harsens_rob (harsens_rob) wrote,

Night Stalker Review: "The Ripper"


Kolchak, The Night Stalker
Episode 01

The Ripper

Writer: Rudolph Borchert
DIR: Allen Baron

Blurb: A serial killer who is terrorizing women continually avoid capture, and Kolchak comes to believe that the murderer is none other than the original Jack the Ripper.

Scene 01: We open with a series of overhead shots of the city of Chicago, to let us know where our intrepid reporter turned up between “The Night Strangler” and our series, as credits roll.

We follow one of the trains that go through the Chicago area on the elevated tracks and listen to a voice over from Carl who tells us that if we’d been in the city during such-n-such dates, we’d have had good reason to be terrified.

Scene 02: We join Kolchak in his train car, a bit of impatience in his manner. He voiceovers for us that a killer stalked Chicago during our season of horror.

[I had thought that he was referring to his continuing to wear a baby blue suit with white shoes, but no, that isn’t what he was talking about.]

He also tells us that the case ranks with the greatest mysteries of all time, as he futzes around with his recorder. As he continues to make notes, he tells us that he believes their killer in the very one referenced in plays, movies, and even operas.

“Now, here are the true facts….”

Scene 03: We skip over to a nightclub in the past, where Hippy-Dippy Chick [no, the hippies are also not our horrors] who is grooving her way happily to the funkadelic music playing.

She’s dancing for a career in a tiny bar, the likes we’ve seen before, and alas - a common hunting ground for monsters.

But we’re not in Chicago at the moment, but in Milwaukee, WI. Our dancer is Michelle and she’d just finished her last number and was in her dressing room.

“I mean, really her last number…,” [Oh, Carl. That was tacky.]

Scene 04: At the little dressing table, Michelle starts putting herself together for home. But a pan shoes us a pair of black-shoed/black panted feet and legs waiting behind her. We see our mystery man pull a large blade from beneath what might have been a cape. Michelle sees him in the mirror and gives a short scream, but not loud enough, or long enough to be noticed or to scare her attacker away.

Our view is partially obscured and then Michelle falls to the floor.

Scene 05: Our obviously inappropriately dressed gentleman leaves and we see that a large blade is concealed in an ornate walking stick.

He breezes by the bartender who starts as nobody was supposed to be in the “Manager’s Office” where the women change. He rushes to the room to peek in and finds ex-Michelle.

He shouts to the patrons to grab the guy, but the man is quite strong and easily tosses about his attempted restrainers.

Commentary: So, already I have some impressions to share and their not all that positive. As mentioned in the review comments for the Night Stalkers movies, I don’t actually remember very much at all about Kolchak: The Night Stalker series. My worry was that on buying the discs, I’d find myself having not remembered much for good reason.

Which leads here: I don’t really have an issue with the Jack the Ripper character being used [over and over] in contemporary circumstances, and I’d expect Kolchak to put a spin on the character sooner or later. But I really wish it had been later. Unfortunately, this is feeling a whole lot like Kolchak’s last two villains, The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler, including this set up with the powerful men tossing aside those who try to manhandle him with enhanced strength of some sort. In fact, it’s so much like the Night Strangler case, that I’m wondering if they just grabbed that script, made a few updates and started filming.

I really wish they’d chosen to kick off the series with an entirely new supernaturally-tinged bad guy. This is feeling too repetitive with both of the movies that had audiences interested in Kolchak in the first place, and that gives the feeling of laziness. It also doesn’t help that the set for this first attack is so threadbare and dimly lit.

[And of course, I can’t hold it against the show, but the 70’s guys in their 70’s wear assaulting mine eyes isn’t helping me either. I‘m talking to you in the dark blue pants and blue shirt with the wide, white belt….]

Scene 06: We skip forward to three nights later, again in Milwaukee, WI. A woman leaves through a dark parking lot from a “Miss Physical Therapist Contest”.

Our apparent not-winner is Debbie who likes to break horses and collect bone china when she’s not entering contests.

“Debbie wanted to be successful. She should’ve settled for being alive….” [Oh, Kolchak: Is this going to be a regular thing?]

Debbie is pounced upon, almost literally, from our fancily-dressed gentleman with his bladed walking stick leaping down from the catwalks above. Debbie screams as he pulls out his sword and ducks into a ball as he slices away at her.

We cut to a train going by with its whistle drowning out the carnage.

Scene 07: Our train though is in Chicago and is the slide-wipe to take us back to Carl, who is walking down the street.

Scene 08: Carl is working for another [much less popular than the others] paper under his old boss and frenemy, Vincenzo. He tells us that they, as is their mutual habit, were arguing over Carl’s coverage of his latest assignment, this being a bank robbery.

Apparently, Carl implied that he was a police commissioner in order to get a private car to help him out and to gain more cooperation at the scene than an entrepreneurial reporter might have usually expected. But what Vincenzo is really steamed about was Carl actually having six people arrested under his non-existent authority.

Carl justifies this as they were interfering with his attempting to get the scoop on one of the biggest stories of the year. He also mentions that he had a right to a “citizen’s arrest” of the interlopers. Tony is not impressed.

Their argument is interrupted by another train going by, which is close enough to the dumpy newspaper office to rattle the furniture and hurt the ears. When it passes, Tony tells Carl that he managed to destroy what little good relations their press had with the Police Department and City that had taken years to build.

Carl’s punishment is filling in for Ms. Emily.

Scene 09: Carl is greeted as said Ms. Emily by the newspaper intern as he dumps loads and loads of mail on his desk, with a smirk. Carl is not amused.

Tony stops by to see how it’s going, and we find that Ms. Emily is the advice columnist and Carl is not happy with trying to answer people’s ridiculous questions about ridiculous relationship problems that they’ve gotten themselves into. Especially, when he should be out there pursuing real news.

Another reporter stops by as Carl reads another letter aloud calling Ms. Emily dumb and her column dumb, before asking her for advice “for a friend” to deal with acne.

Carl appears to want to yank his eyes out, and it’s not helped when one of his fellow reporter colleagues/rivals stops by to tease him. He’s Updyke, but Carl calls him ‘Uptight’ which sends him directly to Vincenzo’s office to complain rather animatedly.

Carl in the meantime reads one more of Ms. Emily’s inquiring letters and decides that is it, he needs a break. Although for a moment, this letter may be describing something more up Carl’s alley… the writer is complaining (again) to Ms. Emily about a man who has been dressed in a “ridiculous costume” and staring at her from across the park… which could, maybe, kinda, describe our latest serial if he’s moved on from Milwaukee. Anyway, the writer wants to know if he can kill her with his eyes, or only make her sterile.

Tony bellows for Carl to get back to his desk, but Kolchak doesn’t listen [as is his habit, also].

Commentary: I will give credit to the show runners that they brought back Simon Oakland again, despite the silliness of Tony Vincenzo continuing to supplement Carl’s career when the man goes out of his way to sabotage it. But Simon and Darren are always wonderful together and their sour-friendship was a highlight of the Kolchak films.

Although, I do hope we’ll see some other shades to their relationship than the bellowing-boss, uncooperative-reporter schtick as we move forward.

Scene 10: We get another voiceover from Carl that in Chicago, the stalking and killing began with Ms. Laura Moresco, 24 year old masseuse was on her way home with her stuffed animal. She was a collector, and a very pleased client gave one to her.

We see our fancy dressed man creep up behind her to her obliviousness. We hear a scream after the sounds of the blade being withdrawn from the sheath, but we only directly witness the sudden, quick murder via shadow and the tossed away stuffed bear, now slit open.

Scene 11: Carl, meanwhile, is driving around Chicago when his police scanner picks up a broadcast about a murder suspect being spotted. He makes a quick u-turn to head toward the reported scene.

Scene 12: At the scene, Kolchak runs up over the sidewalk to cut a corner and pull in ahead of an arriving squad car, not endearing himself to the uniforms on scene.

He shouts he’s with INS, which he somehow believes excuses illegal driving. Fortunately for him, the police have their hands full at the moment.

Scene 13: Up on the roofs of the apartment buildings, police are chasing their murder suspect. They’re also firing several rounds into their suspect’s back without caution but either they’re suck-shots or our killer isn’t slowed down by bullet holes.

Scene 14: As Carl follows along on the ground snapping pictures, the suspect is cornered between two officers who are still firing wildly at him with their service arms and he’s still not falling.

Our murder suspect leaps to the ground from the several story building to land on his feet in front of more officers, who immediately open fire at near point blank range.

Scene 15: Carl continues snapping pictures, while our Ripper not only ignores the gunfire that couldn’t miss (or Carl himself would’ve been shot, so it’s a good thing the bullets weren’t through and throughs), but wrestles himself through half a dozen cops without missing a beat.

He ends up leaping up and over Carl and rushing off down the street, to Carl’s amazement. He voiceovers that later that morning, nobody would be able to agree over what exactly they saw, or how their suspect could’ve escaped.

Commentary: First, I want to compliment the filming of this scene. It was set at night, and not Hollywood night, so it was at first hard to make out what was happening. The reason that I really liked it though, was because we were seeing things from Carl’s perspective and only able to follow the action on the rooftops by spotlight. I also liked the way that one cop was thrown over Carl and into a cruiser’s windshield and finally, the leaps from the building down to the ground, and then the escape over Carl’s head was pretty cool.

But… but…. This scene was really overblown, especially by the Foley Artist. The gunshots were ridiculously overdone, including indicating that the police were firing at each other and at civilians and were just fortunate enough to not fire through our attacker (or missing completely) or they would’ve had multiple casualties caused by and to themselves and innocent bystanders. In addition, this scene was again much too similar to both the Stalker and Strangler in that our supernatural killer is displaying awesome feats of invulnerability and strength by tossing around the police and shrugging off gun fire. There is no new twist here, including really in the killings as they’re all taking place off screen and the exact injuries are being kept unvoiced. As our villain is The Ripper, you’d think that Carl would be mentioning that our masseuse had some organ or another missing, since that is Jack’s unusual historical MO but so far it’s been treated as if he’s just a hack and slasher -- though with the unusual sword weaponry.

Just calling the serial ‘Jack’ isn’t presenting anything that we’ve not already seen, and better done, in the television films. I was also disappointed that Carl didn’t make a voice over snark about never being able to work anywhere without a super powered killer turning up, as that would’ve provided a nice cap on the scene and acknowledged with a trace of humor that once again Kolchak is going to be menaced by a supernatural murderer.

Scene 16: Later, our paper intern is with Carl in the darkroom at the paper and developing his role of film. His camera though hasn’t picked up anything worth seeing. Intern explains that his camera flash can’t reach better than 20 feet, so the only light the film picked up was from car headlamps. He teases Carl that he did get some nice shots of the back of the guy’s head, though.

Scene 17: That morning, Tony stops by Carl’s desk, where he’s busy typing up his account of what he witnessed.

Vincenzo is there to discuss Carl’s less than Emily-like Emily advice to her ‘clients’. He then notices the story Carl is working on is outside of his assignment parameters. He tears the sheet of paper from the typewriter and reminds Carl that his assignment is Miss Emily for the rest of the week. He goes on to tell him that he’s assigned the murderer case to Updyke… to Carl’s distress.

Scene 18: At that moment, Updyke -- who was a financial reporter for most of his career -- comes in looking sickened and stunned. This is obviously his first murder case and he’s not dealing well.

He reports that the girl’s head was nearly severed from her body, a detail he got from the reporter of another paper who had actually seen the body. Tony gently asks just what he was doing… as he wasn’t obviously where Carl would’ve been.

Ron tells them he went to the site of the attack, and this is what has him so upset. Obviously, blood isn’t in his usual subject of reporting. Basically, that is all of the facts that he was able to glean before deciding he needed to go home and not think about it.

Carl gives Tony a look over his shoulder and Tony’s face says that obviously he’s going to have to give Kolchak this story… despite not wanting to. Carl is mildly gloaty at him.

Scene 19: The following day, Carl is late to a briefing by the police captain as he’s wrapping up what little they have to say about their suspect’s getaway. The captain tries to end the press update, but obvs Carl isn’t going to let him slip away without addressing some of the super human feats they all witnessed.

He asks about their suspect’s being able to leap four stories to the ground and land on his feet without apparent injury. He gives some rather unconvincing possible scenarios and beats a hasty retreat.

A woman reporter asks about a letter and when she can print it. It turns out that she received a letter by someone who doesn’t sound like the other kooky letters claiming responsibility, as details were included that weren’t made public. Carl, naturally wants to know what it was all about, but it’s being treated as evidence for the time being and the captain isn’t in the mood to cooperate.

As everyone files out, Carl grabs Ms. Plumm to find out more about her specific communications with The Ripper, as he’s been dubbed now by the police.

Commentary: I really liked this scene, mostly because it skipped the details that we already all knew to have Carl show up at the tail end of the update. But I also liked the way that Captain Warren was handled here. Unlike both movies, he’s not acting like a prick just because Carl walked into the room, but he is professional and responsive within limits to the press. I also liked Ken Lynch’s acting during this whole scene and the little bit of reminding Carl to take his hat off indoors was a nice character touch.

Scene 20: Carl and Jane are walking down the street toward a restaurant where Carl’s voiceover tells us that Jane Plumm is both big boned and a big eater, but she’s a reporter like him and that they have a mutual respect and trust as colleagues.

Cut to Jane and he walking into the restaurant where Jane tells Carl that she doesn’t trust him. She tells Carl that he’d backstab his own fairy godmother for a story.

He tries to charm her. She trades information for ideas, instead. Basically, INS is more respectable so Carl’s usual version of reporting isn’t appropriate but her paper is, by her own admission, lurid and trashy. He promises he has several “angles” that would let her fill her column with juiciness for her readers.

She relents to tell him specifically about a PS that was left at the bottom of the letter, “And now a pretty girl will die, So Jack can have his kidney pie”. He offers he doesn’t get it, so Jane specifies that Laura’s kidneys were removed, just like in the original killings in Whitechapel.

[But you can’t come up with a “lurid, junky angle” for a series of stories, Jane? Really? Have you considered another line of work?]

She goes on to tell Carl that she’s been checking with psychiatrists because she’s found a series of murders matching what they’re seeing now all over the world. She thinks there is a contagious psychosis driving people to imitate Jack.

[But no idea, huh, on where you can take this story for your editor? None at all?]

Carl suggests her next headline should be one word, “Cannibalism!”.

She’s grateful and smiley.

Commentary: Okay, this is a mixed bag. First, I really enjoyed Beatrice Colen playing Jane Plumm and it would be awesome to have her as a recurring character to play off Carl in future. I could do without the comments on her weight [she isn’t nearly as fat as is talked about], but I really liked the mutual respect, if not trust between one reporter and another which we don’t get much of around Kolchak [probably for justified reasons].

I also liked that somebody else, for a change of pace, has put together information about their killer. I was expecting and disappointed when she didn’t specifically mention the opening killings in Milwaukee, though. But right now, I’m going to assume that her “these things have been happening in groupings all over the world” is to give Carl the germ to tie Milwaukee’s deaths in with Chicago’s later.

But honestly… Jane didn’t need Carl, here. His suggestion was SO obvious for a “lurid and sensationalistic” paper that Jane has zero excuse for not having already come up with it. I did really like her “you know we print junk” shrug of matter-of-factness in regards to her employer though. It was nice to basically see Jane as Carl’s counterpart without the moral indignity that Kolchak always inserts when he’s called out on yellow journalism.

It was also nice that a woman reporter is the one who our Jack has chosen to write personal letters to, rather than Carl being the focus of the bad guy’s attention for another change of pace. It opens up Carl’s universe a bit to have other people be just as involved in the weird goings-on, and again, I’d love to see Jane Plumm as his counterpart for a recurring role.

Scene 21: We skip forward to night where we see our dashing gentleman with the walking stick striding down the block. He stops in front of another Massage Parlor, as Kolchak tells us that our “unusual tourist” was hanging out in Chicago’s answer to Time’s Square… The Loop.

Within, our Jack hires a massage madam without saying a word and she directs him to a room where she’ll join him momentarily. After he walks down the hallway, she goes to another room and asks another girl to watch the desk for her. She mentions that her customer is going to be a weird one.

Scene 22: It doesn’t take long for the screaming. Our other massage artiste rushes to the room with a club, but when she opens the door she freezes in horror.

She backs out in a panic, trying to find her voice for a scream.

Commentary: And alas, being the series rather than the movie all of our kills are apparently going to be imply, not show. Which is becoming an issue now. At first, I thought it was because we were building up to seeing some blood and bodies and that was okay. This is the 70’s, so TV has certain more restrictive standards and that is fine.

But after Jane’s mentioning of the kidney’s being removed I thought that was basically warning the audience that things were about to become just a tad more graphic. Apparently not.

Which means that we really need to have much more descriptors used somewhere, like an autopsy room scene. This rated G killing isn’t working for me anymore now that we’re a quarter of the way in.

C’mon… just give me a little splash of blood on the furniture!

Scene 23: At the scene of the latest attack, Ron Updyke takes another try at “hard crime news”. He’s a bit chipper for being at a death scene, but he turns his attention to reporting what he sees, which includes another rhyme -- this one written on a mirror.

He’s fine until he stumbles over the other men at scene and then sees the remains of our latest victim. At that point, he has to rush to the men’s room.

Scene 24: Carl now arrives to our parlor as well. He’s blocked from going in however, as apparently it’s one reporter per paper inside and Ron has INS’ slot covered.

From down the block, a car honks several times and gets his attention, so he wanders down to see what is going on. It turns out that the honker was due to impatience with the backed up traffic. And this traffic is caused by a car sitting in the lane with a caved in front end. And this leads to the driver telling Carl that a man came out of nowhere with a cape on and he ran right into the guy. And that leads to Carl being told that despite the damage to the front end of the vehicle, the guy just walked away.

Carl snatches up a bit of cloak left behind and tells the guy that nobody would believe that story.

Scene 25: Carl returns to the office the next morning. More Dear Emily letters are delivered for him, but he sweeps them all into a drawer so he can go on with his story.

He starts as he sees Tony coming into the office. Tony is in a high suspicious mood on seeing Jane Plumm’s latest article with the rival paper which carries more than a whiff of one of Carl’s stories. He also shares that Jane has offered in the paper to meet with the Ripper and guarantee his safety for an exclusive; Carl jokes that he should avoid meeting her in a restaurant [implying that he paid for Jane’s last huge order when they met].

Tony notices some research materials on Carl’s desk that have zero to do with answering Dear Emily letters and inquires what Kolchak is up to. Carl tells him that he has to do research to help Updyke because the library has an arrest warrant out for him for an entire collection of overdue books. He’s not allowed to show his face there. So Carl is helping him research other Ripper murders throughout the ages as background material.

Tony is suspicious and asks Carl about Miss Emily’s letters and is assured that they’ve been covered. Carl then leaves to “go to the periodicals for more research on behalf of Ron”. But Tony then finds a letter addressed to Miss Emily marking a page in the book on the past Ripper-like cases and gets even more suspicious.

He takes a peek in Carl’s desk….

Commentary: Huh… okay….

This is only very mildly humorous and I’d like to focus more on our murderer now, please. In fact, this episode is starting to feel padded out quite a bit.

Scene 26: That evening, Carl meets with Jane again. She offers that if Carl thinks he’s stuck with whackadoos over the Miss Emily letters, he should check out some of the guys that she’s been interviewing claiming to be the Ripper. She’s mostly been amused.

Carl isn’t. He warns her that she’s playing a very dangerous game and she finds his concern for her safety to be very sweet. But she also assures him that the pistol in her purse is more than enough to take care of Jack. Carl isn’t convinced.

He tells Jane his theory that they’re dealing with a man who can’t be killed who is at least 130 years old while she’s clinging to the contagious psychosis theory. She also tells him she has nothing to worry about, as the Ripper promised her that he wouldn’t kill again for several days, via sending her the same poem he left on the mirror at the last crime scene. Carl warns her that “he” did the same thing before, but then killed twice the Tuesday night before, instead. She blows this off as that being the original Jack the Ripper….

We also find out that each time a Jack-event has occurred, he’s stopped after five murders. Carl worries that Jane is setting herself up to be one of the remainder in this cycle.

[And still no mention about Milwaukee… that’s weird.]

Scene 27: After leaving Jane to interview her faux-Rippers, Carl again takes to driving around downtown Chicago to think and listen in to the police scanner.

To Be Continued.

Tags: kolchak: the reviews

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