Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
It’s late and it’s dark. I pull in to the mom and pop diner’s parking lot. It has a neon sign that sputters a little reads Joe’s Eatery. In front of the sign is a ’65 Yellow Mustang convertible, it’s not beat up but neither is it cherry. It does however tell me that my interviewee is here.
I walked in and am greeted by an old gray haired waitress in a hairnet and sensible shoes. I describe the man I am looking for and with a jerk of her thumb she points to a back booth. I walk back kind of surprised just how dark this restaurant is. Then I see him, he is of average height with graying hair, wearing a blue seersucker suite, with his tie hanging loosely around his neck and a straw porkpie hat. He has a camera and vintage 70’s tape-recorded strapped to him. No one I have ever talked to has seen him wear anything other than what he has on right now. Well not since he got fired from his job in Vegas.
I introduce myself and he bids me to set down. “Always good to talk to another correspondent of the weird.” He says finishing off his Ruben Sandwich. And this man is THE correspondent of the weird. He is Carl Kolchak. Intrepid reported who continually stumbles into the strange and bazaar.
“OK.” I said, figuring that he would probably appreciate jumping into the heart of the matter. “When I was seven, and my parents were watching the first run of the episode with the invisible alien I freaked out and I don’t think I had up to that point I had ever been that scare in my life.”
He laughs and picks up a chip on his plate. “At the time we were considered extremely scary. And I think we hold up pretty well now…We relied on creepy atmosphere and good writing rather than special effects and gore.” Then munches on the chip.
“So who or what is the Night Stalker, is it you? I get confused.” I ask.
“You and ABC.” He chuckled. “Some of the promotion martial had it as if I was the Night Stalker, but in fact, it was the nickname of the first supernatural menace I encountered, a vampire. It was also the name of the made for TV in which I first appeared. It was a ratting smash so ABC wanted to latch on to its fame so they used it as the subtitle of my series, Kolchak, notice the colon not a comma, The Night Stalker, the last three words are in reference that the show was a continuation from where the original movie.”
“Tell me about the first movie?” I ask.
“It was big…Huge.” He gestures with his hands to emperies the point. ”it was boffo with a Thirty three rating and a Fifty-four share…”
“That was good?” I asked not sure what he meant.
“Oh yah,” Said gesturing again. “It was the most watched made for TV movie ever when it was first aired. So anwyas, it is about an erstwhile reporter me…” He says pointing back at himself. “As a reporter who has…well some would call it abrasive personality…I on the other hand would describe it as a rabid determine to make sure the world knows the truth….Discovers a serial killer targeting young ladies is actually a vampire. I get static form the cops, the DA and my own editor so I have to take things into my own hands.”
“Tell me about the sequel?” I ask.
“Ah…The Night Strangler.” He says looking up and mussing. “Well, I get fired at the end of Night Stalker…Not for anything that is my fault, mind you…They just don’t want the truth to get out there…” I motion with my fingers for him to get back on course. He nods. “OK, well anyway…In Seattle I discover that an ancient alchemist is killing woman and using their blood in a potion to keep him alive and immortal. Again I convince my editor and the authorities I am right but they can’t do anything against him, so I stop him in the Seattle underground. But once again I lose my job.” He says the last part a little quitter than the rest.
“What about the proposed third movie?” I ask.
He sighs. “Well it depends on who you ask about it. It was either to take place in New York, where I and my editor Tony Vincenzo, who also got fired, but again not because of anything I did, are heading to at the end of Night Strangler. Once were are there we would run afoul with the vampire in the first movie. Or it would have taken place in Hawaii and dealt with UFO, and people being killed and replaced by killer robots. But ABC decided to go with a series instead. ”
“Tell me about yourself.” I ask. “You as a character?”
Carl seems to be really thinking about this. “Well I am basically the 1940’s pulp archetype of the intrepid reporter, brought to the present, well 1970’s present. The guy who will do anything to get to the heart of the story, no matter how dangerous. My back story was that I was born to Polish-American parents, and was in World War Two, served as a clerk, where I learned to type. Uh, I never saw combat. Graduated last in my class at Columbia school of journalism, but I did graduate. I got fired from my job as a reporter in New York in the fifties, and never bought another suit, that is why I wear out of date clothing.”
He leans back in the booth. “There is kind of a timeless thing about the show. Even though it obviously set in the seventies. Since my character is obviously living in another time, back when print was king, he is holding on to an America that doesn’t exist anymore. And if the world is run by vampires and aliens, then it never existed. You see it in the way I use a twenty’s manual typewriter inset of what was then a cutting edge tech, electric typewriter. That is why the show holds up after so much time. It about an anachronism that is set forty years ago.”
“Jeff Price is given credit as creating you, yet everyone knows Night Stalker was written by Richard Matheson (Author of I am Legend). What gives?” I ask.
Kolchak nods. “Jeff Price had an unpublished novel called the Kolchak Files, Matheson used it to write the script for the movie, The Night Stalker. The book was finally published after the movie. Then Matheson wrote The Night Strangler script and Price wrote a novelization of the second movie based on his script.”
“Tell me about Darrin McGavin?” I ask
“Well, all characters owe something to their actor, but McGavin really took the role to heart. Darrin truly made me who I am. He was the one who came up with the idea of wearing 50’s style suits. Matheson’s original script had me wearing Bermuda shorts and Hawaiian shirts. Who wears those things in real life? His acting. Passion for the character and humanity is what drew a lot of viewers to the show. They even made him an executive producer. But in the end he is why the show got cancelled. He got fed up with the monster of the week format, and when rating began to slip, ABC let McGavin out of his contract.”
“It seems to me that darkness, is partially a character in the show, any comment on that?” I ask.
Kolchak smiles brightly. “Well there wasn’t a lot of money to spend on effects. So instead of using what they call ‘Hollywood darkness’ (A well let set where the actors pretend it is dark) the crew used real darkness. That saved a lot of money on effects and makeup, but also gave the show a real creepy feeling to it.”
“Any comment on the 2005 reboot?”
“It wasn’t really me in that show.” He Says matter of factly. “Stewart Townsend plays a guy named Carl Kolchak, but it isn’t me. He investigates the supernatural because something occult killed his wife. I do it because of a burning passion to reveal the truth. It was darker and grittier, comic book writer Warren Ellis describes it as. “It’s like Ironsides only he loses the use of his legs in a prison rape incident.” It lacked the original show’s humor. We were like the Bond movies in that aspect. Bond had a lot of violence and sex but he could get it past the sensors because he would use humor right before or after. We were forgiven for having prostitutes killed by vampires if we had a funny scene in between the deaths. The new show missed that.”
I change the subject “What is your connection to X-files?” I ask.
“Well Chris carter, the creator of the x-Files has said his experience watching our show was what gave him the idea for the X-files.” Kolchak says with some pride. “He had McGavin on two gest spots, Carter wanted him to play Kolchak but Darrin nixed the idea so his roll was changed to Arthur Dales, a founding member of the X-Files. We were the spiritual predecessor of the X-Files.”
“Despite what McGavin felt about them monster of the week shows are pretty popular. Besides the X-Files, there is Grimm, Fringe, Sleep hallow, Haven tons of them. How do you feel about that?” I ask.
“Well it is a valid format, but I think they learned from us. You can’t just have a monster of the week show, you need a meta-plot or over lapping story arch to keep people’s interest. X-Files had its ‘mythology’, Buffy had a different arch each season, Fringe had that weird story line with other dimension Lenard Nimoy tying everything together.” Kolchak explains.
“What is your future now?” I ask.
“Well Moonstone publish is making a comic book that is very true to the character and the essence of the show. They even added some H.P. Lovecraft arcs. No that Darrin McGavin has passed on comics or point is the truest way to preserve the spirit of Kolchak. They keep talking about a movie with Johnny Depp but who knows with the way his last couple movies went.” The reported says shrugging.
“OK, the weakest part of my writing is the closing. Want to send us out with an awesome Kolchak voiceover?” I ask.
He thinks about it and nods, then looking like typing. “Just two writers sharing stories and options. One is real, the other is not. But in a world where people try to escape the horrors of their world by spending a few hours pretending to believe in bloodthirsty vampires, eldritch abominations and aliens who travel light-years to prey on week humans, who is to say which one is more real than the other.”
Camera pans up to a night sky
Fade to black.