IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE NIGHT STALKER (1972)

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Night_Stalker_poster

“This nut thinks he’s a vampire!”

So says reporter Carl Kolchak to his editor Tony Vincenzo, as he tries to convince him to publish his story.

THE NIGHT STALKER (1972) is not only one of the best horror movies from the 1970s, it’s also one of the best horror movies period.

Even more impressive, it was a made-for-TV movie, which isn’t surprising for the early 1970s, as that part of the decade was a great time for made-for-TV horror movies. Films like THE NORLISS TAPES (1973), GARGOYLES (1972), and TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975) were all made-for-TV shockers.

The best of the lot was THE NIGHT STALKER.

THE NIGHT STALKER starred Darren McGavin in the role that most of us consider to be his signature role, the inexorable reporter Carl Kolchak.

This movie earned such high ratings when it premiered on television on January 11, 1972 that in a largely unprecedented move, it was released theatrically after it played on TV because the film was that popular. Amazing.

And it really is a superior horror movie, which is no surprise since it was produced by Dan Curtis, the man behind the Dark Shadows phenomenon. It’s also an incredibly lean production, as it clocks in at just 74 minutes. There isn’t an ounce of fat on this baby.

THE NIGHT STALKER boasts a fantastic script, and you would expect no less since it was written by Richard Matheson, based on an unpublished novel by Jeff Rice. The legendary Matheson wrote a ton of movies and so it would be difficult to call THE NIGHT STALKER his best screenplay, but I will say that for me, it’s probably my favorite Matheson screenplay.

In 1972 Las Vegas, young women are being murdered, their bodies drained of blood. The authorities want this information kept out of the news to avoid a panic, but reporter Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) sees this story as his ticket back to the big time, as he’s been fired from one major newspaper after another, due to his in-your-face abrasive style.

Kolchak’s efforts come much to the chagrin of his hard-nosed irritable editor, Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland) who has a love/hate relationship with his reporter.  Kolchak describes his boss in a voice-over, “Rumor has it that the day Anthony Albert Vincenzo was born, his father left town. The story may be apocryphal, but I believe it. The only point I wonder about is why his mother didn’t leave too.”

Vincenzo recognizes that Kolchak is a top-notch reporter but grows increasingly frustrated that he can’t control him. Their verbal exchanges are some of the liveliest parts of the movie.

The vampire, Janos Skorzeny (Barry Atwater) possesses superhuman strength and performs such feats as hurling doctors through windows, tossing police officers about like twigs and outrunning police cars. He’s a type of vampire seldom seen in the movies, and to 1972 audiences he made for a violent shocking killer.  He’s quite scary.

The film does a nice job building to the inevitable climax where Kolchak finally tracks down Skorzeny.

Carl Kolchak was a perfect role for Darren McGavin and it’s no surprise he’s most known for the part. What I’ve always liked about Kolchak in THE NIGHT STALKER is unlike other heroes in vampire movies, Kolchak knew absolutely nothing about vampires.  For him, it was just a story, and at first, he didn’t even think it was a real vampire until he saw with his own eyes the vampire in action. He then researches the supernatural, and before you know it, he’s the one who’s telling the police about crosses and wooden stakes through the heart.

The vampire scenes in THE NIGHT STALKER are second to none.  Barry Atwater makes for a chilling vampire, hissing and dashing in and out of the shadows a la Christopher Lee, and like Lee in some of his Dracula portrayals, Atwater has no dialogue. In fact, Atwater’s performance as Skorzeny is even more visceral and violent than Lee’s Dracula. The success of THE NIGHT STALKER also influenced Hammer Films to make their next Dracula movie, DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972) as a modern-day vampire tale set in 1970s London rather than the usual 1890s period piece. THE NIGHT STALKER is the superior film, by far.

The film enjoys a fine supporting cast, led by Carol Lynley as Kolchak’s girlfriend Gail Foster. There’s Claude Akins as the aptly named Sheriff Butcher, who also butchers the English language. During one press conference, he yells at Kolchak saying the reporter is there by the “mutual suffrage of us all,” to which Kolchak quickly corrects him, “it’s sufferance, sheriff.””

The cast also features Kent Smith as D.A. Paine, Ralph Meeker as Kolchak’s friend and FBI contact Bernie Jenks, and Elisha Cook, Jr. as another of Kolchak’s sources, Mickey Crawford.

The best supporting performance though belongs to Simon Oakland as Tony Vincenzo. Oakland would reprise the role in both the sequel THE NIGHT STRANGLER (1973) and the subsequent NIGHT STALKER TV series.

Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey, THE NIGHT STALKER is a quick efficient thriller with enough chills and thrills for a movie twice its length. The early scenes chronicling the violent attacks on women in Las Vegas are scary and unsettling, and thanks to Richard Matheson’s superior script, the story moves forward with nearly every scene as the suspense continues to grow..

Moxey worked mostly in television, and he directed other genre TV movies as well.  He also directed the little seen Christopher Lee horror movie CIRCUS OF FEAR (1966), also known as PSYCHO-CIRCUS, a West German/UK co-production, and Moxey directed the English language version.

But the biggest reason, of course, to see THE NIGHT STALKER is Darren McGavin’s performance as reporter Carl Kolchak. Kolchak is a man who isn’t afraid to ruffle feathers or get into the faces of the authorities in order to tell the truth.  That’s part of the attraction of the character.  That he’s fighting through the lies of the establishment.  As he says in another voice-over, “Sherman Duffy of the New York Herald once said, ‘A newspaperman is the loneliest guy on earth. Socially he ranks somewhere between a hooker and a bartender. Spiritually he stands with Galileo, because he knows the world is round.'”

McGavin would play Kolchak again in the sequel THE NIGHT STRANGLER and in the NIGHT STALKER TV series (1974-75), which sadly lasted only one season.

He also gets the last lines in the movie, as he speaks into his tape recorder and concludes, “So think about it and try to tell yourself wherever you may be in the quiet of your home, in the safety of your bed, try to tell yourself, it couldn’t happen here.”

—END—

 

 

 

 

 

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MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES: THE NIGHT STALKER (1972)

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Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak in THE NIGHT STALKER.

Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak in THE NIGHT STALKER.

MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES: THE NIGHT STALKER (1972)
By
Michael Arruda

Today we look at memorable quotes from one of my favorite horror movies from the 1970s, THE NIGHT STALKER (1972) starring Darren McGavin in the role that most of us consider to be his signature role, the inexorable reporter Carl Kolchak.
This movie is so good it’s easy to forget that it was a made-for-TV movie. In fact, it earned such high ratings when it premiered on television on January 11, 1972 that in a largely unprecedented move, it was released theatrically after it played on TV because the film was that popular. Amazing.

And it really is a superior horror movie, which is no surprise since it was produced by Dan Curtis, the man behind the Dark Shadows phenomenon. The other thing to remember is that this was a time, the early 1970s, when a plethora of quality made-for-TV horror movies were being released to the television-viewing public. THE NIGHT STALKER is probably the best of the lot.

It’s also an incredibly lean production, as it clocks in at just 74 minutes. There isn’t an ounce of fat on this baby.

Not only is this movie about a superhuman vampire on the loose in modern day Las Vegas terrifying, but it also introduced the character of Carl Kolchak to the world, a character Darren McGavin would reprise in a sequel THE NIGHT STRANGLER 1973) and then in the weekly TV series The Night Stalker which sadly only lasted one season.

THE NIGHT STALKER boasts a fantastic script, and you would expect no less since it was written by Richard Matheson, based on an unpublished novel by Jeff Rice. The legendary Matheson wrote a ton of movies and so it would be difficult to call THE NIGHT STALKER his best screenplay, but I will say that for me, it’s probably my favorite screenplay that Matheson wrote.

As you would expect, then, this movie is chock-full of memorable quotes. Let’s get right to them, a look at some notable dialogue from THE NIGHT STALKER, screenplay by Richard Matheson:

Some of the best dialogue in the movie comes from scenes where reporter Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) argues with his editor boss Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland), as Kolchak is constantly trying to print stories that a vampire is on the loose in Las Vegas, while Vincenzo, under pressure from the local authorities, is doing his best to quash them.

Let’s listen:

KOLCHAK: Did I say it was a vampire?

VINCENZO: What does your suggested headline say?

KOLCHAK: The story makes it clear.

VINCENZO (reading): “Vampire killer in Las Vegas, question mark.” Do I misread?

KOLCHAK: The story makes it clear!

VINCENZO: Did I misread or did you use the word “vampire”?

KOLCHAK: Some screwball who imagines he’s a vampire is loose in Las Vegas, and the people ought to be told.

VINCENZO: If there’s a screwball running around loose in Las Vegas, his last name begins with a K!

And later:

KOLCHAK: What do you want, Vincenzo? A testimonial from Count Dracula?

VINCENZO: Out! Get out!

KOLCHAK: What is this out, out, get out game we play? This nut thinks he’s a vampire! He’s killed four, maybe five women! He has drained every drop of blood from every one of them! Now that is news, Vincezo. News! And we are a newspaper! We’re supposed to print news, not suppress it!

THE NIGHT STALKER also does an amazing job early on building up a sense of unease and eeriness before the brutal vampire actually makes his appearance, as in this scene where the police find another dead body. The body is lying in a sandy pit, far away from where the struggle seems to have taken place, and there are no footprints leading towards the body other than those belonging to the police. Of course, Kolchak is right alongside the police here.

POLICE OFFICER: This girl lost a lot of blood, Sheriff, but she didn’t lose it here.

SHERIFF BUTCHER: (calling to other officers): Anything?

OFFICER #2 (in the distance): We found a purse! There’s signs of a struggle up here!

SHERIFF BUTCHER: But nothing in between. Only our footprints.

KOLCHAK: What’d he do? Throw her?

There are also several neat exchanges between Kolchak and the authorities, such as in this scene where the coroner makes his report to the police and district attorney, and to the press:

CORONER: We found the death in each case was extremely swift, coming in something like less than a minute. After the initial wounds were inflicted, the blood was drained very quickly, some kind of suction device being used. Now this would explain why no blood was found anywhere in the victims or in the areas where they were discovered.

KOLCHAK: Doctor— Kolchak, Daily News. Do you have any idea what could have made these wounds?

CORONER: They’re not unlike the bite of a medium-sized dog.

SHERIFF: What do you mean, dog?

DISTRICT ATTORNEY: What? Dog, dog! What are you telling us? A dog did these murders?

CORONER: I didn’t mean to indicate that the wounds were actually inflicted by a dog, only that they’re similar to those which might be caused by a dog. A rather interesting point is we found another substance mixed in with the traces of blood in the throat wounds, namely saliva.

SHERIFF: What do you mean, saliva?

CORONER: I mean saliva, Sheriff Butcher. Human saliva.

DISTRICT ATTORNEY: What do you mean “human”? Are you suggesting that each of these women were bitten in the throat by a man?

CORONER: At present, the evidence points that way. However I couldn’t and wouldn’t hazard a guess as to motivation. I could only be sure they each died from shock, induced by massive loss of blood.

KOLCHAK: Is it possible that he killed these women by biting them in the throat for the express purpose of drinking their blood?

SHERIFF: Kolchak, now you’re here by the mutual suffrage of us all!

KOLCHAK: It’s sufferance.

SHERIFF: What?

KOLCHAK: It’s sufferance, sheriff.

SHERIFF: Whatever it is! Just shut up!

And later:

KOLCHAK: Now, I was at the hospital yesterday, and a lot of things were happening that you just simply cannot explain away. Sheriff, your own men shot at him, some at point blank range. How come it didn’t even slow him down? How come a man over 70 years old can outrun a police car? How come this same man when slugged in the head doesn’t even bleed?

How come, indeed! If you haven’t seen THE NIGHT STALKER, you’re missing one of the best horror movies of all time. Check it out!

Don’t believe me? Well, don’t take my word for it. Listen to Kolchak himself as he speaks into his cassette recorder, telling the story of THE NIGHT STALKER:

KOLCHAK: Judge for yourself its believability and then try to tell yourself, wherever you may be, it couldn’t happen here.

Thanks for reading!
—Michael

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: DRACULA (1974)

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DanCurtisDraculaHere’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, published in this month’s HWA Newsletter, on the Dan Curtis made-for-television shocker DRACULA (1974).

—Michael

 IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

BY

MICHAEL ARRUDA

Dan Curtis, the man behind the original “Dark Shadows” TV show, and THE NIGHT STALKER (1972), the film that introduced Carl Kolchak to the world, and a bunch of other above average TV horror movies from the 1970s, including TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975), produced and directed today’s movie, DRACULA (1974), a made-for-television retelling of the Bram Stoker tale with Jack Palance cast as the King of the Undead, Dracula.

My first memory of DRACULA was not a good one.  It was 1973, and I was nine years old.  I had aggressively lobbied my parents to let me stay up to watch the new DRACULA movie that had been advertised all week, and to my delight, they said yes!  Unfortunately, Richard Nixon also chose that night to announce to the nation in an hour long news conference covered by all three networks that he had selected Gerald Ford as his new Vice President.  In doing so, he pre-empted the showing of DRACULA.  My plans had been thwarted.  But I got the last laugh, as DRACULA was finally shown a few months later (thus the 1974 release date), and well, we all know what happened to Tricky Dick.

DRACULA is a decent enough movie, although it’s nowhere near as good as Curtis’ prior vampire efforts, THE NIGHT STALKER and “Dark Shadows.”  My favorite part of this movie is that it looks and plays like a Hammer Film, only not as good.

In fact, DRACULA shares some similarities with Hammer’s HORROR OF DRACULA (1958).  As in HORROR OF DRACULA, the character of Renfield is noticeably absent, and Van Helsing is portrayed once again as a medical doctor instead of the old professor from the novel.  We also don’t see Dracula change into a bat.

One difference between DRACULA and HORROR OF DRACULA—and Stoker’s novel as well— is the beefier role for Arthur Holmwood (Simon Ward.)  Perhaps this was because Simon Ward was an up and coming star, and they wanted to give him plenty of screen time.

DRACULA boasts a decent enough cast, but unfortunately no one really stands out.

You’d think Jack Palance with his experience playing villains in the movies would have made an excellent Dracula, but he really doesn’t. One reason for this is the script emphasizes the romantic element, as we find Dracula in love with Lucy (Fiona Lewis) as she is the splitting image of his long lost love.  So, we get to see some romantic flashbacks with Palance and his love, and I don’t know about you, but I just don’t see Palance as the leading man type.  He’s much more the straight villain, and unfortunately, he doesn’t really get the opportunity to be all that evil in this one.  He fared much better in the evil department when he played Mr. Hyde in THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE (1968).

When he’s allowed to be angry, Palance is very good as Dracula.  However, there’s a difference between anger and evil, and strangely, in this film, Palance doesn’t do evil all that well.  There’s something lacking in his performance, and it’s almost as if Palance, Curtis, and screenwriter Richard Matheson were trying to make Dracula more human and less supernatural.  It makes one appreciate just how good Christopher Lee was as Dracula.  Lee has always been able to capture the essence of evil in his performances as the Prince of Darkness.

Speaking of Christopher Lee, in 1974 producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman wanted Jack Palance to play the villain in their latest James Bond movie, THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN (1974), but Palance had to turn them down because he was contracted to do DRACULA.  So Broccoli and Saltzman were forced to look elsewhere.  The part of villainous hit man Scaramanga eventually went to Christopher Lee.  So, you might say Lee could thank Dracula for landing him a role in a James Bond movie.

Simon Ward makes for a decent Arthur Holmwood, although I liked him better as Karl, the young doctor blackmailed by Peter Cushing’s evil Baron Frankenstein into helping the Baron transplant people’s brains in the superior Hammer shocker FRANKENSTEIN MUST BE DESTROYED (1969).

The rest of the cast is rather blah.  Nigel Davenport is OK as Van Helsing, but compared to Peter Cushing, he’s rather dull.  And neither Fiona Lewis as Lucy or Penelope Horner as Mina makes for very effective heroines.  Murray Brown is wooden as Jonathan Harker.

I do like the direction by Dan Curtis.  DRACULA is probably the best looking “Hammer Film that’s not really a Hammer Film” ever made!  From beginning to end, it looks and plays like a Hammer Dracula movie.  While Curtis crafts plenty of good looking scenes, taking full advantage of the color red throughout, unfortunately one thing he forgot to do was make this one scary.  DRACULA doesn’t come close to being as effective, memorable, or as flat out frightening as Curtis’ earlier hit THE NIGHT STALKER.

There’s a neat scene where Dracula shows off his superior strength when he’s confronted by a group of men.  Drac goes into action star mode and makes short work of these guys.  The film could have used more scenes like this.

The screenplay by Richard Matheson does include a neat bit from the novel which before then hadn’t really made it into any of the movies, where Van Helsing hypnotizes Mina and is able to tap into her psychic connection with Dracula in order to gain insight into his thoughts.  It’s through this process that they are able to learn of Dracula’s plans to return to his castle.

However, the script does a lousy job with Mina and Lucy.  Lucy is supposed to be Dracula’s great love in this movie, but she’s killed off with a stake in the heart early on, and so that love affair goes nowhere, and Mina isn’t the strong heroine she is in the novel.  Her part is greatly reduced here.

And again, while Jack Palance isn’t bad as Dracula, he’s not great either.  He lacks Christopher Lee’s ability to personify evil, and he’s certainly not the romantic lead we’d find in Frank Langella as Dracula five years later in the 1979 John Badham film.

DRACULA is a mediocre film version of Bram Stoker’s iconic novel.  It’s beautifully photographed and it features a decent performance by Jack Palance as the Count, but the rest of the cast isn’t up to snuff.  It ultimately plays like “Hammer Lite.”

Dracula should have sharpened his fangs for this one.

It could have used more bite.

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