DreadWorld RetroReview: Kolchak: The Night Stalker - Episode 2 - 'The Zombie'


Welcome back to the DreadWorld review of "Kolchak: The Night Stalker," a series so nice they named it twice. Last time on the premiere episode of Kolchak, irascible investigative reporter Carl Kolchak tracked a serial killer through the seedy underbelly of 1974 Chicago. That killers M.O. was eerily similar to that of the legendary Jack the Ripper, causing Kolchak to reach some interesting conclusions about the killer and the Ripper legend as a whole. This weeks episode deals with something a little more pungent than a well mannered British serial killer. Kolchak comes face to face with the undead in an episode simply titled: "The Zombie."



Chicago's mob underground is the thing of legend. In the Kolchak universe the stereotypical Italian mafioso is supported by a gang of African-American street thugs. It's these street thugs who act as the street level operatives for the large criminal syndicate that dominates the Chicago shadows. But something is haunting the syndicate. Someone or something has taken it upon themselves to enforce their own vigilante justice on the mafia. After several mid-level numbers runners turn up dead, Kolchak discovers that these murders aren't mob related, but are the result of something much more supernatural - a recently deceased former mafia member who has been resurrected with the sole purpose for extracting a pound of flesh in revenge for his death.

The titular zombie in this episode is of the voodoo kind, not the flesh eating, George Romero kind. Before Romero, this was the much more common use of the term "zombie" in cinema. Films like 1932's White Zombie and 1943's I Walked With a Zombie are early examples of voodoo or which doctor based zombie films. This would be the prevailing use of the "zombie" until Romero adopted the term as his own for his variety of undead. Examples of the "voodoo zombie" continued with films like Wes Cravens underrated The Serpent and The Rainbow. That part of the genre was eventually swallowed up by the Romero zombie to the point where if you ask the layman what a zombie was they would most certainly invoke the image of a limb dragging flesh eater than that of a singular resurrected person who mindlessly bends to the will of another.

That's what we have here though, the real "classic" zombie. Mamalois resurrects her zombie using a voodoo ritual, complete with requisite chicken blood, to take out her revenge on the mafia. Eventually, both the police captain and Kolchak himself run afoul of Mamalois and find themselves on her makeshift zombie hit list. It becomes a race against time, can Kolchak track down the zombie and return him to his grave - permanently, before he himself becomes the hunted.

"The Zombie" is a bit of a step down from the premiere episode of the series. While the story is okay, it seemed like a much bigger idea compressed into a 51 minute running time. It's a story that not only deals with the Chicago underground, it also deals with the undead, and Kolchaks attempts to circumnavigate both his boss and the Chicago PD. There is a lot going one here and the third act of the teleplay really feels compressed to fit the running time. Perhaps because of the attempted scope of the episode, some of the charm seems lost. It's not quite as quick witted or funny as the premiere and feels much lore like a run of the mill procedural.

David Chase, of "The Sopranos" fame gets an early writing credit on this episode, seemingly to smooth out the mob related scenes. He actually has quite a few writing credits later in the season, so it will be interesting to see his influence. Also appearing for one of her three episodes is Carol Ann Susi, who is famous to the kids these days as having something to do with "How I Met Your Mother" I think. But to those of us a little longer in the tooth, Carol Ann Susi was the girl George Costanza dated in order to continue his unemployment benefits on 'The Boyfriend' episode of "Seinfeld." So there's that...plus Huggy Bear! Well, not exactly, but you do get Antonio Fargas, playing essentially the same character here a couple of years before he would find fame as Huggy Bear on "Starsky and Hutch."

Episode 2 of "Kolchak" isn't quite as engaging as as the first episode, but it does contain a look at the fading "voodoo zombie" some fun appearances and another good performance from Darren McGavin. Is it enough to keep me going with the series? You'll have to wait to find out! (Hint: Yes).

That's it for me. As always, thanks for reading and "enjoy every sandwich."

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