The year was 1972. New York’s Pierre Hotel robbery was executed and the space probe Mariner 9 began its study of Mars after a dust storm finally settled in the planet’s atmosphere. Some of you perhaps recollect the defusing of bombs that had been placed in safe-deposit boxes in 3 different states that were set to explode a month after they were found. However, on Tuesday, January 11th of that year, a made-for-television movie set a precedent that many TV flicks have failed to exemplify or emulate since then.
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The Night Stalker was based on a novel written by Jeffery Grant Rice that was originally called The Kolchak Papers. Rice found it troublesome to persuade a company to publish. Finally, a literary agent with MCA inc., Rick Ray, enjoyed the manuscript to the point where he felt the novel would make a good film. The American Broadcasting Company, or ABC, purchased the rights to the book, tapped Richard Matheson (who wrote the 1954 horror novel, I Am Legend) to begin the writing the teleplay, and production commenced soon after.
As the film opens, you are introduced to newspaper reporter Carl Kolchak as he plays a tape recording that prefaces the film as “a story behind one of the greatest manhunts in history”. Either this signifies that Kolchak will be commentating through narration of past events or is delirious after an evening indulgence of barbiturates with Elvis Presley. The latter is plausible. The film is set in 70’s Las Vegas.
The first victim, Cheryl Hughes, is consumed by the evil that stalked the darkness of the famed resort town in the Mojave Desert. Her cause of death is noted as “unofficially undetermined”. The medical examiners amongst themselves see there is no evidence of dependent lividity– also known as livor mortis, a natural occurrence after our pulse stops that settles the red blood cells in the lower part of the body. Since this had not happened, the only explanation would be that the blood was exhumed or taken out of the body.
At the time, The Night Stalker became the highest rated original movie on ABC programming by receiving a 33.2 rating and a 54 share. Meaning, out of all the TV-equipped homes, 33.2 % tuned in, and out of all the homes with a television on or in use, 54 % were watching. Unheard for a TV movie. Also unheard of would be myself enjoying a TV movie. Sure you have slight elements of suspect acting and editing, but for what it’s worth, you will enjoy this film. If not, Barry Atwater’s ghost will seek where you hide and feed you pigeons and steroids.
Many who have seen the film were inspired. Most notably was Chris Carter; a writer, producer, director, gold prospector, etc. He enjoyed the film in his childhood and it continued to inspire him into his adult life. He created a show for FOX in the early nineties that was on for nine seasons. The show was recently revived on the original network. My memory fails me of the name but it’s central content deals with agents and aliens. American Dad might be it; wait, that’s incorrect. Where’s Colonel Tom Parker when you need him?