Terror lurks in the dark streets of Las Vegas and investigative reporter Carl Kolchak is there with his camera and tape recorder in The Night Stalker. Darren McGavin headlines this classic creeper about a reporter on the trail of a vampire - or someone pretending to be one. It's classic movie-of-the-week television that spawned a sequel and an unfortunately short-lived television series. Kino Lorber brings the film to Blu-ray in time for the Halloween season with a solid A/V presentation and a bundle of decent bonus features. Recommended.
"This will be the last time I discuss these events with anyone."
From New York to Chicago, Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) has made a name for himself pressing buttons and sticking his nose where it doesn't belong. That's why he's out in Las Vegas working for the last paper willing to hire him. When a series of baffling murders where women turn up drained of blood starts, his instincts kick in. Much to the anguish of his editor Vincenzo (Simon Oakland), Kolchak begins irritating the Sheriff (Claude Akins), the Chief (Charles McGraw), and the D.A. (Kent Smith) as he digs for the truth. Unfortunately for Kolchak, the truth may well be a Vampire - or at least someone with a penchant for drinking the blood of his victims.
I've had a long love for McGavin's reporter Kolchak. There's something about Darren McGavin's frenetic persona that brings real charm to the character. Unfortunately for me, my discovery of McGavin's dedicated reporter of the supernatural was born of extreme pain. Growing up I had chronic migraine headaches and they'd frequently keep me awake all hours of the night. Those sleepless hours lead to a lot of channel surfing which fatefully dropped me to reruns of the T.V. series Kolchak: The Night Stalker. I didn't get to enjoy the episodes in order and I didn't get to start with this original television movie, but it was a comfort when I had a head full of pain.
Through the years I was able to eventually catch up with all the episodes of the shows and the two T.V. movies. For me, the whole package is great entertainment. As I watched through The Night Stalker again for the first time in a couple of years I couldn't help but shake the wish that it wasn't just this film and its sequel The Night Strangler - but the entire series Kino was bringing Blu-ray. The films are fun on their own, but you've got to dig into the show once those movies are run through.
As it sits, The Night Stalker is just good old fashioned made for T.V. movie entertainment. Written by Richard Matheson and Jeff Rice, produced by Dan Curtis, and directed by John Llewellyn Moxey, the film plays with a lot of genres. It's part serial killer thriller, it's part classic detective movie, it's part horror show - and there is plenty of light comedy to keep the whole thing balanced. It's creepy without being terrifying. It's funny without being too silly or dopey. And impressively enough it's able to do a lot on a slim budget while also keeping to classic vampire lore.
The pitch-perfect casting of Darren McGavin in the lead drives the film while the supporting cast of Claude Akins, Kent Smith, and Charles McGraw holds up the procedural side of things. That said, the best dialogue exchanges come from the interplay between McGavin and his editor played by Simon Oakland. While these bits could be considered a solid slab of movie cliche today, Oakland's progressive exacerbation gives the film a bit of levity. There's good reason he followed McGavin onto the television series.
As we get to the chilly season, make sure you carve out some time to spin The Night Stalker. But don't stop there, head right into a double feature with The Night Strangler. While Stalker is the better of the two films, they're both wildly entertaining and worth the time you give them - especially now as you can watch them without obnoxious commercials interrupting the flow of the show.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The Night Stranger drinks the Blu-ray blood thanks to Kino Lorber Studio Classics. Pressed onto a Region A BD-25 disc, the disc is housed in a standard sturdy Blu-ray case with identical slipcover artwork. The disc loads directly to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options. Also included is a booklet containing an essay by Simon Abrams.
Reportedly sourced from a new 4K restoration, The Night Stalker lands on Blu-ray with an often striking - but not quite picture-perfect - transfer. After watching this film several times on television and a few outings on DVD, I'm very pleased with the image quality here. From the outset, detail clarity is first-rate. Facial features, clothing - all are on display. The image is relatively clean with only some occasional speckling. Grain is present but never intrusive and provides a nice film-like quality to the show. Primaries are strong with reds given particular prominence without pushing flesh tones too pink. Night shots of Las Vegas are particularly bold with the vast array of colorful lights. As I mentioned there is a little speckling, but not terrible. The worst artifacts I spotted are some jumping and wobbly frames - but in all honesty, they're so brief that you may not catch them. Black levels are spot on with some nice deep inky blacks with great shadows, which is a lot of fun when the killer starts making his appearances. It's not perfect, but this transfer is pretty fantastic and a solid upgrade effort.
The Night Stalker gets some life with a clear English DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio track. As a television film, the soundscape for this film isn't all that dynamic - but it gets the job done. Dialogue is on point and never overpowered by sound effects or scoring. The groovy jazz score by Bob Cobert fills the mix nicely and gives some of the action sequences and creepy places some good mood. It also helps fill dead space during some of McGavin's voice-overs where there aren't any other sound elements. Sound effects outside of the obvious on camera variety are prominent, but atmospherics are relatively limited. There is some slight mild hiss during quiet bits, it's not very severe or distracting but it's present all the same. Overall this is a very good audio mix that fits nicely with the film.
As a Special Edition release, Kino Lorber has assembled a pretty decent assortment of bonus features for The Night Stalker. I always appreciate a Tim Lucas audio commentary and the interviews are quite good. The archival Dan Curtis interview is great - however - similar to what happened to the older archival bonus features on Kino's release of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, the video frame rate is a bit off leading to a jerky appearance like an old VCD disc. It's watchable, but it doesn't look amazing.
Audio Commentary - featuring film historian Tim Lucas
John Llewellyn Moxey Interview (HD 10:24)
Composer Bob Cobert Interview (HD 10:01)
Dan Curtis Interview (SD 14:34)
Burnt Offerings Trailer (SD 2:29)
It may not be the scariest or creepiest movie ever made, but The Night Stalker sure knows how to entertain. Lead by Darren McGavin, the film features memorable performances from a host of great character actors. On top of that, the plot sticks close to classic vampire lore for those horror purists out there. Once you're done here you're going to want to dig into The Night Strangler. Kino Lorber Studio Classics has done a fine job bringing The Night Stalker to Blu-ray. The A/V presentation is spot on and looks better than ever. The decent assortment of bonus features is informative and well worth watching. Recommended.