was three years-old when John Llewellyn Moxey’s The Night Stalker premiered on the ABC Movie of the Week on January
11, 1972 and it took me nearly twenty years to catch up with it on a late night
rerun on a local ABC-TV affiliate. Featuring the terrific late character actor
Darren McGavin in the role of Carl Kolchak, an intrepid reporter who wants to
print the truth regardless of what his editor says after finding himself in the
midst of several murders, The Night
Stalker, penned by the great Richard Matheson based on an unpublished
novel, is a delightful slice of early 1970s spooky entertainment fare that is
most definitely a product of a time that was populated by groovy music on the
radio, TV dinners, and little kids getting tossed around in the backs of mammoth
station wagons. The Las Vegas of 1971 when this movie was shot is much
different from the Las Vegas of 2018. For one thing, the bulk of filming takes
place in what is in present day known as the Fremont Street area. Much of Vega$, the television series starring
Robert Urich that ran from 1978 to 1981, was also filmed in this location as
well, so it will no doubt look familiar to viewers.
is like a cross between photographer Arthur (Usher) Fellig, better known as
Weegee, and Jeff Daniels’s Will Macavoy on HBO’s The Newsroom. He wants the scoop but he wants to tell it the way it
is: truthfully. We are introduced to him after the events have occurred and the
action is told in flashback as Kolchak, unshaven and nearly impecunious in a
run-down motel, is writing a book about the events that have happened. Someone,
or something, is stalking the
residents of Las Vegas and draining them of a portion of their blood. The
authorities (Kent Smith and Claude Akins) are keeping a tight rein on Kolchak
so as to avoid public embarrassment and panic. The suspect is Janos Skorzeny (Barry Atwater), a
creepy-looking man who bears a resemblance to Jonathan Frid of Dark Shadows fame.
gets into frequent and boisterous arguments with his editor Tony Vincenzo
(Simon Oakland, forever known as the deus
ex machina psychiatrist at the end of 1960’s Psycho) about letting people know the truth, especially if they are
in danger of dying at the hands of Skorzeny,
who appears to be a vampire following failed attempts to shoot him dead after
his break-in of a blood bank at a local hospital. Vincenzo wants to keep the
newspaper’s reputation clean and urges Kolchak not to print such events for
fear of frightening the public. Far from being the first television series to
deal with vampires, it exercises restraint in the depiction of violence against
women, though the results do not shy away from showing some blood – this was,
after all, the era of the televised Vietnam War. One of the earlier victims is
a young woman whose mother is played by actress Virginia Gregg, who provided
the voice of Mother in Psycho and Psycho II. Carol Lynley plays a
prostitute, though her profession is only alluded to in her introductory scenes.
She is a lady friend of Kolchak’s, with modern parlance applying the moniker of
“friends with benefits” to their relationship; she’s twenty years Kolchak’s
junior and urges him to read up on vampires. Kolchak eventually makes his way
to Skorzeny’s lair in an effort to
get the story on his own and uses standard items from his Anti -Vampire Kit
such as a crucifix and the sun through broken glass in an effort to kill him
(or it). A twist has Kolchak leaving
Vegas with his tail between his legs at the urging of the authorities, his
determination to tell the truth at its strongest when he ends up at the motel that
we saw him at the start.
John Llewelyn Moxey is probably best known for the classic 1960 black and white
thriller City of the Dead (aka Horror Hotel), though following that
film he worked almost exclusively in the domain of television making both TV
movies and directing episodes of well-known TV series.
The Night Stalker has been released on Blu-ray by Kino
Lorber in a 4K restoration and the film looks like it was just shot. In
addition to this, there are some great new extras:
commentary with Tim Lucas – Mr. Lucas has been writing about movies for well
over 35 years. I first read his articles in Video Times Magazine in the
mid-1980’s and have been an avid – or dare I say rabid – fan of his excellent
Video Watchdog magazine through its complete 184-issue run over 28 years. He
has done some terrific commentaries in the past for Mario Bava’s work among
many others, and he does the same here. He offers up a wealth of information
that anyone who loves this movie will want to listen to. He also discusses
Watergate (and journalism in general) which was six months away from the
notorious break-in that would become synonymous with illegal political
practices (is there any other kind?) Be warned, however: There is one sequence
when the vampire attempts to steal blood vials in a hospital. The action is
played far too loud over Mr. Lucas’s commentary and he is practically drowned
out for about a minute or so! I’m not sure why this happened or how it got past
Quality Control, but the rest of the commentary is at a decent volume.
is a high definition 2018 interview with director Moxey that runs twenty
minutes and he talks about his career and the film. At 93, Mr. Moxey possesses
a lot of, well, moxie.
is also a high definition, ten-minute 2018 interview with music composer Robert
Cobert who is an absolute delight to listen to. At nearly 94 years of age he
describes how he comes up with music as he watches the rough cut and also
discusses the stressful deadlines he was handed to compose and conduct the
score simply because he was the last person brought in on the project. I have
loved his music since I saw Burnt
Offerings on television in 1981 and he has a signature sound. If you can
find it, this CD has some of his best work.
is a standard definition interview with producer Dan Curtis that was shot
around 2003/2004 (he passed away in 2006) that runs fourteen and-a-half minutes
wherein he talks about how wonderful and fun it was to make these films, which
is refreshing as so many people in the film industry today develop movies that
never get made.
is also a trailer for Burnt Offerings
(1976); a limited edition booklet essay by film critic and author Simon Abrams;
and beautiful new artwork by artist Sean Phillips.
also nice to have subtitles for a change and I’m happy to report that Kino
Lorber has provided those.
tuned for my review of the film’s follow-up, The Night Strangler (1974)!