The Night Stalker (1972 film)

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The Night Stalker
The Night Stalker.jpg
Barry Atwater as The Night Stalker
Written by Richard Matheson (teleplay)
Jeffery Grant Rice (novel)
Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey
Starring Darren McGavin
Simon Oakland
Carol Lynley
Barry Atwater
Music by Bob Cobert
Country of origin United States
Producer(s) Dan Curtis
Cinematography Michel Hugo
Editor(s) Desmond Marquette
Running time 74 minutes
Original network ABC
Original release January 11, 1972
Followed by The Night Strangler

The Night Stalker is a television film[1] which aired on ABC on January 11, 1972. In it an investigative reporter, played by Darren McGavin, comes to suspect that a serial killer in the Las Vegas area is in fact a vampire.

It was based on the then-unpublished novel by Jeff Rice titled The Kolchak Papers.[2] Rice said he wrote the novel because, "I'd always wanted to write a vampire story, but more because I wanted to write something that involved Las Vegas." Rice had difficulty finding a publisher willing to buy the manuscript until agent Rick Ray read the manuscript and realized the novel would make a good movie. The 1973 novel (renamed The Night Stalker) wasn't published until after the TV movie had already aired, and was delayed according to Rice because the publisher wanted both Rice's original novel and the 1974 sequel The Night Strangler (written by Rice but based on the screenplay by author Richard Matheson) so "they could be placed on the top of the publisher's list in the 1 and 2 positions for 1974."[3]

Directed by John Llewllyn Moxey, a veteran of theatrical and TV movies, adapted by Richard Matheson and produced by Dan Curtis, best known at the time for Dark Shadows, The Night Stalker became ABC's highest rated original TV movie, earning a 33.2 rating and 54 share which was unheard of for an original TV movie at the time. The TV movie did so well it was released overseas as a theatrical movie and inspired a sequel TV movie titled The Night Strangler,[4] which aired in 1973, a single-season TV series of twenty episodes titled Kolchak: The Night Stalker which ran on ABC between 1974–75, and a short lived 2005 TV series called Night Stalker.

Actor Darren McGavin recalled that his involvement began when "My representatives called to say that ABC had purchased the right to a book called The Kolchak Papers. They were into a kind of first draft of a script by Richard Matheson, and they called the agency to ask them if I’d be interested in doing it. My representative read it and called me." The popular TV movie, along with its sequel and the TV series, provided inspiration for Chris Carter's The X-Files.[5] Carter featured actor Darren McGavin in the show[5] as a tribute to the actor and the project that inspired his popular series. Originally Carter had wanted McGavin to play Kolchak, but the actor elected not to, so the role was rewritten, making McGavin's character Arthur Dales the "father of the X-files".[2]


In the opening, Kolchak is sitting on the bed of a sleazy hotel room, listening to a replay of his dictation on his portable tape recorder. The notes are about a series of murders that have plagued the Las Vegas Strip, and a cover up of those events by the authorities. All of the victims had their bodies drained of blood. When a meeting is conducted with the sheriff's department, the DEA, the police and others, they discover the suspect's true identity is Janos Skorzeny, who is the prime suspect in multiple homicides involving massive loss of blood extending back years. When Skorzeny attempts to rob a hospital, the police are called to stop him. Skorzeny is shot multiple times without effect, and manages to escape by outrunning a police car and motorcycle.

Kolchak has a girlfriend named Gail Foster (Carol Lynley) who earns her living as a dancer, which Kolchak attempts to get her to give up. At Gail's urging, Kolchak looks into vampire lore. The evidence persuades Kolchak to suspect that Skorzeny is a vampire, much to the disbelief of his boss Anthony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland). Kolchak is able to convince the police that they are fighting a vampire, as the suspect possesses incredible strength and cannot be harmed by gunfire. Kolchak ultimately destroys the vampire, and unlike subsequent productions, he does so with the help of his friend in the FBI (a credible eyewitness).

Kolchak writes his version of the story for the newspaper, and proposes to his girlfriend, telling her that they will both move to New York City. However, in quick succession, the authorities print a false version of the newspaper story with his byline, and threaten to charge Kolchak with first degree murder unless he quietly leaves Las Vegas. Kolchak is told that his girlfriend Gail has already been forced to leave the city for "engaging in unsavory activities". Carl exhausts his savings placing personal advertisements across the country in a futile attempt to find her.

The final scene is of Kolchak in the sleazy hotel room, finishing his book. He explains that if anyone tries to verify the events in the book, they will find that everyone involved in the incident in even the slightest way has either left town, is not talking, or is dead, there is no file on the suspect, all of the evidence has been destroyed by the authorities, and all of the bodies were cremated.



The film is based on an original unpublished novel written by Jeff Rice. The novel was subsequently published in paperback form after the movie aired. In the story, Las Vegas newspaper reporter Carl Kolchak comes across a serial killer while working on the Las Vegas Strip who is a modern-day vampire named Janos Skorzeny. Pocket Books finally published the book as a paperback original using the title The Night Stalker, with a photograph of McGavin wearing his trademark porkpie hat and seersucker suit.

Subsequent history[edit]

The Night Stalker garnered the highest ratings of any TV movie at that time (33.2 rating - 54 share). It did well enough that it resulted in a 1973 follow-up movie called The Night Strangler and a planned 1974 movie titled The Night Killers which instead evolved into the 1974-75 television series titled Kolchak: The Night Stalker, with McGavin reprising his role in both. An episode of the series titled "The Vampire" was an actual sequel to this movie, deriving its story from characters introduced in it.

Following the series' cancellation, the franchise itself was still thought well enough of to prompt two more movies which were created by editing together material from 4 previous episodes of the series, with some additional narration provided by McGavin as Kolchak to help connect the plot lines. No new footage was included, however.

On September 29, 2005 ABC aired a remake of the 1974 series Kolchak: The Night Stalker, titled Night Stalker. ABC owned the rights to the original TV movies, but not the Universal TV series, and were limited only to using characters that had appeared in those movies.


The film was released on a double feature DVD with The Night Strangler by MGM Home Entertainment in 2004. The DVD also has a 21-minute interview with producer and director Dan Curtis divided up for each film (14 minutes for the first film and, then, on the flipside, a 7-minute interview discussing Strangler).

See also[edit]


  1. "The Night Stalker". The New York Times. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 "The Night Stalker Companion," by Mark Dawidziak
  3. Satian, Al, and Heather Johnson, "The Night Stalker Papers," in Monsters of the Movies Vol. 1, No. 1, (June 1974), p. 16
  4. "The Night Strangler". The New York Times. 
  5. 5.0 5.1 Brozan, Nadine (February 27, 2006). "Darren McGavin, Versatile Veteran Actor, Dies at 83". The New York Times. 

External links[edit]

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