Color, 1946 , 74 mins. 41 secs.
Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey
Starring Darren McGavin, Carol Lynley, Simon Oakland, Ralph Meeker, Claude Akins, Charles McGraw, Kent Smith, Elisha Cook Jr., Barry Atwater

Color, 1973, 90 mins. 13 secs
Directed by Dan Curtis
Starring Darren McGavin, Jo Ann Pflug, Simon Oakland, Scott Brady, Wally Cox, Margaret Hamilton, John Carradine, Al Lewis
Kino Lorber (Blu-ray & DVD) (US RA/R1 HD/NTSC), MGM (DVD) (US R1 NTSC), Anchor Bay (DVD) (US R1 NTSC)

Aired The Night Stalkeron ABC in 1972, The Night StalkerThe Night Stalker is the single most important horror crossover in the made-for-TV realm in the same era that saw the genre suddenly packing in huge audiences with Rosemary's Baby and The Exorcist. The caliber of the Edgar Award-winning script was a major factor thanks to the great Richard Matheson, who took a yet-to-be-published novel by Jeffrey Grant Rice and turned it into a showcase for one of the genre's most memorable heroes, rumpled newspaper reporter Carl Kolchak. Embodied by the great Darren McGavin, he's a far cry from the usual erudite vampire hunters and teenage protagonists viewers were used to seeing in vampire stories, and the crime story aesthetic gave the film a chilling immediacy that had viewers glued to their screens and chattering excitedly about it the next morning. The success of the film would inspire a sequel, The Night Strangler, as well as a beloved, single-season TV series (Kolchak: The Night Stalker), a very short-lived 2005 series that captured none of the original's magic, and a slew of homages, most notably The X-Files and Supernatural.

Someone is preying on young women in Las Vegas, and Kolchak's instinct that something very weird is being covered up put him at odds with his boss, Tony Vincenzo (Oakland). Kolchak starts banging on doors a little too loudly for comfort when it comes to some local officials like the district attorney, and at the urging of his cocktail waitress girlfriend The Night StalkerGail The Night Stalker(Lynley), he starts to investigate vampire myths as they might connect to the exsanguinated victims. He soon connects the crimes to Janos Skorzeny (Atwater), whom he believes to be a vampire, but no amount of evidence or persuasion can seem to get anyone else on board with his theory. Kolchak decides to forge ahead, putting his life at risk but finding a danger even greater than the possible bloodsucker.

The Night Stalker marks a significant union between two of the most vital names in made-for-TV horror, producer Dan Curtis (the mastermind behind Dark Shadows and later classics like Trilogy of Terror) and John Llewellyn Moxey, the prolific director of City of the Dead who turned the small screen into a terror playground thanks to fare like Home for the Holidays, A Taste of Evil, and the very underrated No Place to Hide. The execution here is about as perfect as '70s horror TV gets, with an eye-popping roster of character actors popping up on the fringes including Elisha Cook Jr. and Ralph Meeker to give the film some additional credibility. Despite the subject matter, it's also executed tastefully enough with an emphasis on mood and plot turns over actual bloodshed. The Night Stalker

The Night StalkerCurtis wound up taking charge as director as well for the Matheson-penned sequel, The Night Strangler, which was broadcast the following year. Here we find Kolchak relocated to Seattle after being ordered out of Las Vegas and now working with Vincenzo again under less than amicable terms. Of course there's another threat stalking the city streets (and perhaps living beneath them), tied to a Civil War doctor named Richard Malcolm. The managing editor, Crossbinder (Carradine), isn't exactly in a mood to deal with Kolchak's supernatural conspiracy theories, and of course there's another cover-up involved with the mounting tally of nocturnal murder victims, exotic dancers with crushed necks and corpse flesh residue on their bodies. Again the Matheson-Curtis-McGavin trio prove to be a charm in what would be their last collaboration all together, and the subterranean finale is a nicely eerie set piece that stacks up nicely against its predecessor.

Both films were paired up together for their first two appearances on DVD, first from Anchor Bay in 1998 with no frills and then again from MGM in 2004 (virtually identical a/v specs and quite good either way) with a pair of Dan Curtis featurettes (more on those below). It's worth noting that The Night Strangler has been available on video perpetually in its longer 90-minute version prepared for overseas theatrical release, including bonus scenes with Margaret Hamilton and Al Lewis; the 74-minute premiere network TV cut has been unseen for decades. The Night Stalker

The Night StranglerIn 2018, Kino Lorber gave them their first standalone digital editions as separate Blu-ray and DVD releases, with new 4K-sourced transfers allowing them to look better than ever. The bump in detail is substantial, especially in darker scenes, and The Night Strangler in particular is truly a night and day difference compared to the older transfer with major amounts of new visual information now on display. The framing on the first film adjusts a bit tighter, but it doesn't really affect the compositions one way or another. TheEnglish DTS-HD MA mono tracks are also in fine shape, with optional English SDH subtitles included. Both films come with new audio commentaries by Video Watchdog's Tim Lucas, whose monster kid inclinations really come out here as he dives into the TV history of Dan Curtis, the source novel, the state of television movie horror at the time, the wave of modern '70s vampires, Matheson's literary importance, the anti-establishment undercurrents in the story, and the longstanding influence of Kolchak, just for starters. His suggestion about who he'd cast in a new revival of Kolchak is quite inspired, too, and he does his best to identity a slew of bit players in both films who haven't been officially credited.

The Night Stalker also sports a trio of featurettes including the Dan Curtis interview (14m34s) from the MGM disc, which has a choppy frame rate issue here but is worth watching for capturing the late TV horror icon's thoughts for posterity about his enthusiasm The Night Stalkerfor the script that overcame any doubts he had about doing more horror apart from Dark Shadows. A new interview with Moxey (10m24s) touches on some of the tensions with Curtis that led to the latter taking the reins on the sequel, but he otherwise recalls the experience fondly with particular The Night Stranglerpraise for the cast and script as well as the unique campfire quality of making films for TV versus the big screen. In "A Little Night Music" (10m1s) with composer Bob Cobert (who scored nearly everything Dan Curtis touched) is a lively reminiscence with plenty of thoughts about his musical approach, most notably the bold decision to leave the main titles music-free over initial network protests. That same featurette is carried over to The Night Strangler, which also sports the older MGM featurette, "Directing The Night Strangler" (7m29s), with Curtis chatting more about his earlier network TV gigs, an alternate idea pitched for the sequel, and the enduring appeal of these films thanks to quality. Both releases in their Blu-ray iterations feature limited slipcases (showcasing some gorgeous new art by Sean Phillips) and booklet essays by author Simon Abrams, which are best read in tandem as they offer a handy history of the two films' evolutions from page to screen. (For some reason the opening line of the Night Stalker essay refers to the film by the wrong title, so if you're thrown for a moment, that's why.) They're full of tidbits like the temporary falling out between McGavin and Curtis that would spawn The Norliss Tapes and make for a fine way to cap off two essential genre releases.

THE NIGHT STALKER Kino Lorber (Blu-ray)

The Night Stalker The Night Stalker


The Night Stalker The Night Stalker

THE NIGHT STRANGLER Kino Lorber (Blu-ray)

The Night strangler The Night strangler


The Night strangler The Night strangler


Reviewed on October 5, 2018