I was seven years old in 1972. Back then, if your parents were going to their friends’ house for the evening and couldn’t get a sitter, you were taken along, rolled into the corner and told to amuse yourself. If any of the adults even noticed you were breathing- you. were. in. trouble. This was my sister and my situation one evening when we found ourselves in front of a big color TV. Color was pretty new so we were glued to it. A brand new made for TV movie was beginning. It was called The Night Stalker.
At seven, I was already a veteran of WGN’s Creature Features, so I figured I could handle it. My nine year old sister was in too, and all the adults were turning their attention to the screen. I was used to Bela and Boris and Lon Jr. and all their spookiness, but this was to be a new experience. This was a modern day vampire story. Modern day meant this could happen today, and the vampire, Janos Skorzeny, didn’t speak with marbles in his mouth and wear a dinner jacket. This vampire was tall and thin, hissed and growled, had big black eyes surrounded by red, and could throw police officers around like rag dolls. Bela and Boris are my all-time favorites, but they had more in common with Count Chocula and Frankenberry than they did with Janos Skorzeny.
Enter Carl Kolchak. A wise guy reporter working in Las Vegas after having been fired from big-city newspapers all over the country. Carl wears a light blue suit with white gym shoes and a Blues Brothers hat made out of straw. Of course he is assigned to the story of a murdered young woman. The body of the victim has lost a lot of blood, but other than that fact, the story isn’t too interesting. But then there is another body, and another.
Why should we believe that this wise guy in a cheap suit and straw hat can hunt down such a formidable monster? Because he is masterfully played by Darren McGavin. And in spite of all his oddities, he is a terrific reporter and unusually brave. While watching Kolchak track the vampire, more than once, the viewer will say to himself, I don’t believe I’d have done that… Kolchak eventually becomes convinced he is after a real vampire and begins getting resistance from his boss and the local authorities. The body count rises, the cat and mouse game continues, and it all ends in a showdown in a haunted house. What more can you ask for?
The movie doesn’t feel at all like it’s made for TV, and still holds up today. The pacing is perfect. A couple scares to get things rolling and pull you in, then you get a look at Janos Skorzeny and things begin to get uncomfortable. The scares become… well scarier, and closer together, the tension rises and finally the grand finale comes in a spook house I wouldn’t spent the night in for anything. I won’t give away the ending, buts let’s just say Kolchak probably regrets going in, and Janos Skorzeny isn’t going down as easily as Bela did.
Barry Atwater is the very very scary vampire and the acting is terrific all around. The story, filming and anxious, unsettling musical score are all first rate. One interesting note is that we really don’t know who The Night Stalker is… is it the vampire, hunting his victims and drinking their blood? Or is it the reporter, relentlessly following the clues, tracking the vampire?
My sister and I survived the night, but I probably didn’t sleep well for a couple weeks – especially since my bedroom was in the basement. If somehow this one has slipped past you, I recommend it highly- a must for any horror fan. It truly is scary, and what better thing can I say? And after you watch it, wherever you are, make sure you tell yourself… it couldn’t happen here.