DirectorJohn Llewellyn Moxey
Release Date(s)1972 (October 2, 2018)
Studio(s)ABC Television Productions (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A
Made for ABC television in 1972, The Night Stalker was written by Richard Matheson based The Kolchak Papers by Jeff Rice. Filmed in California in 12 days on a budget of $450,000, it stars Darren McGavin (A Christmas Story) as Carl Kolchak, a loud, arrogant newspaper reporter frequently locking horns with editor Vincenzo (Simon Oakland). Kolchak is assigned to investigate a series of murders in Las Vegas in which the victims, all young showgirls, are drained of their blood.
Kolchak probes, puts together clues, and follows leads, but the police try to keep him away from the case. When he suggests the murderer is a vampire, the mayor, police chief and his editor think he’s crazy. They think the killer is a psychopathic serial killer and regard his theory as sensationalistic nonsense. The editor never prints his story fearing it will needlessly alarm the public, but Kolchak, now obsessed with solving the mystery, sets out alone one night to the home of Janos Skorzeny (Barry Atwater), a man he suspects of being the murderer.
McGavin turns in an energetic performance as Kolchak, his intensity giving the movie a driving force and adding moments of humor. His performance as headstrong, grouchy Kolchak is the heart of the movie and the main reason the film works so well. Because Kolchak hopes getting a huge story will propel him back into the big time in New York City, there’s a lot at stake.
The supporting cast includes Carol Lynley, Claude Akins, Kent Smith, Ralph Meeker, Elisha Cook, Jr., Charles McGraw, and Larry Linville.
Writer Matheson incorporates lots of vampiric lore into the movie: a vampire must rest by day, needs human blood to survive, fears the crucifix, possesses enormous strength, and is impervious to bullets. Because this is a TV movie, there isn’t the usual excessive blood and gore associated with vampire flicks. The Night Stalker was so successful that it led to a second made-for-TV movie, The Night Strangler, in 1973 and a TV series in 1974.
The new Blu-ray restoration was mastered from a recent 4K film scan and has improved the film’s visual quality considerably from TV prints and the 2004 DVD release. Audio has a good balance of dialogue, sound effects, and music, but is recorded on the low side. Aspect ratio is 1.33:1. The unrated film runs 74 minutes. Optional English subtitles are available.
Bonus materials include audio commentary by film historian Tim Lucas; new interview with director John Llewellyn Moxey; new interview with composer Bob Cobert; interview with director Dan Curtis; special edition booklet; a Burnt Offerings trailer; and newly commissioned cover art.
Audio Commentary – Lucas mentions that the film was shot in Las Vegas and at the Goldwyn Studios in Los Angeles. Providing a “snapshot of America in 1972,” the movie was made when Richard Nixon was president, hippies were in vogue, and Vietnam was headline news. Brief bios of the actors are provided as well as background on Jeff Rice, author of The Kolchak Papers. The depiction of the vampire is discussed, especially the vampire’s great strength, an attribute that first appeared in 1943’s Son of Dracula and continued in the Christopher Lee Dracula movies. Influences from earlier vampire movies are noted. The final credits, featuring brief cuts of key film moments along with the actor’s character and real name, were a way to present a cinematic “curtain call.”
Director Interview – John Llewellyn Moxey describes his experience directing both British and American TV shows. Starting as an assistant director, he was aware of every crew member’s job and was able to work harmoniously with them. He had limited time with Richard Matheson, but noted that the script was excellent, Darren McGavin was thoroughly prepared, and the set was smooth functioning. Producer Dan Curtis wasn’t happy with all of his choices, but was delighted with the finished product.
Composer Interview – Robert Cobert, now 94, provides lively reminiscences of his work on The Night Stalker. He made the decision to open the movie without music, which didn’t please the network people. He hated the tough deadlines he was forced to work under, since the composer is the last person to work on the film. His theory of film composing: “You look at the pictures and then compose.”
Dan Curtis Interview – Curtis had done two Dark Shadows features for MGM when Barry Diller sent him The Night Stalker script. He loved it, had a testy relationship with Matheson, hired Moxey because he liked his previous TV work, and had Darren McGavin in mind for the lead from the outset. He speaks about the overwhelming response to the film at an industry screening and compares the ease of making a movie for TV back in the 1970s to the complexity of making one today.
Booklet – The 8-page booklet contains an essay by film critic/author Simon Abrams, color production photos from the film, and a cast and crew list.
- Dennis Seuling