Before Winning a Leg Lamp, Darren McGavin Chased After Vampires

I am loath to repost or repurpose when I start new countdowns or pen new treatises, but this one is rather fresh, I wrote it in late August, and there isn’t much new material I can add to it. This isn’t the first made-for-TV entry on this list and it won’t be the last. So, apologies for a bit of recycled material, but that doesn’t make this any less of a worthy entry in the countdown.

20. The Night Stalker – 1972

In 1972, Darren McGavin starred as gruff, intrepid Las Vegas reporter Carl Kolchak in The Night Stalker. I saw this with my dad sometime in the late 1970s on the Late Late Show on a Friday or a Saturday night. I remember it sticking with me for some reason and recently I had the occasion to watch the film again for the first time in more than four decades. I had forgotten how good it was.

Many of you may know McGavin as Ralphie’s father in 1983’s A Christmas Story. For that role, he will forever occupy a place in my heart. He was even better as Kolchak. As I watched The Night Stalker, I noticed several other actors you may be familiar with – Claude Akins (Sheriff Lobo), Simon Oakland (Psycho), Elisha Cook, Jr., (The Maltese Falcon), and Larry Linville (M*A*S*H* (TV show)).

As the story goes, young women are being stalked and murdered in Las Vegas and upon further examination, the victims have all been drained of blood. Kolchak, ever the pain in the ass reporter, starts to piece it together as the police ignore the evidence and the obvious. Our scribe starts to think that the killer is a maniac who is thinks he is a vampire. Kolchak’s girlfriend, Gail Foster played by Carol Lynley, puts it in his head that the killer just might be an actual vampire.

The teleplay was written by prolific horror and science fiction writer Richard Matheson of I Am Legend and Twilight Zone fame (among hundreds of other things). The Night Stalker was produced by none other than Dan Curtis.

In 1973, McGavin reprised his role as Kolchak in The Night Strangler. I’ll have to go back and watch this one again too. Once again, the teleplay was written by Matheson, but this time Curtis directed. An all-star cast appeared alongside McGavin – Jo Ann Pflug (M*A*S*H* (film)), John Carradine, Richard Anderson, (Six Million Dollar Man), Al Lewis (The Munsters), and Simon Oakland returned as Kolchak’s newspaper editor. Kolchak was run out of Las Vegas in The Night Stalker, so he now resides in Seattle.

From 1974-75, McGavin and Oakland teamed up again, this time for a 22-episode series called Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Kolchak has taken his writing and reporting skills to Chicago.

The Night Stalker series was a huge inspiration for The X-Files creator Chris Carter.

“I just loved it. Kolchak was a newspaper reporter who would go out and find vampires and come back and tell everybody, ‘Hey, I found vampires!’ and nobody would believe him,” Carter told the New York Daily News in 1998. “So 25 years go past, and all of a sudden I’m in the business 10 years and somebody finally asks me what I want to do . . . and I say: ‘I want to do something as scary as The Night Stalker. There’s nothing scary on TV.’ And that’s how The X-Files was born.”

Kolchak was tremendously influential and I for one am glad I rediscovered it.

31a./31b. Blacula/Scream Blacula Scream
30. The Lair of the White Worm
29. Son of Dracula
28. Vampire Circus
27. Innocent Blood

26. The Hunger
25. Countess Dracula
24. Dracula
23. Count Dracula
22. The Vampire Lovers

21. Dracula’s Daughter

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