The Night Stalker (1972 film)
The Night Stalker is a television film which aired on ABC on January 11, 1972 as their ABC Movie of the Week. In it an investigative reporter, played by Darren McGavin, comes to suspect that a serial killer in the Las Vegas area is in fact a vampire.
|The Night Stalker|
Barry Atwater as Janos Skorzeny
in The Night Stalker
|Written by||Richard Matheson (teleplay)|
Jeffrey Grant Rice (novel)
|Directed by||John Llewellyn Moxey|
|Music by||Bob Cobert|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Running time||74 minutes|
|Original release||January 11, 1972|
|Followed by||The Night Strangler|
The film was based on the then-unpublished novel by Jeff Rice titled The Kolchak Papers. Rice said he wrote the novel because, "I'd always wanted to write a vampire story, but more because I wanted to write something that involved Las Vegas." Rice had difficulty finding a publisher willing to buy the manuscript until agent Rick Ray read it and realized the novel would make a good movie. The 1973 novel (renamed The Night Stalker) wasn't published until after the TV movie had already aired, and was delayed according to Rice because the publisher wanted both Rice's original novel and the 1974 sequel The Night Strangler (written by Rice but based on the screenplay by author Richard Matheson) so "they could be placed on the top of the publisher's list in the 1 and 2 positions for 1974."
Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey (a veteran of theatrical and TV movies), adapted by Richard Matheson, and produced by Dan Curtis (best known at the time for Dark Shadows), The Night Stalker became the highest rated original TV movie on US television, earning a 33.2 rating and 48 share. The TV movie did so well it was released overseas as a theatrical movie and inspired a sequel TV movie titled The Night Strangler, which aired in 1973, a single-season TV series of twenty episodes titled Kolchak: The Night Stalker which ran on ABC between 1974–75, and a short lived 2005 TV series called Night Stalker.
Actor Darren McGavin recalled that his involvement began when "My representatives called to say that ABC had purchased the rights to a book called The Kolchak Papers. They were into a kind of first draft of a script by Richard Matheson, and they called the agency to ask them if I’d be interested in doing it. My representative read it and called me." The popular TV movie, along with its sequel and the TV series, provided the inspiration for Chris Carter's The X-Files. Carter featured actor Darren McGavin in the show as a tribute to the actor and the project that inspired his popular series. Originally Carter had wanted McGavin to play Kolchak, but the actor elected not to, so the role was rewritten, making McGavin's character Arthur Dales the "father of the X-files".
Kolchak, sitting on the bed of a sleazy hotel room, is listening to a replay of his dictation on his portable tape recorder. The notes are about a series of murders that have plagued the Las Vegas Strip, and a cover-up of those events by the authorities. All of the victims had their bodies drained of blood. When a meeting is conducted with the sheriff's department, the FBI, the police, and others, they discover the suspect's true identity is Janos Skorzeny, who is the prime suspect in multiple homicides extending back years, involving massive loss of blood. When Skorzeny attempts to rob a hospital, the police are called to stop him. Skorzeny is shot multiple times without effect, and manages to escape by outrunning a police car and motorcycle.
Kolchak's girlfriend, Gail Foster, either a Vegas showgirl or local prostitute (or both), urges him to explore vampire lore. The evidence persuades Kolchak to suspect that Skorzeny is a vampire, much to the disbelief of his boss Anthony "Tony" Vincenzo. Following yet another failed attempt to capture Skorzeny despite overwhelming police force, the authorities strike a deal with Kolchak to eschew their traditional investigative methods for his vampire-centric approach in exchange for giving him exclusive rights to the story. Acting on a tip, Kolchak locates Skorzeny's safe house and pursues the story on his own fearful that the police will renege on their deal. Compromised when the vampire returns, Kolchak struggles to escape and is nearly killed by Skorzeny before his FBI friend, alerted to Kolchak's presence in the house, arrives and joins the fight. Realizing that dawn has broken, Kolchak and friend force a weakened Skorzeny back against a sun-drenched staircase and stake the vampire, just as authorities burst through the front door.
Kolchak writes his version of the story for the newspaper and proposes to his girlfriend, telling her that they will both move to New York City. The authorities, however, unwilling to publicly admit that Skorzeny was the vampire Kolchak claimed, print a false version of the newspaper story with his byline and threaten to charge him with first degree murder unless he quietly leaves Las Vegas. They also tell him that his girlfriend Gail has already been forced to leave the city for "engaging in unsavory activities". Carl exhausts his savings placing personal advertisements across the country in a futile attempt to find her.
The final scene reverts to Kolchak in his sleazy hotel room. He explains that if anyone tries to verify the events in the book they will find that all witnesses have either left town, are not talking, or are dead. He concludes by noting that Skorzeny and all his victims have been cremated, destroying any further ability to investigate the matter and eliminating the possibility that those killed by Skorzeny would in turn rise as vampires and perpetuate the curse.
- Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak
- Carol Lynley as Gail Foster
- Simon Oakland as Tony Vincenzo
- Ralph Meeker as Bernie Jenks
- Claude Akins as Sheriff Warren A. Butcher
- Charles McGraw as Police Chief Ed Masterson
- Kent Smith as District Attorney Tom Paine
- Elisha Cook Jr. as Mickey Crawford
- Stanley Adams as Fred Hurley
- Larry Linville as Dr. Robert Makurji
- Jordan Rhodes as Dr. John O'Brien
- Barry Atwater as Janos Skorzeny
The Night Stalker garnered the highest ratings of any TV film at that time (33.2 rating - 48 share). That resulted in a 1973 follow-up TV film called The Night Strangler and a planned 1974 film titled The Night Killers, which instead evolved into the 1974-1975 television series Kolchak: The Night Stalker, with McGavin reprising his role in both. An episode of the series titled "The Vampire" was an actual sequel to Stalker, deriving its story from characters introduced in the film.
Following the series' cancellation, the franchise was still regarded enough to prompt two more TV films, which were created by editing together material from four previous episodes of the series, with some additional narration provided by McGavin as Kolchak to help connect the plot lines. No new footage was included.
On September 29, 2005 ABC aired a remake of the 1974 series Kolchak: The Night Stalker, titled Night Stalker. ABC owned the rights to the original TV films, but not the Universal TV series, and were limited only to using characters that had appeared in the films.
The film was released in 2004 by MGM Home Entertainment as a double feature DVD with The Night Strangler. The DVD also has a 21-minute interview with producer and director Dan Curtis divided between each film: 14 minutes of him discussing Stalker, and on the flipside, 7-minutes of him discussing Strangler. Both films, issued on October 2, 2018, were released separately on HD Blu-Ray, featuring new 4K transfers by Kino Lorber, Inc.
- From Daytime to Primetime: The History of American Television Programs
- "The Night Stalker". The New York Times.
- "The Night Stalker Companion," by Mark Dawidziak
- Satian, Al, and Heather Johnson, "The Night Stalker Papers," in Monsters of the Movies Vol. 1, No. 1, (June 1974), p. 16
- "Hit Movies on U.S. TV Since 1961". Variety. January 24, 1990. p. 160.
- "The Night Strangler". The New York Times.
- Brozan, Nadine (February 27, 2006). "Darren McGavin, Versatile Veteran Actor, Dies at 83". The New York Times.