Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-5), episodes #13-#16

Episode 13: Primal Scream

Aired January 17 1975

US / 51 minutes / color / Francy, Universal, ABC Dir: Robert Scheerer Pr: Cy Chermak Scr: Bill S. Ballinger, David Chase Cine: Ronald W. Browne Cast: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, John Marley, Pat Harrington, Katharine Woodville, Jamie Farr, Jack Grinnage, Barbara Rhoades, Jeanie Bell, Lindsay Workman, Regis Cordic, Byron Morrow, Vince Howard, Sandra Gould.

After a month away at a science conference, Dr. Jules Kopernik (uncredited), biologist at the Oceanic International Oil Corporation, returns one night to his lab, where he’s promptly torn to pieces by an ape man. Spunky investigative journalist Carl Kolchak (McGavin) pursues the story of what seems at first to be “merely” a particularly gruesome murder. It’s only when the Oceanic International Oil Corporation, notably in the persons of VP Thomas J. Kitzmiller (Harrington) and his secretary (Rhoades), start giving him the runaround that his suspicions are aroused.

Pat Harrington Jr. as Thomas J. Kitzmiller.

He tracks Kopernik’s colleague, Dr. Helen Lynch (Woodville), to the hospital where she’s recuperating from a car accident, and learns that Kopernik had been investigating Arctic ice cores. He’d found cells that “were millions of years old. And when we thawed them they started to exhibit biological function.” And then, during the two scientists’ absence from the lab, the cooling system for the cold chamber in which they’d stored the cells broke down . . .

Katharine Woodville as Dr. Helen Lynch.

As the bodies pile up, the cops pretend the murders are the work of a gorilla, or gorillas, but Kolchak, typically, knows better.

Jeanie Bell as victim Rosetta Mason.

Jamie Farr as palaeontologist Jack “Bones” Burton.

Jamie Farr has a nice cameo as long-suffering academic palaeontologist Jack “Bones” Burton, whose expertise Kolchak consults. John Marley plays this episode’s obstructive cop, Captain Molnar. Although it’s actually quite well written and put together, the episode suffers from the fact that its plot is beyond absurdity: an assemblage of cells will not develop—or evolve—into a sapient creature in a matter of weeks.

John Marley as Captain Morlar.

Episode 14: The Trevi Collection

Aired January 24 1975

US / 51 minutes / color / Francy, Universal, ABC Dir: Don Weis Pr: Cy Chermak Scr: Rudolph Borchert Cine: Ronald W. Browne Cast: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Nina Foch, Marvin Miller, Bernard Kopell, Lara Parker, Jack Grinnage, Ruth McDevitt, Richard Bakalyn (i.e., Richard Bakalyan), Doug Fowley (i.e., Douglas Fowley), Priscilla Morrill, Henry Brandon, Henry Slate, Peter Leeds, Beverly Gill, Dennis McCarthy, Diane Quick (i.e., Diana Quick).

During a presentation of the new haute couture Trevi Collection, a spy, small-time crook Mickey Paček (Leeds), tries to photograph Madame Trevi’s new designs; the next he knows, he’s being defenestrated by a group of animated fashion mannequins. Investigative journalist Carl Kolchak (McGavin), probing corruption in the fashion industry—and like the rest of the world knowing nothing of the mannequins—initially believes this is just another mob-related murder.

Nina Foch as Madame Trevi.

But other deaths are less easy to explain, notably that of the model Melody Sedgewick (Gill), scalded to death when her shower door refuses to release her and the water grows ever hotter.

Beverley Gill as Melody Sedgewick.

At the heart of it all, explains Kolchak’s mole within the house of Trevi, gushing young model Madelaine (Parker), is witchcraft: Madame Trevi (Foch) is a practitioner of the dark arts!

Lara Parker as Madelaine.

Marvin Miller has fun as a bumptious author on the occult whom Kolchak consults; Richard Bakalyn and Henry Slate have a brief moment of glory as two enforcers sent out by the organization to threaten Kolchak; but really the show is stolen by Lara Parker, who, unlike her character, makes the most of the part she’s been given.

Marvin Miller as the author.

Episode 15: Chopper

Aired January 31 1975

US / 51 minutes / color / Francy, Universal, ABC Dir: Bruce Kessler Pr: Cy Chermak Scr: Steve Fisher, David Chase Story: Robert Zemeckis, Bob Gale Cine: Ronald W. Browne Cast: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Larry Linville, Arthur Metrano, Sharon Farrell, Frank Aletter, Jay Robinson, Jesse White, Jim Backus, Jack Grinnage, Ruth McDevitt, Steve Franken, Joey Aresco, Jimmy Murphy, Jack Bernardi, Jim Malinda, Brunetta Barnett.

An old cemetery in Chicago has to be cleared—no, not an ancient Indian burial ground (one horror-movie cliché the series’ scripters somehow missed out on), just a common or garden old cemetery—and the carefully catalogued remains are put into storage. Alas, a trivial accident separates the head from the body of Harold “Swordman” Baker, a member of the Bishops biker gang who was decapitated in a prank gone wrong by leaders of the rival Jokers gang.

Frank Aletter as taxi dispatcher Norm Kahill.

As is well known to folklore (although new to me), when corpses are isolated from their heads the relevant spirits cannot rest until restitution is achieved. Accordingly, the spirit of Harold returns to this mortal plane, reclaims Harold’s old motorbike, and, sword in hand, starts riding around Chicago beheading the ageing bikers who killed him twenty years ago.

Larry Linville as Captain Jonas.

First to go is Joe Morton (uncredited), now a respectable cabby but in his day a leading member of the Jokers: as volatile boss cop Captain Jonas (Linville) tells journalist Carl Kolchak, “In 1956 alone Morton was busted nine times.” The Headless Bikeman’s next attempt is on Henry “Studs” Spake (Metrano), erstwhile leader of the Jokers and now, longer in the tooth, running the Devil’s Advocates biker gang. The dead cabby’s sister-in-law, Coral (uncredited), loses her head in a darkened street; then the ghost rider, on the second try, gets Studs, the decapitation this time being witnessed by Kolchak. Harold’s widow, Lila (Farrell), is by now naturally enough growing nervous . . .

Sharon Farrell as grieving widow Lila Morton.

This has perhaps the most interesting premise of any in the series, in that it has some decent supportive backstory; talking of story, it’s worth noting the identity of the co-author of the story upon which the scripters based this screenplay—a personage who’d go on to greater things. There’s nothing overtly wrong with the screenplay itself, yet the overall impression of the episode is that its makers are desperate, struggling to keep the series afloat. Part of this is down to bad acting on the part of, notably, Farrell; a far larger part is down to the halfheartedness of the effort put into creating the figure of the Headless Rider—it’s exceptionally obvious that either (a) this is a man wearing a superstructure or (b) the dead biker had extraordinarily short legs or an extraordinarily long torso. My money’s on (a).

Arthur Metrano as Henry ‘Studs’ Spake.

There are certain superficial similarities between the character here and the figure of Ghost Rider, developed in various Marvel Comics stories from 1972 onward; “superficial” is the adjective of choice, because the similarities are hardly even skin deep. However, they’re probably enough to obviate any remake of a story that’s crying out to be remade.

Steve Franken as mortuary attendant Neil.

Steve Franken, a second cousin to Senator Al Franken, plays a corruptible mortuary attendant whom Kolchak bribes for information—it’s essentially, although done with a bit more flair, the same part that John Fiedler played as Gordy Spangler in episodes 2 and 3.

Jim Backus as motorbike dealer Herb Bresson.

And there’s a fun performance by Jim Backus in a small role as motorbike dealer Herb Bresson. I’d hitherto known Backus primarily for his voice work (he offered us a classic Mr. Magoo, for example), so it was a delight for me to see the man himself in action.

Harold Baker — together again.

Episode 16: Demon in Lace

Aired February 7 1975

US / 51 minutes / color / Francy, Universal, ABC Dir: Don Weis Pr: Cy Chermak Scr: Stephen Lord, Michael Kozoll, David Chase Story: Stephen Lord Cine: Ronald W. Browne Cast: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Keenan Wynn, Jackie Vernon, Kristina Holland, Carolyn Jones, Andrew Prine, Jack Grinnage, Ruth McDevitt, Carmen Zapata, Maria Grimm, Ben Masters, Milton Parsons, John Elrick (i.e., John Elerick), Davis Roberts, Donald Mantooth, Hunter von Leer, Margaret Impert, Iris Edwards, Steve Stafford.

Iris Edwards as the possessed body of junkie Marlene Frank, the first manifestation we see of the succubus . . .

. . . and what Marlene looks like soon after.

On the campus of Illinois State Technical College, the corpses of sports jocks are being discovered apparently scared to death, with, nearby, the bodies of young women they were clearly embracing but who in fact died earlier and elsewhere. Guessing (correctly) that the explanation’s not a necrophilia fad on campus, investigative journalist Carl Kolchak (McGavin) follows the clues and his reporterly instincts to the Sumerian stele being painstakingly translated by archaeologist C. Evan Spate (Prine).

Andrew Prine as archaeologist C. Evan Spate.

It seems there’s a succubus on the loose, a female demon who (at least according to this screenplay) revivifies and possesses beautiful dead women in order to seduce men. Trouble is, at the moment of seduction she reverts into hideous form . . .

Milton Parsons as demonologist and magazine salesman Dr. Salem Mozart.

Keenan Wynn reprises his role as irascible cop Captain Joe “Mad Dog” Siska from episode 9. Milton Parsons has a nice cameo as a theologian who doubles as a magazine salesman. And there’s a very entertaining turn indeed from Kristina Holland as adenoidal college journalist Rosalind Winters, who tries to inveigle herself into being Kolchak’s sidekick—or vice versa.

Kristina Holland as student journalist Rosalind Winters.

Sometimes we wonder about Kolchak’s research techniques. Here he has to pester assorted academics to try to find out what a succubus is . . . rather than simply looking the word up in the dictionary.

Maria Grimm as Maria Vanegas, the last woman to be possessed by the succubus.

4 thoughts on “Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-5), episodes #13-#16

    • Welcome, Salome. I noticed on Twitter that you’re busily editing a book, so I’m not surprised you’ve been a bit quiet around the blogosphere. I hope that’s going well.

      Glad you’re enjoying Kolchak!

  1. Pingback: #113 Kolchak, the Night Stalker | Wonders in the Dark

  2. Pingback: Kolchak: The Night Stalker — tying it all together | Noirish

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