Eerie Episodes: “THE NIGHT STALKER: The Werewolf”Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Ken W. Hanley
While the age of streaming certainly has it’s pro’s and con’s, one of its greatest benefits is the ability to access archives of old horror television and introduce it to a new generation. In this respect, as someone who grew up watching THE X-FILES and FREAKYLINKS, KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER is both a great classic horror series but a fascinating time capsule as well. Humorous, endearing and fantastically written, THE NIGHT STALKER was the first horror series of its kind, and often treated the lore and mythology of classic horror villains with respect in a way most TV series at the time would respond with parody.
However, where THE NIGHT STALKER really becomes fascinating is in how unconventional the series was, both during its time and all these years later. In most horror series and films, monster hunters are usually experienced adventurers, combat-ready and armed with sacred texts or weaponry; in THE NIGHT STALKER, Kolchak is simply an everyman, a journalist by trade armed only with his wits, curiosity and resolve. In fact, Kolchak’s inquisitive nature and blind faith is about the only shared quality he had with the Van Helsing’s of the genre, and him taking a thinking man’s approach to facing these creatures (and not even necessarily defeating them) is incredibly unique even in today’s day and age.
One of this writer’s favorite examples of Kolchak’s weird misadventures in “The Werewolf,” an episode that’s incredibly evocative of classic mystery television and yet shows Kolchak in all of his humanity. The episode follows Carl Kolchak as he is assigned to cover a single’s cruise, putting the reporter in the path of awkward encounters, terse ship staff and a wild werewolf on a rampage. Away from civilization, low on supplies and in way over his head, Kolchak has to improvise and fight back against this creature however he can, and that’s before even thinking about the story behind it all.
On one hand, “The Werewolf” (co-written by THE SOPRANOS mastermind David Chase) is a great window into the world of ‘70s TV horror. The design and mannerisms of the titular terror is delightfully over-the-top, and most of the supporting cast on the single’s cruise deploy an oblivious loftiness to their physicality and line deliveries. However, the show is shot very cinematically, and the climactic showdown between Kolchak and the werewolf does a great job at building suspense and crafting the creature as a legitimate threat (including a rather great performance from Eric Braeden as the human alter-ego).
On the other hand, “The Werewolf” is a solid exhibitor of what makes Kolchak work so well as a character, with Darren McGavin offering a pro-active performance as the journalist-turned-vigilante. McGavin’s grounded, humble performance makes his reactions to the larger-than-life situations- even beyond the werewolf itself- empathetic and funny, even when it comes to crafting silver bullets or convincing cruise staffers of the illogical. And with Kolchak’s frustrations never getting in the way of his pursuit of the truth, no matter how bizarre, the character feels as human as he is heroic in a way that is certainly indicative of later fictional paranormal investigators.
Overall, while not the strongest episode of KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER, “The Werewolf” is a fun, freaky time that’s as campy as it is well-crafted. With the charm of traditional ‘70s television and surprisingly groundbreaking genre storytelling, KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER holds up incredibly well and “The Werewolf” is a great gateway for viewers to see just what makes the reporter such a welcome genre protagonist that feels original, even 40 years later.