Over the last week, I’ve checked out a few episodes of the old television series, Kolchak: The Night Stalker. When I was a kid, I loved that show. I was crushed when they cut the first season short and didn’t renew it. But I can see why.
For those that don’t know it, it was the mid-1970s version of The X-Files. The main character was Carl Kolchak — a very good investigative journalist who just so happened to always be running into stories involving vampires, zombies, Hindu curses, whatever. The show came about as a result of two very successful made for television movies: The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler. They should have kept with that. By doing one or even two movies per year, you could go along with it. But Kolchak running into ever more ridiculous ghosts and goblins just didn’t cut it week after week. One of the episodes involved a headless motorcyclist.
Although I loved the horror in the show, that wasn’t what really made the show. It was Kolchak. He was totally unkempt with a straw hat that is often coming apart. He’s a klutz. While foolishly trying to destroy these monsters because, hey, no one else will do it, he is always falling down and making a lot of noise. But he’s smart, and he manages to always get around his editor and the police. I think it was 10 year old Frank watching Kolchak: The Night Stalker that got me thinking that being a writer was a cool thing.
More recently, this got me thinking again, because being a writer isn’t all that much like what we see in The Night Stalker. Of course, I’m not a journalist. But even still, we never do see Kolchak file any stories. The monster stories always end with the evidence being destroyed or the police blackmailing him into silence. There’s only one time I recall him filing a story, and that’s when he goes out of town and gets an aspiring writer who is a real estate agent to create stories for him so that he can pursue a lady vampire. That is very Kolchak, though. There’s a lot of the con man in him — but only in the name of digging out the truth.
But the more I thought, the more it occurred to me that my entire working life has actually been a lot like Carl Kolchak. The implication is that Kolchak manages to survive in the newspaper business because he is, ultimately, good at his job. But his pluses just barely offset his minuses. And I’ve been that guy most of my life. I wrote about this before, Unstable Weirdos and Business Success. I’ve been asked throughout my career, “Why can’t you just be normal? Why can’t you just do it like other people?” Now I have an answer, Kolchak: The Night Stalker.
Don’t think that I’m not aware of my arrogance. That is, in fact, what this is all about. Kolchak is full of himself. He doesn’t much care about filing the story; he just wants to get the truth, and if you don’t appreciate that, well, that just shows you’re an idiot. And that’s pretty much been me through most of my career. Things seem better now, but I’m not sure if that means I’ve changed or I’m just working for better people. Probably a bit of both.
Afterword: The Night Stalker
It sucks that the films are not available on Netflix. And when I bought the complete series many years ago, they weren’t included. It doesn’t make sense. But the two movies are available on a single disc. It’s worth checking out, The Night Stalker/The Night Strangler.
Update: Movies Online
I found the two movies online. I haven’t been sleeping well, so I watched The Night Strangler last night:
And I watched the original The Night Stalker early this morning:
What’s interesting is that they were both written by Richard Matheson, who really was a great writer.
But there are also various aspects of the plots worth note. One is that both of them have jokes related to The Front Page. Another is that Kolchak has a love interest in both. In fact, The Night Stalker ends in a very sad way regarding this. (Note: she doesn’t get killed or anything.) It was based upon Jeffery Grant Rice novel and so is a bit more serious. Kolchak has been fired at major dailies all over the nation and he is trying to make a comeback. He doesn’t.
The Night Strangler has more of the humor that the series had, which is very typical of Matheson’s writing. In fact, the ending is both surprising and quite pleasant compared to the very somber ending of the original.
Finally, they are very much products of the early 1970s. They have some sexism and fat shaming (Also: everyone is very white — they did a better job with that in the series.) But at the same time, they are mostly fairly positive in both respects. For example, almost all women work. For another, the fat characters are generally pretty happy with who they are. There was only one small part that really made me cringe.
Anyway, I recommend them.