DreadWorld RetroReview: Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode 1 - 'Ripper'




"Kolchak: The Night Stalker," haven't heard of it? Well if you frequent this site then you certainly should have. Along with "The Twilight Zone" and the "Outer Limits," "Kolchak" is one of the grande dames if you will of horror/sci-fi programming. While certainly not as enduring as the other two properties, "Kolchak" carved out a pretty sizable chunk of the public conscious during its brief run (there was even a reboot starring Stuart Townsend - but the less said about that the better.) You can see Carl Kolchaks reflections in shows like The X-Files, Fringe, Supernatural, even the Buffy Wheedenverse.

So where do we begin? "Kolchak" began as a duo of made for television films. Will there be reviews of said films on the DW? Who knows if I am even going to finish reviewing the show ("Hemlock Grove" anyone?) Those films stood as the jumping off point for the television series. The series ran for one season - 1974/75 to be exact before disappearing into the ether. Star Darren McGavin would go on to fame in A Christmas Story and Billy Madison before passing away in 2006, but not after appearing on one of the shows he helped influence, "The X-Files." He guest starred in two episodes of the show as a Kolchak-like character who ran the FBI's X-Files division long before our beloved Mulder and Scully.

Episode 1, simply titled "Ripper" takes the traditional story of English serial Killer Jack the Ripper and transports it to 1973 Chicago. Intrepid reporter Carl Kolchak finds himself relegated to embarrassing desk duty after becoming a little too aggressive in dealing with the good folks at the Chicago PD. Kolchak, used to being "johnny on the spot" for the paper at all the juiciest crime scenes has been assigned the duty of answering the droves of inane letters written to the paper. In his stead the uptight, Ron Updyke business reporter has taken been given Kolchaks duties - and at the worst time too!

There is a serial killer on the loose in the Windy City. But this isn't just your run of the mill serial killer, no this one hearkens back to a more civilized age. The cape wearing killer invokes the image of the famous Jack the Ripper, but something leads Kolchak, who quickly abandons his desk duties, to think that here is something more sinister at work than just a copycat serial killer.

Written by Rudolph Borchert (a stalwart of late 70's/early 80's television writing ) the premiere episode of Kolchak has a timeless quality to it. Despite being a television show that's over 40 years old, the dialogue still rings true. The episode is great example of the authenticity Borchert was able to bring even the smallest speaking rolls. Salacious for it's time, it's clear the network wasn't comfortable with the "prostitution aspect for the original "Ripper" killings, so Borchert seamlessly transfers the violence to the massage parlors that dotted the urban landscape of Chicago in the early 70's.

I mentioned the influence that Kolchak had over the horror/sci-fi shows that followed it, in particular Chris Carter and his creation  - "The X-Files." Well one doesn't need to go very far to find Carter "borrowing" themes from Kolchak. One of the theories that Kolchak forms about the murders is that the killer is indeed the very same Jack the Ripper who terrorized London back in the 1800's. Kolchak believes whatever the ripper really is, he appears every so often to kill a certain number of victims before disappearing, only to reappear years later, in a different location to commence another killing spree. Sounds a little like the modus operandi of Eugene Victor Tooms no?

The first episode of "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" is a creepy, fun, good time. It seems a bit edgy for early 1970's prime time television, but this was before the "Family Viewing Hour" was instituted so perhaps not. If you are a fan of shows like "The X-Files" and "Supernatural" and are looking for something to fill a certain void in your life, you could certainly do worse than the first episode of Kolchak.

That's it for me. Again, I'm not sure how many of these I will do, but as always - Thanks for reading, and "Enjoy Every Sandwich."

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