Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) returns in The Night Strangler (1973), a follow-up
TV-movie to the previous year’s unexpectedly successful The Night Stalker. Kolchak has been booted out of Las Vegas and
settles in Seattle and teams up with his old boss Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland)
just as a string of suspicious murders begin to plague the metropolis. It comes
to his attention that the victims, young female exotic dancers, are turning up
dead after having had their necks crushed, drained
of a small amount of blood, and most disturbingly all had instances of rotting
flesh on their necks. The murders occur over a period of 18 days.
a researcher, Carl learns that a nearly identical series of killings took place
in 1952 (21 years earlier) for the same duration, and then 21 years prior to
that, all the way back to at least 1889 (this notion was exploited to horrific
effect in Stephen King’s masterful 1986 novel, It, wherein a malevolent creature appears every 27 years under the
guise of Pennywise the Dancing Clown and goes on a murder spree to remain alive).
The police want Kolchak to cease his own investigation and temporarily arrest
him so that he won’t print anything that will alarm the public.
later uncovers information that leads him to a surgeon who was stationed on the
Union Army side of the Civil War and the “Underground City” of Seattle figures
into this surprising revelation of the identity of the man who is attempting to
remain immortal over the millennia. It’s a really cool idea in theory, although
in practice the sequence drags on a bit longer than it should.
The Night Strangler, shot in July of 1972 and aired on
January 16, 1973, follows Kolchak and his aggravated boss as they bicker, yell,
and disagree on what the facts are. The producers of the original film figured
that if the public liked the original so much, they may as well give them
something similar the second time around, and that’s just what they got. Robert
Cobert returns to provide a spooky and playful score and Richard Matheson is on
board again helming the teleplay. Sitting in the director’s chair this time
around is Dan Curtis, the creator of Dark
Shadows, the long-running TV horror series as well as its two theatrical
films from the early 1970s. He went on to direct what is widely considered to
be one of the scariest TV movies of all-time, Trilogy of Terror (1975), and the theatrical film of Robert Marasco’s
Burnt Offerings (1976), an equally
frightening thriller. He does a fine job building suspense and keeping the
streets of Seattle lit like a film noir,
although the film suffers a bit from its extended running time with sequences wherein
Kolchak enlists the help of a lady friend (JoAnne Pflug) walking the streets in
the middle of the night to entrap the killer, or later when he roams the
streets of the “Underground City” searching for the killer. Why is it that
whenever women start being killed off, others feel the need to walk home alone
on deserted streets?
Lorber has released the film in a 4K restoration and the film looks like it was
just shot. In addition to this, there are some great new extras:
commentary with Tim Lucas – Mr. Lucas provided the wonderful commentary on this
film’s predecessor and he does the same here. He has been writing about movies
for well over 35 years. I first read his articles in Video Times Magazine in
the mid-1980’s and published Video Watchdog magazine from 1990 to 2018. He has
done some terrific commentaries in the past for Mario Bava’s work among many
others, and he does the same here. One thing viewers will notice is that this
second Kolchak outing runs 90 minutes as opposed to the first film’s 74 minutes.
This is due to the fact that the original TV version, which also ran 74
minutes, is considered lost, and this 90-minute cut is actually the theatrical
version that was released in Europe, something that was also done with Steven
Spielberg’s 1971 TV-movie Duel. That
telecast also received a theatrical release here in the States in April 1983
and it’s the 90-minute cut of that film that audiences know today.
is also a high definition, ten-minute 2018 interview with music composer Robert
Cobert who is an absolute delight to listen to. This is the same interview that
appears on the Blu-ray of The Night
Stalker. At nearly 94 years of age he describes how he comes up with music
as he watches the rough cut and also discusses the stressful deadlines he was
handed to compose and conduct the score simply because he was the last person
brought in on the project. I have loved his music since I saw Burnt Offerings on television in 1981
and he has a signature sound. If you can find it, this CD has some of his best work.
is a standard definition interview with producer Dan Curtis that was shot
around 2003/2004 (he passed away in 2006) that runs seven and-a-half minutes
wherein he talks about how wonderful and fun it was to make these films, and I
really got a sense from him that he meant what he said when he reminisced about
the good old days.
is also a trailer for Burnt Offerings
(1976); a limited edition booklet essay by film critic and author Simon Abrams;
and beautiful new artwork by artist Sean Phillips.
also nice to have subtitles for a change and I’m happy to report that Kino
Lorber has provided those on this release, too. Let’s hope that they continue
this practice I with their future releases.