Film Review: The Night Stalker (1972)

The Night Stalker, which is available on DVD with its immediate sequel The Night Strangler, is an enjoyable 70s’ period piece that blends elements of supernatural horror and the detective story. Although nostalgia buffs will perhaps most enjoy it, the genre-blending may interest contemporary horror fans as well.

The Night Stalker’s original claim to fame was that it earned record ratings for a television movie when it was first aired on ABC. In retrospect it is perhaps best known for inspiring the short-loved cult television series Kolchak: The Night Stalker (itself the basis for a 2005 reboot starring Stuart Townshend).

The original film features Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak, who is a burned-out reporter worker in Las Vegas at a daily newspaper. He narrates the story, which follows his attempts to cover a series of murders in which women have been drained of blood. Pressure from the authorities to play down the more sensationalistic aspects of the crimes hinder Kolchak as he bickers with his editor Anthony Vincenzo (a superb performance by Simon Oakland). Kolchak, aided by FBI agent Bernie Fain (veteran actor Ralph Meeker) eventually comes to the conclusion that a real vampire is on the loose.

Model/actress Carol Lynley provides a nice counterweight as Kolchak’s girlfriend, who works as a prostitute. She manages to be grounded and flighty at the same time.

Barry Atwater is well-cast as the villain, Janos Skorzeny. He is naturally menacing in a way that renders excessive make up redundant.

The acting, stunts and dialogue are uniformly good throughout the film, which plays effectively for relative realism. The film’s dry approach may seem boring to some viewers and it seems dated at times, but it still builds up to some solid scares for those willing to work with it.

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