Kolchak: The Night Stalker

Wayne State Univ. Aug. 2022. 107p. ISBN 9780814349045. pap. $19.99. TV
In his straw hat and seersucker suit, reporter Carl Kolchak (played by Darren McGavin) solved a series of vampire murders in ABC’s hit 1972 TV movie The Night Stalker. After a successful sequel (The Night Strangler), a spinoff TV series was a sure bet. However, the 1974 series ran a mere 22 episodes—cut short due to dismal ratings and a dispirited lead actor. Phillips’s (communication and rhetorical studies, Syracuse Univ.; Projected Fears: Horror Films and American Culture) scholarly overview tracks the origins of a cult classic and traces its DNA to landmark shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The X-Files, and Supernatural. He sets the stage by contextualizing horror cinema in the early 1970s, where auteurs upped the brutality seen in Hitchcock’s Psycho and refused to guarantee closure. Phillips argues that the era’s political turmoil amplified the role of the investigative journalist, Kolchak’s chosen profession. The stage was set, but the serial format struggled with a limited budget and restrictive network standards and practices. Ultimately, the monster-of-the-week format led to diminishing returns. The Night Stalker series was ultimately canceled in 1975, but Phillips’s book demonstrates not only the resilience of the Kolchak character but also the resonance of the show’s concept.
VERDICT Phillips presents an accessible analysis of a cult classic TV series that continues to spawn horror favorites.
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