303 – Kolchak: The Night Stalker – The Ripper

Simon and Eugene launch into our discussion about the follow-on TV series to the TV movie, the Night Stalker.

Carl Kolchak now finds himself a home at the Independent News Service in the Windy City, but it seems no matter where he goes, bizarre murders follow.  Kolchak must investigate a killer that bears an uncanny resemblance to Jack the Ripper.

9 thoughts on “303 – Kolchak: The Night Stalker – The Ripper”

  1. I’ve never seen the series Kolchak: The Night Stalker but I’ve always wanted to. Now that the Fusion Patrol podcast is reviewing it, I’m on board all the way. Episode 1 was a lot of fun and your review even more fun. Yes, that police gun battle was quite ridiculous, with all guns blazing and cops criss-crossing in the line of fire was very ‘cowboy-ish’. I enjoyed Eugene’s story of his grandfather’s shoes, it’s stories like that that stick in my mind for a while. I’ll be on board for Kolchak right to the end, and Blake’s 7, and *groan* Space:1999. Thanks for sharing and keep up the good work.

    1. Thanks very much for the kind words!

      One of the things I like about Kolchak is that the series doesn’t take itself entirely seriously, there’s a playfulness at times that helps make it fun talking about it. I will see if I have any more footwear-related stories I can… shoehorn [ahem] into the show.

      Your comment reminds me, not only are we close to the all-new-and-improved Space: 1999 season 2, we are very close to the end of Blakes 7. I guess I’d better start thinking about what’s next.

  2. I tend to listen to podcasts on my drive to/from work each day. I imagine, at times, other people find themselves in a similar situation as I do. I find myself screaming at a podcast host because they’re on to something, but they’re just not making the connection and running with it.

    Sometimes the podcast host I’m screaming at is myself. I tend to give my final listen to Fusion Patrol when it gets published and comes through my podcatcher. Today, I was screaming at myself.

    During the episode, Simon rightly points out that there’s no logical reason to make Jack The Ripper into a supernatural killer – except, of course, that this TV show is about supernatural killers. We talked about how the Night Stalker movie was a more natural fit, and then we launched into some discussion about how Jack the Ripper is the archetype for all TV series’ serial killers. Conclusion, in an effort to recreate the Night Stalker formula, they converted the real Jack the Ripper into a supernatural killer.

    Here’s what I missed: The Night Stalker was Jack the Ripper. At least, Jack was the archetype.

    If every TV show about series killers is influenced or inspired originally by the horror that was Jack the Ripper, then surely so was the story of a reporter in Las Vegas chasing down a serial killer and slowing piecing together the notion that he was a vampire. This is the retelling of the Jack the Ripper tale made supernatural.

    …and so was the Night Strangler. Now made into an immortal alchemist.

    They told the Jack the Ripper tale twice before, putting a supernatural twist on it both times. By the time they reached the series, they just went straight to the original idea they’d been dancing with twice before.

  3. Speaking of “what comes next”, here’s a couple of series suggestions, if you’re interested in seeing something you probably haven’t seen before:

    1) Invasion: Earth
    Ignore the awful, awful title. This is a very dark 1998, 6-part BBC Scotland production involving a group of scientists and a NATO taskforce (more like UNIT with the serial numbers filed off) battling … let‘s call it an existential threat. Saying anything more would give away the show’s punch. Part way through the first episode you think you’ve seen it all before, but the nature of the threat is a lot deeper and nastier than it first appears.

    This was the first major use of CGI on UK TV, and the CGI has aged quite well, although that may have more to do with the nature of what it’s trying to depict.

    Some aspects of the threat left me feeling extremely uncomfortable when I first watched this, and it didn’t get any better when I recently re-watched.

    Overall, the subject is dealt with intelligently and you’re pulled into the plot, rather than yelling at the TV because everyone acts like fools.

    This has been released on DVD, but is currently be out-of-print. The entire series is available on YouTube – search on “Invasion: Earth”.

    2) 1990
    I’ve previously mentioned this 1977 BBC series, the news is that both series 1 and 2 are getting a DVD release on March 20. Available on Amazon UK – you’ll need to search on “1990 – Series 1 [DVD]” and “1990 – Series 2 [DVD]”. Eight episodes per series. The show is vaguely ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ set in a grim Orwellian police state Britain. The show concerns itself with the moral compromises made by both heroes and villains. Available on YouTube – search on “1990 edward woodward”. I’ll stop flogging this particular horse now. 8^)

    1. Interesting suggestions. The title “Invasion: Earth” rings a bell – ah, there it is on my wishlist – but I had absolutely no recollection of what it’s about… Added January 5 2011… Prompted by what, I wonder?

      I’ve never heard of 1990, but I like the strapline on the DVD. “Nineteen Eighty-Four plus six”.

  4. I agree with your criticisms of plot and production, yet I was still grinning from ear to ear as Kolchak connived and blustered his way through the episode. The show’s focus is character colour. Plot comes a distant second.

    Given his numerous leaps from tall buildings and bounds over police cars, it appears the script intended The Ripper to also be Spring-heeled Jack. Did SHJ sound too goofy to be explicitly name-dropped in the script?

    I loved the police blasting away at anything and everything. High farce! Yes, this scene did colour my childhood impression of policing in America.

    How many other places have we seen that spooky house set with the stairs? I keep wondering if it’s the spooky mansion in the 70s ‘Salem’s Lot’ miniseries. Or ‘The Ghost and Mr Chicken’. Or … ? It seems awfully familiar.

    Re. Simon’s annoyance with voiceovers whenever another masseuse is walking home in the dark. I think the voiceovers are important because they manage the sudden shift in tone from the previous scene – invariably a comic turn between Kolchak and Vincenzo, or Kolchak and a morgue attendant. The voiceovers make possible the sharp transition from comedy to tragedy.

    Simon reasonably takes aim at Kolchak pissing off the police, whom he relies upon for his stories. However the alternative is for him to be one of the ineffectual mob of pliant reporters who fill every press conference. The police clearly aim to dampen and misdirect every story, even when they know that a real vampire is on a murderous rampage. A less combative approach from Kolchak is not going to win additional facts. Again, it’s colour, with the skirmishes with the police superintendent, over plot.

    I like how Jack the Ripper strolled down to the corner shop for his milk and to pay the electricity bill. I wish we could see more snippets of what monsters get up to in-between their murder sprees.

    I was pondering who this show was made for. Was it for dads, or was it for kids hiding behind the couch? There’s nothing in the series pitched above a child’s level of understanding. There’s no blood. There’s occasional gory makeup, but only glimpsed for a split second. I watched Hawaii Five-0 with my dad in the 70s, but I remember nothing beside the titles, and I didn’t understand the plots. Yet I clearly remember my tense horror at every episode of Night Stalker. I understood the implications of everything on screen. The image of The Ripper pushing out the cell door and calmly treading out into the hall has stayed with me all these years.

    For a series about supernatural monsters, the most implausible thing in the show is Darren McGavin’s hair colouring.

    1. However the alternative is for him to be one of the ineffectual mob of pliant reporters who fill every press conference.

      False dichotomy.

      A less combative approach from Kolchak is not going to win additional facts.

      Well it’s certainly not possible to win fewer facts than his extraordinarily unproductive attacks.

      All of the journalists in there underplay their hand. They want something from the police – a story (they’ll settle for churnalism if too lazy to pursue the true facts). But as you note, the police have an agenda, i.e. they want something from the journalists. The ‘pliant mob’ give away their advantage just printing what they’re given. But Kolchak squanders it too, he offers the police nothing and therefore gets nothing in return. He is a TERRIBLE negotiator because it doesn’t even appear to occur to him to explore their common ground.

      He could also try just not being pointlessly antagonistic and see if that helps him develop any sources.

      Interesting question about the intended audience: suddenly a lot of the creative decisions make a lot more sense if this is a kids’ show!

      1. Certainly, it wasn’t meant as a “kids’ show” but there was certainly a commonly held belief that audiences of these “fanciful” shows were undiscriminating audiences.

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