The Night Stalker (1972 film)

The Night Stalker

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It was based on the then-unpublished novel by Jeff Rice titled The Kolchak Papers.[2] Rice said he wrote the novel because, "I'd always wanted to write a vampire story, but more because I wanted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 short lived TV series 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 of the film, Kolchak is sitting on the bed of a sleazy hotel room, dictating a book into his trademark portable tape recorder. The book is about a series of unusual events in Las Vegas, and a cover up of those events by the authorities. He describes a series of murders that had plagued the world-famous Las Vegas Strip. All of the victims had their blood drained, and Kolchak comes to suspect that the killer believes himself to be a vampire, much to the chagrin of his cantankerous boss Anthony (aka Tony, Antonio) Vincenzo, portrayed by actor Simon Oakland. Kolchak also has a girlfriend named Gail Foster (Carol Lynley) who earns her living as a dancer. During the movie, Kolchak attempts to get her to give up her night job, though he does not offer her a proposal of marriage, or other commitment. At the urging of this girlfriend, Kolchak begins to look into vampire lore, but is skeptical. When a meeting is conducted with the sheriffs department, the DEA, the police and others they discover the suspect's true identity named Janos Skorzeny, who is the prime suspect in multiple homicides extending back years involving massive loss of blood. When the murderer is robbing a hospital the police arrive trying to stop him and even by shooting with guns but he escapes outrunning a police car and motorcycle.

Inexplicable events lead Kolchak to begin to believe that something supernatural is occurring, and the evidence of his own eyes eventually persuades him that the perpetrator is in fact a real vampire. Kolchak is able to convince the police that they are fighting a vampire when failed capture attempts happen, with the suspect possessing incredible strength and not slowing down when shot repeatedly, but 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 also been "asked to leave town" for engaging in unsavory activities, and has already been forced to leave the city. Carl exhausts his savings placing personal advertisements across the country in an attempt to find her but is unsuccessful.

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

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


  1. "The Night Stalker". The New York Times.
  2. 1 2 "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. 1 2 Brozan, Nadine (February 27, 2006). "Darren McGavin, Versatile Veteran Actor, Dies at 83". The New York Times.
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