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THE NIGHT STALKER

One of the most popular TV movies of the early 1970s, and still a witty and enjoyable, if extremely dated, film.

The Package
     This 1972 film, broadcast on ABC, received an amazing 33.2 rating and 54 share, making it the most widely viewed TV movie of its time.
     THE NIGHT STALKER was one of several TV movies scripted by the late Richard Matheson, and inspired a 1973 sequel, THE NIGHT STRANGLER, which in turn led to a 1974 TV series, KOLCHAK THE NIGHT STALKER. It was based on an unpublished short story by Jeffrey Grant Rice, although the filmís true inception was THE NORLISS TAPES, a previous TV movie directed by Dan Curtis, THE NIGHT STALKERíS producer--and a figure nearly as important to horror cinema as Matheson himself.

The Story
     Las Vegas: an attractive casino employee is attacked and murdered by an unseen intruder while waking home from work one night. Her corpse is later discovered drained of blood through two throat wounds. Shortly thereafter a young cocktail waitress is killed in a similar fashion, as is a third young woman.
     The eccentric detective Carl Kolchak investigates the murders. Upon learning that human saliva was found in the murdered womensí throat wounds Kolchak deduces that a vampire--or at least someone who thinks heís a vampire--is the culprit.
     The killer strikes again, and this time is witnessed in the act by the mother of the showgirl victim. That of course doesnít stop the killer from continuing his grisly business: he kills a womanís dog and beats up several hospital attendants while attempting to steal blood. The freak is seen by Kolchak and several cops, and identified as a 70-plus year old fugitive. This is followed by a second confrontation with cops during which the suspect is shot around 30 times yet still runs away. This leads to the greatest manhunt in Las Vegas history, and the authoritiesí grudging acknowledgment that Kolchak may be correct in his beliefs about vampirism.
     Kolchak eventually breaks into a scary old house where the murderer is currently staying. Inside he finds a captive woman and the killer everyone is searching for, who is indeed a vampire.

The Direction
     The direction by TV veteran John Llewellyn Moxey is stylish and streamlined, especially by TV movie standards, and boasts a couple impressive Hollywood-worthy action sequences. The film further benefits from a charismatic lead performance by Darren McGavin, whose laid back demeanor was never better utilized. The script by Richard Matheson is unfailingly witty and inventive (if excessively plot-driven) in its unprecedented (for the time) combination of detection and supernatural horror.
     I could have done without the DRAGNET-like voiceover narration, and also the dull wrap-up in which Kolchak learns of his fate. Thereís also the fact that this is an early seventies TV movie, meaning itís quite dated in terms of lighting, music, fashion and hairstyles.

 
Vital Statistics

THE NIGHT STALKER
American Broadcasting Companies

Director: John Llewellyn Moxey
Producer: Dan Curtis
Screenplay: Richard Matheson
Cinematography: Michael Hugo
Editing: Desmond Marquette
Cast: Darren McGavin, Carol Lynley, Simon Oakland, Ralph Meeker, Claude Akins, Charles McGraw, Kent Smith, Elisha Cook Jr., Stanley Adams, Larry Linville, Jordan Rhodes, Barry Atwater

     

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