Dan Curtis, 1973
Starring: Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Jo Ann Pflug, Richard Anderson
Having relocated to Seattle, tenacious reporter Carl Kolchak is re-hired by an old editor, Tony Vincenzo, to investigate a recent series of killings where exotic dancers have been found strangled to death. When it is discovered that they each have a few ounces of blood missing, Carl thinks another vampire may be responsible. He works with a police researcher and learns that similar killing have occurred at a 21-year cycle as far back as 1889. The police try to suppress his findings and some of the crime scene evidence, but he doggedly carries on and begins investigating a Civil War doctor with a suspicious link to the present…
The Night Strangler is another entertaining entry in the Kolchak series, but it’s too repetitive of The Night Stalker to come highly recommended. It is easy to see how the character and themes lent themselves to a TV show and it’s a shame that Kolchak only lasted one season. Again written by Richard Matheson, there are some good performances and some very nice visuals, particularly of the creepy Seattle underground system. Though the film quality is a bit dark, the scenes of Kolchak exploring the underground are some of the finest and most suspenseful in the film, particularly when he finds what he’s looking for at the conclusion. This time producer and Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis took up the directorial reins and does a decent job with the material.
Based on the legend of the Count of St. Germain, I enjoyed Matheson’s plundering of occult myths, but I think they could have been used more effectively, rather than recycling much of the material from The Night Stalker. The mystery in The Night Strangler follows almost the identical plot points of The Night Stalker, but there is more filler in this second entry in the series and more dull moments. It seems insane that after the success of the first film, the second is another tale about dead girls missing blood. They really couldn’t have thought of any other occult crime scenarios? Sure, some of the mystery was spoiled because it was revealed that the serial killer in the first film was actually a vampire. The killer in this film is a scientist who discovered the secret to eternal life, but that detail is really the only way he differs from the vampire in the first film, which is truly a shame. Kolchak gets into virtually the same fights with his editors and the police. Disappointingly, very little new ground is tread here.
Despite some of the writing issues, the compelling performance from Darren McGavin is the reason to The Night Strangler. He gives an even better performance in this film than in the first, thanks in part to more humor in the script. There’s a nice cameo from horror veteran John Carradine as Kolchak’s miserly publisher and there are welcome appearances from Al Lewis (The Munsters) and Margaret Hamilton (The Wizard of Oz). Richard Anderson (The Six Million Dollar Man) is great as the long-living doctor and it’s really a shame he didn’t get more screen time.
There was supposed to be a third film with a science-fiction angle, but that was abandoned and Kolchak: The Night Stalker television series was created, sadly without the input of Dan Curtis or Richard Matheson. Fans of Darren McGavin or The Night Stalker will want to check this out, but if you were unimpressed with the first film, there’s no need for a repeat performance. The Night Strangler is available on a double-feature DVD with The Night Stalker.