mix overall.



 

 

Special Features:

 

The only extra on this double feature disc is a single interview with Producer/Director Dan Curtis, and that has been cut in half and divided between each film. While there is some interesting background information on the films and the later "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" TV series you have to listen to long boring stories told by an old man who hasn't had the chance to tell his long boring stories to anyone in a great while. Where are the TV spots for these movies? How about a feature on the TV series these spawned? An interview with Darren McGavin would have been nice. Skip the interview, or at least skip through the boring parts.

 

 

                          

Grades:

 

 
Movie: 4 Stars
Video: 4 Stars
Audio: 4 Stars
Features: 1 Star
Overall: 4 Stars

 

 

(Neon's Movie Lounge contains a  Sony 27” WEGA TV, Toshiba SD 3900 DVD player, JVC 5.1 DD/DTS receive and JBL Northridge E Series speakers.)

 

Want to comment on this review? Head over to the Horrortalk Review Forum.

 

© 2005 HorrorTalk.com. No use of this review is permitted without expressed permission from HorrorTalk.com.

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