harsens_rob (harsens_rob) wrote,

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Kolchak reviewed: The Night Stalker tv movie (pII of II)



Scene 34: Later that night, Kolchak is once again tooling down the strip and listening to the police scanner. A radio call goes out that Janos has been spotted - identity confirmed - in a green un-paneled station wagon. Kolchak makes an illegally sharp turn to rush to the scene.

The police in the meantime are trying to set up a road block, while Kolchak continues trying to run people off the road. Janos finds his car blocked in by the traffic officers. But, that still leaves the issue of his strength, which he puts to good use.

[And, *SCREEECH* Hold the scene: I listened several times and the description of a green station wagon is quite clear. So, how come Janos is tooling around in a BABY BLUE station wagon when he’s located?? Which frickin’ officer can’t tell the difference between green and blue and why isn’t he on a desk job??]

To some truly discordant jazz, Janos makes a run through the neighborhood and ends up at a pool.

Commentary: Oh, my goodness. How can I take a vampire seriously who is tooling around in a station wagon, for god’s sakes? And a baby blue one at that! What were the producers/director thinking??

Also, I’m afraid it’s a sign of the modern times, but I can’t help but feel like this scene could’ve been assisted by some more wire-fu work -- especially that very human-y flip over the fence. If only they’d had the resources and thought to have him take the wall in a single bound, instead of going over it in the exact same mundane way as the officers behind him.

Scene 35: He, looking not very impressive for being a vampire, is tackled by a swarm of men in blue with Kolchak ready with his camera. Janos is ordered to stand up slowly, and despite being at several gunpoints, pulls out some more moves to toss the officers around like rag dolls.

Officer being thrown… pool of water… do the math.

A moment later and Janos himself is tackled into the swimming pool. After trying to drown one of the officers, he’s again swarmed and herded to the side and out of the pool. Despite being clubbed, he continues to have plenty of fight in him and breaks free of the swarm of blue to run for it again. At this, the police have had enough and fire their guns in unison, knocking Janos into a table [I suppose it was that or a convenient fruit cart].

He’s turns to glare at the police officers to reveal a huge split in his forehead. A split that doesn’t leak any blood whatsoever.


When he gets up yet again, the officers unload at his back, including with a shotgun. It doesn’t do a damned thing, and Carl has the entire encounter on still film.

Commentary: So, again I want to take a moment because this fight scene should’ve been energetic and exciting like with the hospital confrontation… but actually….

It isn’t badly done at all and the fight choreography is well handled by the stunt folks, but the problem is that it goes on too long and because they’re not giving Janos any flashy powers, it’s kinda like a bar fight we’ve seen in dozens upon dozens of westerns. There isn’t anything new in the set up and execution despite the fact that the officers are fighting a frickin’ vampire with super strength. The shots of Janos running away are also problematic because he looks too human by half for it to be impressive, other than not being impacted by the bullets fired into him. The entire sequence of his driving a station wagon, being tackled into the swimming pool, and mundanely hopping over fences/walls robs him of his supernatural mystique and harms him as a inhuman character. He even manages to not bite any cops, or even kill any of them. The sequence ends up disappointing as too mundane… not to mention the cliché of having a body of water in the shot and then ending up fighting in it that you can see coming immediately.

Scene 36: Later, Kolchak voiceovers that somehow, despite all of Vegas being canvassed by every patrolman, car and helicopter in the city’s arsenal - Janos slips away.

Scene 37: Later, he’s back at the court house for another news conference, this one overcrowded with reporters, all yammering for answers that only Kolchak was interested in getting before.

He further voiceovers for us that actually Janos managed to kill two officers and a third was hovering in critical condition [this may have been from the hospital attack, but I don’t recall seeing any such carnage among the police].

After the reporters are finally gotten rid of, and with no sign of where or and idea of how Janos could be avoiding their detection or how he could’ve escaped a half a dozen police officers firing round and round at him, Jenks, City Police Chief, Sheriff Butcher and DA Paine all gather around an impromptu meeting desk. They don’t notice Kolchak sitting quietly in the background waiting for a dramatically fitting moment to interrupt.

Kolchak confirms the debriefed officers’ unanimous accounts of Skorzeny being shot dozens of times without slowing down. Despite the Police Chief’s protestations, Kolchak points out that either Janos was shot several times without falling, or every one of his officers on scene is a crappy shot.

DA Paine is finally ready to entertain the outrageous. But first, Kolchak barters for an exclusive on the entire story when all is said and done. Something that pisses off Sheriff Butcher who doesn’t like him as it is. DA counteroffers that he’ll agree if they end up following his advice on what to do to find this maniac and catch him. Kolchak takes his moment in the spotlight like a true sore winner, and sounds like a smug shit. Somehow, Butcher doesn’t break his face for him.


Carl’s wise idea is to pull open a case he was carrying. Inside the case is an example of a police kit: A large cross, a wooden stake and a mallet. Sheriff points out the pre-meditated murder-ness of any such actions, but Carl reminds him that they’re dealing with somebody not affected by dozens of gunshots. He then recommends that they stop trying to fight him at night, and instead to track him back to his day resting spot and kill him then, when the sun will have him vulnerable.

He continues to smugly smirk over having to inform them that they’re dealing with an honest-to-god vampire in Vegas. [And I’d like to punch that smirk off of his face, now.]

He leaves them all to discuss that they’re dealing with something out of horror movies… without Kolchak in the room. Our reporter continues laughing to himself at their consternation. He watches them across the room huddled and conversing.

The decision is made to issue the unorthodox tools to the officers, but Skorzeny will still be brought into custody for trial. In addition, though Carl will still get the exclusive he wants, he must wait for the news blackout to be lifted by the DA’s office, presumably after Janos is off the street. But there is one more thing -- if Kolchak turns out to be wrong and Janos is just a nutter, Carl is to exile himself from Vegas within 12 hours. Take it or leave it. Carl doesn’t see the setup being perpetrated and takes the deal.

Commentary: This is the part of the story where I start to get a little annoyed at the illogic of Janos. He’s already been rousted twice and everybody has his description obviously, so why is he sticking around? It makes zero sense that he’d stay in Las Vegas after being found out, especially because his personal history as revealed earlier by Jenks suggests that he makes tracks as soon as possible to maintain his anonymity.

It’s just not sensible for him to still be hunkered down in Las Vegas in order to threaten Kolchak and end up dead [oh, please… like the fact that Carl has to be threatened and then turn the tables is a spoiler… this is all a flashback, after all]. It’s also nearly impossible for me to buy that, even in the 70s, something this unusual could be kept quiet -- again, it would require a massive conspiracy of every employee in city government and among all of those news crews… not to mention any of the actual eyewitnesses. It’s too much to believe and the improbables are starting to stack up and degrade the story.

And finally, and I can’t believe I’m suggesting this of all people but, the long, long scenes of people talking are starting to drag things down now. We’re headed into the final confrontation territory, so the scenes should be shorter, more intense and with a sense of tense energy driving our protagonist toward his date with destiny. We’re far enough along now, that we don’t need any more scenes of the characters - no matter how well the actors are doing - chatting up the threat or grandstanding at one another; We need the threat to be made personal and feel like Carl Kolchak has something to lose in this fight.

Scene 38: Outside, Carl is feeling pleased with himself at the thought that he’ll soon be back in New York riding high on his celebrity-reporter fame. He isn’t careful and gets into his car without looking around himself or in his back seat first.

[I’ve seen enough horror that I never get in my car without a glance into the back seat. It’s almost a paranoid compulsion.]

As Kolchak starts to pull out of his parking space, he senses something behind him. A figure sits up in his back seat, scaring the bejeezus outta him. But it isn’t our vampire. It’s the contact from the black jack table. He tells Carl that he thinks he found the house.

Scene 39: Carl pulls up at the possible hideout of Janos Skorzeny. He informs us in voiceover that he instructed the contact to wait 30 minutes before going to Jenks with the information, as he wanted to check out the house alone first and he wanted to make sure that the police wouldn’t storm the place before sunrise… which he was sure they’d do, despite what he warned them.

[For some reason, Kolchak doesn’t notice that he’s already in daylight. It’s day-for-night, though, so presumably that has the same effects as legitimate night. No, the dark filter and cricket sounds doesn’t make the harsh light look like the moon.]

Kolchak sneaks his way up to the grand, old house on the hill. [OUCH… that “moonlight” is looking particularly sunlight-ish in these shots.]

Carl finds the house readily open for visitors and slips inside.

Scene 40: He’s carrying his anti-vampire case as he sneaks through the cobweb strewn home. His attention is grabbed by a working fridge which reveals the blood from the hospital, obvs kept in case Janos didn’t find a live victim on any particular night’s hunt.

Carl continues to search and finds disguises-stuff in a drawer. He takes photos of his finds, and reacts as if the house is in a permanent state of chill.

His wandering leads him up a set of squeaky stairs to the second floor. Despite his own admonitions to the police about waiting for daybreak, he continues walking around making unintended noises in the otherwise silent house -- including knocking over a glass.

Scene 41: Upstairs, Kolchak locates Janos’ coffin. Unfortunately for him, all he finds is dirt in it. No vampire conveniently resting and vulnerable.

His continued creeping leads to a set of doors into a side bedroom. Within, he finds our fifth victim, still listed as missing officially. The woman of the unfortunate yellow slacks and awful top! And she’s alive! Though very pale, obviously having been fed on slowly as a snack-girl.

A bit more gross… Janos has hooked her up to a blood bottle, to warm it up before he eats it from her neck!

Commentary: Okay, that was nicely gross and chill inducing. The only thing I’ll say though is that it really should’ve been Gail in this position as the excuse for Carl to stay in the home longer than prudent, but also because it feels really weird that Carl’s girlfriend hasn’t been placed in personal jeopardy before now.

Still, this scene is really good with the awful implications of what Janos has been doing. I expected her to turn out to be a vampire, but I liked it better when I realized why she’d actually been taken rather than killed outright in the parking lot.

Scene 42: Outside, a car pulls up in the driveway. It’s Janos returning in a new car before the actual daybreak can interrupt the day-for-night moon-sun.

Scene 43: Upstairs, Carl is working on the ropes holding our victim down when they both hear the return of Janos. Carl quickly returns things to the way they were and ducks into a closet. He warns our woman to hold still as the tape that had been over her mouth won’t stay stuck.

Janos comes in moments later to replace the bottle of hanging blood. Carl watches from the closet. Our fifth victim, unexpectedly, remains silent and still instead of panicking and giving the entire game away. She does turn her head to follow him out, causing the tape to fall off her face, but Janos doesn’t turn around and she doesn’t make a sound.

Nevertheless… Skorzeny seems to sense something off in his home. He stands silently out in the hallway and closes his eyes to sense….


Scene 44: In the bedroom, fifth victim gives Carl imploring looks as he slips back out of the closet. In the hallway, Janos reacts as if he can hear Carl moving about despite his care to remain quiet. As Carl is about to sneak back to the woman, the door knob starts to turn again. He quickly backs up into the closet.

But Skorzeny did sense his presence and finds him there. He gives him the fang-snarl and glare. Kolchak resorts to the bag of cross. It does as advertised.


Instead of ordering the vampire to get in the closet and to stay there, Kolchak retreats into the dark hallway, with Janos following along and looking for an opportunity to strike out at the intruder. Janos feints at Carl, causing him to trip backward and fall into a pile of discarded wood. When he’s recovered himself, Janos has disappeared from view!

[Which is what he gets for not staying still and quiet until the police arrived, which he knows should be any time now. Dumb ass reporter.]

Not knowing where the vampire has gone to is not a comforting thought.

Commentary: I like this set and the scene is filled with a tenseness. I don’t really buy that our victim woman would still be silent as Janos goes after Kolchak and he’s obviously leaving her in his retreat, but that’s a minor thing. I do really like that she wasn’t the one to blow his cover by reacting with screeching or making obvious desperate looks at Kolchak’s hiding spot or anything else dumb. I like it when victims are given some credit for wanting to survive their experience and not doing things that are suicidal when the bad guy has them dead to rights, and this victim is obviously clever to have survived as long as she has.

Scene 45: Carl slips down the staircase, where Janos has reappeared on the upper landing. He glares at Carl and growls some more as Kolchak continues holding him at bay with the crucifix.

Janos finds his chance to take out Carl when the reporter trips down the stairs, losing his hold on the crucifix. He makes a leap down to the staircase and another onto Carl.

Kolchak is picked up and slammed against the wall. Despite his attempts to break Janos’ hold on him, the vampire easily throws him around and over some discarded furniture. Carl struggles, but Janos then has him pinned and forces his head to the side for a neck bite of doom.

The only reason Kolchak isn’t killed is because his friend, Agent Jenks arrives at the right moment to save his stupid, clumsy ass.


Alas for Jenks, he doesn’t stake the vampire through the back and so isn’t ready for the vampire’s counter-attack that sees him sailing across the room. Before he can pick himself up, Janos helps in that department. Shaking him around and tossing him hard into a wall.

Carl grabs Bernie’s dropped gun, but of course this doesn’t do anything except make noise and some smoke. Bernie and Carl both try to wrestle the vampire, but they do about as well as the half a dozen cops did in earlier encounters. With Bernie once again stunned on the floor, Janos creeps up on Kolchak again.

But this time, Carl is near enough to a window to grab the drapes and yank them away, filling the room with sunlight. Bernie follows suit by opening a door, flooding the escape path of Janos’ with more rays of the sun… and looking stunned that this is actually happening to them.

Together, Bernie and Carl get Skorzeny trapped on the staircase, weakened with the ambient sunlight. Carl is able to get the stake in position despite Janos’ wordless pleas not to do so.

He manages to kill the vampire… who inconveniently doesn’t discorporate, just as Sheriff Butcher and the city uniforms arrive to see him in the act.

Commentary: Let’s talk about Janos for a minute more. It seemed strange to me earlier that we didn’t get more of the vampire, especially a more cat and mouse game with Carl after the “yes, it’s a vampire” portion of the tale was out of the way. But in retrospect, I like Janos’ portrayal here… it’s a throwback to before the vampire became suave and charming. Janos doesn’t speak throughout the entire film, except in grunts and growls. He doesn’t seduce or play games… he’s far more animalistic and savage, and it was a nice change of pace from the modern vampire version that we get nowadays.

The climax to the battle with Janos was also well handled with Bernie and Carl and I like that Kolchak is going to have to keep the existence of vampires quiet because he’s been caught red handed murdering the suspect by Sheriff Butcher. It’s a tidy resolution that makes sense, except for my previous complaints about how wide spread the original conspiracy of silence would have to be to pull off.

I am still mildly disappointed though with just how little Kolchak’s girlfriend actually had to do, and how she wasn’t ever threatened by the vampire. It’s an odd oversight. On the one hand, it’s avoiding that cliché, but on the other hand, without a stronger role in the story, Gail doesn’t actually feel like she has a point as a character. Her relationship with Kolchak isn’t strongly portrayed, so other than turning him onto the vampire being real idea, why is she here? We just didn’t need a love interest for that.

Scene 46: We cross fade from Kolchak’s look at the arriving Sheriff to his hands typing on a typewriter. Gail asks if he really thinks that they’ll print it and he believes that they’ll have no choice this time.

He also offers that he doesn’t want Gail to keep working nights. She rolls her eyes and he adds that she could marry him, instead. She’s shocked but very pleased. And he’s happy, as this story is going to be his ticket back to the big time. He assures her that she’ll love New York City.


Commentary: Oh, poor smartass Carl and simple-joyful Gail.

Scene 47: Carl drops in on Vincenzo, full of grins and a sensational story. Vincenzo though doesn’t look like he’s receiving the biggest story as editor that he’s ever gotten. One feels that something isn’t right, though Kolchak doesn’t yet see it.

Vincenzo agrees to all of Carl’s expectations for making it into the special edition a little too easily. He then mentions, trying to sound casual but failing, that Jenks wants to meet Carl right away over at the D.A.’s office… a call that should have come from Jenks to Carl instead of going through the editor. Just before Carl leaves, Vincenzo tells him he’s one hell of a reporter.

Oh, Carl. Stop looking so pleased.

Scene 48: At the DA’s office, Paine, Butcher and Jenks are all looking funny. Jenks is the only one not looking pleased.

Butcher tells Carl that he’s under arrest for murder, to his amused disbelief. Butcher holds up the warrant, wiping the amusement away. Jenks has the decency to look miserable about it. But not enough to interfere.

Paine smugly tells him the Sheriff saw him pound a stake into an unarmed man’s chest. A man that was wanted for questioning and hadn’t even been arrested for anything. Butcher pipes up next that he broke up their stakeout and after they were kind enough to invite him to tag along. He broke through the police line before they had a chance to do anything and killed that poor man right in front of them. Butcher shares that Kolchak was ranting and raving madly about Skorzeny being some sort of vampire. Paine tells Carl that he’ll be charged with murder one, and even if he goes with the obvious insanity defense, he’ll never be a free man again.

Obviously though, a trial is not what they’re actually after. Jenks miserably tells Carl to sit down and listen to their proposal. Paine reads “Kolchak’s story” already turned over to Vincenzo and being printed as they speak. It’s a whitewash of the actual facts, in keeping with suppressing any and all information regarding the true nature of Janos Skorzeny.

Carl objects, but they have him dead to rights with the threat of the murder warrant. Bernie Jenks obviously feels sick about it, but is apparently going to go along. And there isn’t a Mulder to turn to yet.

An officer comes into the office with Kolchak’s luggage. Carl reaches for the phone to call Gail, but while he was at the paper and traveling to this office, Gail was already given her walking papers as well and escorted out of town.

Defeated, Carl grabs up his things. Bernie tries to explain/apologize.

Commentary: Obvs, I hate them all. But I was surprised by the emotional reaction I had to this scene. I actually felt a bit sick to my stomach at the end of it, with Claude Akins and Kent Smith doing a great job at being smug, repulsively manipulative, and so sure about having their personal pain in the ass over a barrel that they’re actually painful to watch as they break down Carl’s resolve.

I remembered how this movie ended, but I didn’t realize just how awful seeing Kolchak shattered would be. I also didn’t remember that Gail also gets thrown out of the city, though I did remember that she doesn’t marry Carl and disappears before the next movie.

It kinda makes me wish that another vampire relative of Skorzeny would drop in on our Sheriff and D.A. for a… “chat”….

Also, I still have real problems with the conceit that these men would be able to keep everything suppressed so thoroughly. Obviously, the real-vampire information would be easily glossed over, but there is still plenty of witnesses to Janos performing actions and taking punishment that nobody should have been able to do or suffer and keep going.

Scene 49: So, Carl drives his way out of Las Vegas without his dreams of a comeback, without New York City and without Gail.

He voiceovers for us that he spent all of his money running local personals in West Coast papers looking for Gail Foster, but he never found her and now doubts that he’ll ever see her again.

Scene 50: In his crappy apartment, he listens to his recorded voice giving an epilogue that his book is now finished. He adds that trying to confirm the veracity of his account will not be possible, thanks to Janos Skorzeny disappearing from any Federal files. In Las Vegas everyone connected to the case has vanished to parts unknown, aren’t talking or died.

His recording goes on that he hasn’t been able to sleep decently since everything happened. He adds that after that morning in Janos’ house, his body and those of every one of his victims were cremated [one hopes that doesn’t include the survivor].

Kolchak questions as to why and recalls the legend that anyone killed by the bite of a vampire returns as a vampire. He laughs at the manuscript and at himself and walks away with the credits rolling.

The Good: Darren McGavin is aces as Carl Kolchak and really owns the role. I also liked Ralph Meeker, Simon Oakland, Kent Smith and Larry Linville in their memorable roles. The relationship between Carl and his editor and between Carl and his FBI Agent friend is really nicely done.

I liked how the initial victim attack was filmed, especially the use of shadow.

I really want to acknowledge the actress that played the switchboard operator at the county courthouse. She's not listed on IMDB, and though her scene is short and she only appears once, she was amusing and I loved her interaction with Gavin.

The fight when we get our first good look at our vampire against the hospital orderlies was nicely done and gave the story the energy it needed at just the right time.

I enjoyed the entire final sequence in the vampire's lair [one tiny caveat in Other Thoughts, though].

I loved finding the victim kept alive as a blood-warmer for Janos. That was such a creepy image and the implications behind it is absolutely ghastley.

The Bad: I will have to put the entire coverup in the badly done. I just don't have the sense that the political powers in Vegas would have the ability to keep a story as sensational as a super-powered murderer hidden with all of the eyewitnesses to things that no person should be able to do, including surviving dozens of pointblank range gunshots without so much as being stunned. Gun Vest or No... that's way too much not to have somebody talking!

Uh. Wow. How can you have a cop call about a green station wagon and then show the bad guy in a baby blue one and not do some sort of re-recording of the line?? That was really clumsy.

Day for Night. Ooohhh... unfortunate.

Other Thoughts: While all of the actors do what they can, I do have some issues with some of the supporting characters who when all is said and done, just don't seem to have a specific need to be in the story. This really is about Elisha Cook, Jr. as Mickey Crawford who tells Kolchak where the vampire house is but wasn't needed for that but it can also include Carol Lynley as Gail Foster who has very little to do despite being Carl's girl-pal and a night worker in a casino who you'd think would make her a target. In addition, I was disappointed that Larry Linville's coroner didn't have more scenes spread throughout the movie.

I have a problem, but not enough to ruin things, with Vincenzo's attitude to Carl's story involving a nutter thinking he's a vampire. It's treated as an outlandish claim, except that it's clear the murderer does believe himself to be that exact thing. This is before Carl decides that Janos is actually a vampire for real. The objections and blustering doesn't make sense to me at the point in the story where the scene takes place. But even Carl is coming off as too obstinate in including claims of preternatural strength without any actual eyewitness testimony to bolster such a story.

I have an even larger problems when Sheriff Butcher and DA Paine pull the same attitude as Vincenzo even before Carl reaches the point where he decides the vampire is real, rather than a nutter who thinks he's a vampire. Their hostility to the suggestion that the nut thinks he's Dracula is outsized and actually just stupid when it's obvious that yes - the killer is acting like he's a vampire. I do like Jenks' attitude and Meeker's acting in this scene though.

I'm also going to mention the scene after Mary Brandon's murder is reported. This scene is not bad, but it is underwhelming when it should be emotionally scarring. Mary's parents apparently witnessed her murder - not realizing what they were seeing - but appear remarkably cogent for their interview with the police and Kolchak. It just comes across as false because the actor and actress playing the parents aren't able to give us the complete emotional wreck that would be logical and expected in this scene.

Another issue that isn't bad, but.... Well, Janos himself, while it's nice that he's more animalistic and not prone to speaking, is also played by an actor who doesn't really have the gravitas or presence to make the character entirely successful. This is especially true in the all too often seen scenes of him running away from his pursuers looking not that different from an episode of COPS.

I have a caveat about the generally liked final sequence against Janos. I found his death a bit anti-climactic, but that's because his death wasn't really about him, but about Carl being caught red-handed in a compromising position. But still, I was left wanting a bit more action in Janos' successful staking.

The Score: This first Kolchak movie is very well done for being a tv-flick and McGavin is absolutely great as the title character. There are a few problems, obviously, but this is a strong entry to bring Kolchak into people's homes. The ending, while required, is bitterly painful because Carl Kolchak - even when he's been a bit too smug and assish - is ultimately a very likable protagonist and it's awful to see him lose everything after saving lives and killing the inhuman monster.

4.0 out of 5 stars.

Next Review: Angel, Season (not 10) 8, Issue 10

Tags: kolchak: the reviews

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