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STALKER boasts a fantastic script, and you would expect no less since it was written by Richard Matheson, based on an unpublished novel by Jeff Rice.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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PICTURE OF THE DAY: THE NIGHT STALKER (1972)

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The superhuman vampire Janos Skorzeny (Barry Atwater) attacks reporter Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) in THE NIGHT STALKER (1972)

The superhuman vampire Janos Skorzeny (Barry Atwater) attacks reporter Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) in THE NIGHT STALKER (1972)

PICTURE OF THE DAY:  THE NIGHT STALKER (1972)

Here’s a still from one of the all-time best vampire movies, THE NIGHT STALKER (1972), starring Darren McGavin as reporter Carl Kolchak, and Barry Atwater as Janos Skorzeny, the superhuman vampire terrorizing the streets of 1970s Las Vegas.  Both actors are pictured here, in a scene from the film’s exciting conclusion.

I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating:  it’s easy to forget based on the quality of this movie that it was originally a made-for-TV movie.  It was actually released to theaters after it had premiered on television.  That’s how popular it was!

It has an ultra-tight script by Richard Matheson, spot on direction by John Llewellyn Moxey, and a topnotch cast led by Darren McGavin in the role which would become his signature role.  McGavin would reprise the role in the sequel, THE NIGHT STRANGLER (1973) and again in the weekly television series THE NIGHT STALKER (1974).  Also in the cast is Simon Oakland as Kolchak’s tormented editor Vincenzo, and Carol Lynley as Kolchak’s girlfriend Gail Foster.

THE NIGHT STALKER is quite the scary little film (it clocks in at a swift 74 minutes) and it remains frightening throughout, saving some of its most chilling sequences for its ending, part of which is pictured here.

Kolchak has received a lead on where the vampire lives, and while searching the house he discovers one of the missing women tied to a bed with an intravenous needle pumped into her arm, as Skorzeny (dig that name!  One of the all-time best movie vampire names:  Janos Skorzeny!) is keeping her prisoner to serve as his own private blood bank.

Kolchak attempts to release the woman, but Skorzeny returns, trapping Kolchak inside.  In today’s Picture of the Day, we see Kolchak defending himself from Skorzeny with a crucifix.

Barry Atwater only played a vampire once, in this movie, but he’s so damned scary. It’s a shame he never returned for a NIGHT STALKER sequel.

Darren McGavin did return of course, taking on a supernatural strangler in THE NIGHT STRANGLER, and all sorts of ghouls and monsters in the short-lived TV series THE NIGHT STALKER.

But the best of the lot is this first film, THE NIGHT STALKER.

The other fun thing about THE NIGHT STALKER is that there aren’t too many movie vampires like Janos Skorzeny.  He’s rather unique when you think about it, as he possesses supernatural physical strength not often seen in a movie vampire.  He fights off a dozen police officers at one point, outruns a police car in another, and pushes away a police motorcycle like it’s made of paper.

But of course the best part of THE NIGHT STALKER, really, is Darren McGavin’s performance as Carl Kolchak. There’s a reason he’s remembered most for this role.

THE NIGHT STALKER is one of the scariest vampire movies ever made, and it’s still as powerful today as it was back in 1972.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

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