The horror television movies still occur likely not the frequency of those in the 70s and 80s, but they still have groans for some and others fond memories, like this one from producer Dan Curtis, yes the man who created the long running and very impactful gothic vampire soap opera Dark Shadows. As the reader might know instead of solely focusing on the latest episodes of tv-series, here at The Horror Times, we dive into past for those forgotten treasures of the television movies, needing a fresher discovery. Hence, it was January 11, 1972 on ABC, that wanted filler for their production schedule nothing more, but lightning struck broadly, and led to reruns of the movie, as demand increased so did the viewing audiences. A story-line of an ‘average guy’ reporter for a little newspaper playing detective on the hunt of a vampire, and outwitting the police who tried to pin the deeds on everyone but this legendary infamous creature. Director John Llewellyn Moxey (Psycho-Circus ), used a screenplay from Richard Matheson (adapting the story from an unpublished book by Jeffrey Grant Rice), and made a scant 75-minute piece of art. The success of it formed a relationship between Matheson and Curtis to created numerous other projects, it helped a short-lived television series Kolchak: The Night Stalker. One needs to note that some might dismiss this television movie, however it went on to influence many in the horror genre and the lead character is often portrayed by cosplayers at horror conventions.
An interesting subtext on the vampire in cinema is that it significantly started changing in the 70s, and Dan Curtis noticed it, the earlier concept of Dracula for example, was a nobleman, one of wealth, hence capes, thick accents, stylishly dressed, i.e. Bela Lugosi in Dracula  and the films of Hammer studios starring Christopher Lee (Count Dracula ). However, by the 1970s the classism was dying out, Curtis carefully and cautiously updated the look of the vampire slowly, yet kept the Gothic Mansions settings for the bloodsucker, as a result so did the rest of cinema begin to follow in lock-n-step with the change. The first Count Yorga, Vampire (1970) with tiniest of changes, more to this brides than the lead, but moving the needle significantly Martin (1976) and Salem’s Lot (1979); clarification was needed to other 1979 blood drinking films Love at First Bite, which is a comedy and Dracula starring Frank Langella is a period piece and Nosferatu the Vampyre is a remake of the 1922 silent classic Nosferatu. Ever since then the vampire creature has become much more modernized in all facets of culture and showing the creature needed to adapt for survivability.
Remember this isn’t a full scale Hollywood film, it’s a relatively small production where we follow Kolchak (Darren McGavin (Something Evil )), who often does voice overs to convey his intentions and move along the story with action occurring the screen. He’s a crime reporter for the local Daily News in Las Vegas, and per his assignment from his editor Vincenzo (Simon Oakland (Psycho )), to cover the murder of a casino employee, likely thinking is an ex-boyfriend or better yet mob-related story. However Kolchak discovers by asking his informants, namely a casino worker friend Gail Foster (Carol Lynley (Howling VI: The Freaks )) as he digs deeper another corpse appears and Micky (Elisha Cook Jr. (House on Hunted Hill )). As does Sherriff Butcher (Claude Akins (Where Evil Live )) who doesn’t think very much of Kolchak’s theories that it’s a vampire at work and does his editor, dismissing the claims and conclusions fantasy-land pipedreams. That’s where the plot works, with believable dialogue, raise voices, bombastic yells, because no one would have stock in something so bizarre. The dead mount with more ghastly bite marks, Kolchak talks to more insiders such as Bernie Jenks (Ralph Meeler (Without Warning )), who works in law enforcement gives insights to meetings that have a close door policy to him. At a coroner’s inquest Dr. Makurji (Larry Linville, most known at the time of film for his role M*A*S*H), reveals the bites have human salvia outraging everyone in attendance. It’s great to see Kent Smith’s (Cat People ) portrayal of D.A. Paine, a slimy politician done exquisitely well, quickly despises by all, yet cherish watching him. The vampire portrayed by Janos (Barry Atwater), who sadly isn’t given any actual lines, so he’s limited to actions and grunts, nevertheless does a wonderful physical performance. All in all, the mayhem occurs and so does camp especially when Kolchak presents the concept of giving police officers stakes and crucifixes.
While the movie takes place in Las Vegas, the production staff and cast were amazing of how oblivious the gamblers were to the events occurring around them, including having a vampire in full costume walk by them and didn’t pay him any attention. There’s quite a bit of stunt work conducted, fast car chases and crashes to motorcycles action sequences, a thrill of reckless wild abandonment, while Curtis called triusted composer, Bob Cobert, from his Dark Shadows television series days to Night of Dark Shadows (1971) for an upbeat score to work a vampire in Vegas. Meanwhile McGavin plays his role extremely well, a swagger of a hard-nose reporter who wears a cheap hat and suit, his image carried over to a recent character done in homage to him found the flick Tales of Frankenstein (2018).
The film takes a unique position in conceptual design of how a modern day vampire would function in society and police officers to his existence, it contains sharp quips and well-written story that brings a fun entertainment for 75-minutes. The charisma, attitude and even weird style of Kolchak that makes the story work during the era and placement in television horror cinema, especially since the movie, led to another one called The Night Strangler (1974) and finally a short-lived series entitled Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-1975); which led to even shorter revival series in 2005.
IMDb Rating: 7.7/10
Baron’s Rating: 8.0/10
Here’s the full movie, remember its grainy, from the 70s and free.
The Night Strangler (1973) (TV Movie)
Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974) (TV Series)
The Norliss Tapes (1973) (TV Movie)