A Different Time

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Good Christ it’s Friday, and I have caffeinated myself to what I suspect may be hazardous levels. My heart is hammering, my palms are sweaty, tingly currents of energy dance up and down my CNS, but on the plus side I can see ultraviolet and the spirits of the damned so I guess I can’t really complain.

I love old niche/B-movie stuff. Hellraiser IIDune, the Alien Autopsy documentary that Jonathan Frakes narrated in the middling ’90’s – these things are very dear to me. I just found a new one.

The other night I booted up Netflix and, despairing, opted to roll the dice on something called Kolchack: The Night Stalker. I’d heard something about it somewhere, and had the vaguest of notions that it was related to the The X-Files, but that was pretty much it. The Netflix title card (which I am inserting below) gave me precisely zero information to go on. If I’d had to guess, I would have said it was a show about a lawyer who moonlights as a cat burglar, or possibly a used car salesman cum vigilante.

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Your guess is as good as mine.

Wrong, on both counts. Very, very wrong. And personally, I blame Netflix for advertising this program with such a wildly misleading image, because the fact of the matter is that the show actually looks like this:

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Awesome image credit to JoeJusko

Kolchak: The Night Stalker originally aired on ABC in 1974. I do not know how this was allowed to happen (in 1974), but thank fuck it did. Kolchak is awesome.

Carl Kolchak (played by the exceptional Darren McGavin, who may be familiar to certain among us) is a fast talking, frumpled-suit wearing wire service reporter in Chicago, and for reasons that are never addressed directly, he keeps running afoul of werewolves, zombies, vampires, fat girls, and Jack the Ripper. You may have noticed that one of those things is not like the others – more on that in a minute.

The show’s basic structure will be familiar to X-Files fans, for indeed Chris Carter has cited Kolchak as being the primary inspiration for Mulder and Scully’s adventures. 1974 is a little bit early for cold-opens as we know them now, but one way or another our hero discovers that there has been a strange murder and sets out to investigate. Armed only with wit, gumption, and a Polaroid camera, Carl Kolchak goes out into the night to discover what manner of nefarious beastie is preying on the fair folk of Chicago. His motive for doing so is ostensibly that he wants the story, though I do not believe any of his fantastical tales are ever printed in black and white. The first episode ends with Kolchak at his desk, rereading the first draft of his news report on the immortal demon Jack the Ripper. Kolchak tears the paper out of his typewriter and chuckles to himself. “Aw, hell. Who would believe it?” he says to no one in particular, as he crumples the sheet of paper up and tosses it over his shoulder. Roll credits.

Now – onto the fat girl bit from earlier. In addition to being gloriously campy, Kolchak: The Night Stalker is also very much of its time. That, or one of the writers just had a bad breakup and wanted to take it out on somebody.  Cue voiceover:

Jane Plumm was fat. She talks a lot about water retention and big bones, but I have to believe that the six or eight meals a day with snacks in between to keep up her strength has a lot to do with it.

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(On the left. I know, I was confused too)

The scene immediately following that one has the both of them sitting down at a diner where Mz Plumm orders a totally implausible quantity of food. Episode 2 revolves around voodoo, and while its treatment of Haitians really isn’t as bad as I would have expected given the above-quoted dialogue, it would still be enough to get the showrunner dragged out and publicly beaten to death were Kolchak airing today.

It doesn’t bug me, really. The more impolitic parts of the show are entirely too preposterous to take seriously. For example, Wikipedia offers brief synopses of some unproduced episodes. Regarding a script called Eve of Terror:

The story is summed up by Kolchak’s opening narration: “What if I told you that a deranged feminist murdered a Casanova lab technician, a sex goddess, and her purveyor?”

“Deranged feminist”. I think that’s funny, a little bit like watching Forbidden Planet today, in an age where most middle-schoolers understand in broad strokes the iron-clad limitations on space travel imposed by relativity.

So check out Kolchak: The Night Stalker. I’m having fun with it.

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