Kolchak: The Night Stalker
Episode 1: The Ripper
Finally after all these years I, Dr. Monstrosity, have watched Kolchak: The Night Stalker. What took me so long you ask? The thing is that supernatural stuff has never really been my thing. Being a purveyor, practitioner, and perverter of actual science, science fiction has always been nearer to my heart. But, with Netflix streaming service, many shows are so easily accessible; and there was Kolchak sitting in the queue, my wife being a big fan.
Kolchak aired in the mid-seventies and is glorious in its grooviness. It’s based on Kolchak of Jeff Rice’s novel The Kolchak Papers. It was originally adapted by none other than Richard Matheson, as a TV movie that received record setting ratings in 1972. After a second movie, also penned by Matheson, a series was finally developed which went on the air in 1974.
One thing that really struck me about episode 1 was how funny it was. The interplay between Kolchak (Darren McGavin) and his editor Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland) was a crack up. The show was a win based on these characters alone, but the story concept was also worthy. The episode, titled The Ripper, was an interesting take on Jack the Ripper as a superhuman force that propagates through the years. It reminded me of the Star Trek episode The Wolf in the Fold which had a similar ripper theme. The Trek episode was written by Robert Bloch and based on his short story “Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper.” Ironically this ripper theme was reportedly rejected by Richard Matheson as the premise for the second Kolchak TV movie because… it was too similar to Robert Bloch’s story! Then they go and rip off Bloch’s story a year later for the premiere episode. Wow! Anyway, the ripper in the Kolchak episode is portrayed as a guy who looks like a magician and has abilities like a superhero but is of course totally evil. It’s pretty neat.
Ultimately, the show’s greatest asset is the character of Kolchak, who is so cool and well-acted by McGavin that he deserves to be the show’s namesake. When he gets interested in a case there’s no stopping him. I wish I could meet Kolchak and transplant his brain into one of my nuclear powered robots so his essence could last forever. Maybe that way we wouldn’t have had to deal with the insufferable X-Files; which, although inspired by Kolchak: The Night Stalker, was a poor substitute.