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THE NIGHT STRANGLER

The sequel to 1972’s legendary TV movie THE NIGHT STALKER by that film’s principals: lead actor Darren McGavin, screenwriter Richard Matheson and producer Dan Curtis, who this time around also directed. This explains why the film, while not as strong as its predecessor, is fairly good.

The Package
     THE NIGHT STRANGLER first aired in the U.S. on January 16, 1973 on ABC, with ratings nearly as high as those of its predecessor. It naturally led to a 1974 TV series, KOLCHAK THE NIGHT STALKER, with which neither Richard Matheson or Dan Curtis were involved. As for THE NIGHT STRANGLER, it was padded out to 90 minutes (from its initial 74 minute running time) for theatrical release in Europe, and it’s that version that is currently available (together with THE NIGHT STALKER) on DVD.

The Story
     Having been thrown out of Las Vegas following the staking of a vampire serial killer, the eccentric criminal investigator Carl Kolchak relocates to Seattle. Here he meets up with his old supervisor and investigates the killing of a young woman bearing an odd puncture wound at the base of her skull. Decayed flesh residue is discovered near the wound, suggesting that the woman was killed by a dead man.
     A visit to an archivist leads Kolchak to the revelation that a series of stranglings identical to the current one occurred in the area back in 1952. Before he can fully investigate these killings another occurs in the present, once again committed by a seeming dead man. Further research uncovers yet another series of similar strangling deaths in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.
     Following a confrontation with the killer and further murders, Kolchak comes to suspect that the culprit is an undead alchemist who needs blood for his experiments. His superiors don’t give Kolchak’s findings any credence, yet he doggedly continues his investigation.
     He decides to investigate the hidden city underneath Seattle. In this eerie subterranean realm Kolchak discovers a cobweb-lined, skeleton-ridden house where he makes a most fortuitous discovery…

The Direction
     Dan Curtis directs this film with a lively and energetic hand. The proceedings are fast moving for the most part, although the pacing slows down considerably in the climactic scenes (where it seems most of the padding for the theatrical version was utilized). The film is also quite picturesque, nicely utilizing the scenery of seventies-era Seattle and its (actual) underground city.
     Richard Matheson’s script contains all the wit and imagination we’ve come to expect from his work, but suffers from the fact that it follows the perimeters of THE NIGHT STALKER a bit too rigidly, down to the superiors who are always trying to stymie Kolchak’s efforts (even though he was already proven right in the first film), mock hardboiled narration and open-ended finale that sees a discredited Kolchak leaving town.
     The other major player is Darren McGavin, who fully inhabits the eccentric Kolchak, and is nicely supported by veterans like Margaret Hamilton (a.k.a. the Wicked Witch), John Carradine and “Grandpa” Al Lewis.

 
Vital Statistics

THE NIGHT STRANGLER
American Broadcasting Companies

Director/Producer: Dan Curtis
Screenplay: Richard Matheson
Cinematography: Robert Hauser
Editing: Folmar Blangsted
Cast: Darren McGavin, Jo Ann Pflug, Simon Oakland, Scott Brady, Wally Cox, Margaret Hamilton, John Carradine, Al Lewis, Nina Wayne, Virginia Peters, Kate Murtagh, Richard Anderson  

     

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