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THE NIGHT STALKER
THE NIGHT STRANGLER

I am sure there are those who will look upon the release of two made for television movies on DVD as insignificant, but many horror fans are certain to claim the release of THE NIGHT STALKER and THE NIGHT STRANGLER ($30) as one of the major DVD releases of the year.

There are those who assert that THE NIGHT STALKER served as the inspiration for THE X-FILES because both use a documentary style to depict supernatural events occurring in the real world. Perhaps it is that connection to THE X-FILES that got Anchor Bay Entertainment interested in THE NIGHT STALKER. Whatever the reason, THE NIGHT STALKER is a horror genre classic that stands upon its own two feet and actually set a ratings record when it was originally broadcast back in 1971. THE NIGHT STALKER also serves as the film that introduced horror fans to a character that has become an icon. Darren McGavin stars as Carl Kolchak, a tabloid newspaper reporter with the tenacity of a pit bull and the social skills of an orangutan. Once upon a time, Kolchak was a star reporter who worked in the big leagues. However, Kolchak’s personality managed to get him bounced from every single newspaper in every major city in America. That’s how Kolchak ended up working in Las Vegas, looking for that one big story certain to put him back on the "A" list. 

Kolchak does find his big story, but it turns out to be unlike anything he ever expected. Kolchak is handed a "several days old" story concerning the murder of a young woman. At first, he balks at being given something so old it could hardly be considered "news", that is, until other victims turn up- all completely drained of blood. Looking for an angle, Kolchak is the first to put forth the notion that the killer may be a lunatic who thinks he’s a vampire. The authorities didn’t like Kolchak to begin with, and his suppositions about the killer don’t help matters. Undeterred, Kolchak continues investigating the story. As the evidence and killings mount, it becomes clear the murderer isn’t a lunatic, but a real vampire. There are three things that set THE NIGHT STALKER apart from most made for television movies. First is the screenplay by Richard Matheson. Matheson’s love for the horror genre is evident in his literate and funny script that contained well-drawn characters. Second is the outstanding direction by John Llewellyn Moxey. Moxey’s pacing is right on the money and he stages the suspense scenes to maximum effect. Third and most important to the success of THE NIGHT STALKER is its cast. Darren McGavin is amazing as Carl Kolchak. Kolchak has all the charm of pond scum, yet McGavin makes him a likable underdog that audiences feel compelled to root for. Also, McGavin has an amazing chemistry with Simon Oakland who plays his editor Tony Vincenzo. The two characters mix like oil and water and their verbal sparring matches are hilarious. Perhaps that is why Vincenzo was the only character to appear into the second film and short lived television series. The cast of THE NIGHT STALKER also features Carol Lynley, Ralph Meeker, Claude Akins, Charles McGraw, Barry Atwater, Kent Smith, Larry Linville, Elisha Cook, Jr. and Stanley Adams.

Wow was all I can say when I saw the Anchor Bay edition of THE NIGHT STALKER. I’ve seen the movie on television about twenty times and I’ve seen the old Fox Laserdisc, both pale in comparison to this release. Color reproduction on the DVD is a revelation. Instead of the washed out hues that I’ve grown accustomed to over the years, colors are vibrant and natural looking. The sky really is blue and flesh tones are terrific; you can even make out the freckles on Darren McGavin’s face in the bright sunlight. Anchor Bay has also upped the ante in the resolution department. Image quality is great. We can finally see the details usually lost in the shadows, or as the packaging so delightfully puts it "see all the wrinkles in Kolchak’s suit for the first time!" The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack is clean and crisp with Bob Cobert’s highly recognizable music sounding better than I’ve ever heard it.

Thanks to Anchor Bay, THE NIGHT STRANGLER appears on home video for the first time. This follow-up to THE NIGHT STALKER finds a "down on his luck" Carl Kolchak in Seattle where he is still trying to peddle his account of the events that transpired in the first film. Tony Vincenzo, now the editor for a Seattle newspaper, tries to make amends by offering Kolchak a job. With no other options, Kolchak takes the position and finds himself assigned to the story of a strangled exotic dancer. Kolchak covers the story, but uncovers lurid details covered by no other reporter. First there is the fact that there was the residue of rotted flesh found on the neck of the victim. Second, the throat of the victim was completely crushed, as if by someone of inordinate strength. These additional details don’t please Vincenzo, who sees shades of Las Vegas coming back to haunt him. 

As the body count rises, Kolchak continues investigating the story with the newspaper’s chief researcher (Wally Cox in his final performance) uncovering evidence that similar murders have occurred every twenty-one years since the civil war era. Kolchak confers with a college professor (Margaret Hamilton) whose expertise in the occult leads her to determine that the killer could be an alchemist trying to perfect an elixir of youth. Additional research into the past killings points Kolchak to the identity of the killer, as well as his hiding place in Seattle’s underground city. Like its predecessor, THE NIGHT STRANGLER is head and shoulders above standard television fare. Richard Matheson’s screenplay contains sharply drawn characters and even more humor than the first entry. Dan Curtis takes over the directorial duties and does a good job setting up the suspense. Darren McGavin continues his winning ways as Kolchak, plus the chemistry between him and Vincenzo is even better honed in the second outing. The cast of THE NIGHT STRANGLER also features Jo Ann Pflug who gives a fresh and funny performance, horror icon John Carradine, Richard Anderson, Scott Brady and Al Lewis.

THE NIGHT STRANGLER looks great on DVD. The image is crisp and detailed. Everything shot on soundstages is very clean looking; however, some nighttime location sequences do exhibit some grain. Colors are pretty fresh looking and offer reasonable saturation. Compression artifacts were well concealed on both films. The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack is clear and precise. The double feature offers each film on a single side of the double-sided DVD. The interactive menus have just a hint of animation and offer scene access. The one negligible flaw I detected on this DVD was the fact that the time elapsed feature did not function on my DVD player.

Anchor Bay Entertainment should be applauded for bringing THE NIGHT STALKER and THE NIGHT STRANGLER to DVD. THE NIGHT STALKER looks better than I ever remember seeing it, plus THE NIGHT STRANGLER is long overdue making its video debut. Absolutely recommended to horror fans.

 
THE NIGHT STALKER / THE NIGHT STRANGLER 


  The Night Stalker / The Night Strangler

 


DVD reviews are Copyright 1998 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.


 

 

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