It was woefully short-lived, but this horror/sci-fi series has become one of the most beloved series of its kind over time. First introduced in a 1972 made-for-television film called The Night Stalker, Darren McGavin starred as Carl Kolchak, a crusty old reporter for the Independent News Service in Chicago. The film, which had Kolchak investigating a vampire in Las Vegas, became the highest-rated television film of its time, and its sequel, The Night Strangler, found similar success. ABC subsequently ordered a series, which began its run in September of 1974.
McGavin continued to play the role of Kolchak in the new series, squaring off against a new otherworldly menace. Kolchak cut an intriguing and distinct figure, dressed in a light-blue seersucker suit and a straw hat. His personality was gruff and sarcastic and always put him at odds with authority figures. Vincenzo was his editor, who was driven to the point of ulcers by Kolchak’s penchant for bizarre stories. Emily Cowles was a fellow writer at INS who was friendly with Kolchak and also happened to be the only person he trusted.
The plotlines followed a consistent pattern: Kolchak would stumble across a series of grisly and mysterious killings and realize that something non-human played a role in the murders. Inevitably, the local authorities would want to keep them quiet, and Vincenzo would not believe Kolchak’s theory. Kolchak would risk life and limb to get to the bottom of the story and fight off the villainous menace in the process. Of course, the evidence would always slip through his fingers and thus cause others to not believe his story.
During the series’ run, Kolchak faced off with everything from vampires and werewolves to aliens and androids. The biggest favorite among fans of the show was “Horror In The Heights,” in which Kolchak stumbled across a demon while investigating a story about a rash of deaths among the elderly. He quickly discovered the culprit was a Hindu demon called the rakshasa that tricks its victim by taking on the appearance of the person he/she trusts most before killing them.
Kolchak: The Night Stalker only lasted one season, ending its run in August of 1975. However, it has become a huge cult favorite amongst fans of horror and science fiction. Many people even consider it to be a blueprint for the later and more successful The X-Files, which shared much with Kolchak in terms of style and substance. Even Chris Carter, the creator of that show, has acknowledged the important influence this show had on his work. In the wake of The X-Files’s success, all of the Kolchak: The Night Stalker episodes have been released on video, including the two made-for-television films. As a long as there are viewers who like a good scare, Kolchak: The Night Stalker will always be in demand.