If there is a MVP of made-for-TV horror movies, it’s probably The Night Stalker. It spawned a sequel, a TV series, and even a remake of said TV series several decades later.
And it’s shockingly basic for something so beloved. Carl Kolchak is a sensationalist, nearly ethic-less journalist in Las Vegas. His desire to get the story has led him to being fired from multiple papers throughout the country.
A series of murders perks Kolchak’s interest because of one thing: each corpse is found nearly devoid of all blood. Kolchak seeks the help of one of his “spies”, a young doctor working at the hospital. He calls Kolchak one night, telling him that their blood bank was robbed of its blood supply.
At a meeting at the court house, the coroner tells the table of important men that each of the young female victims were found with human saliva mixed in with the blood at the throat wounds. Kolchak shares his theory that perhaps the killer thinks he’s a vampire. While the sheriff and every suited man in the room becomes upset, the coroner says it isn’t too far-fetched that a man would have the psychosis to believe that.
Kolchak is told not to run any stories on the killings, but he does anyway. When he writes something about the fourth victim, his editor refuses to publish it. He tells Kolchak that publishing something about a wannabe-vampire will only bring the people of Las Vegas to hysterics.
But his girlfriend (and potential woman-of-the-night), Gail, encourages him to continue digging. She lets him look at one of her books on vampires.
Later, a man is caught stealing blood from the hospital again. He has the strength to throw the nurses and doctors off him to try to stop him. He’s chased out of the hospital by the police, but they are unable to catch him. Even when they shoot at him at close range.
The police, though, are able to identify the man. At a press conference, the man is identified as Janos Skorzeny, a Romanian immigrant who has been linked to multiple murders in different countries, making him an international fugitive.
And the manhunt begins. Skorzeny is cornered one night, but easily fends off the police. Despite being nearly 70, he’s a man of great strength. Even when the police see him get shot, he still gets up and runs away unharmed.
Kolchak becomes increasingly insistent that Skorzeny is a literal vampire. But he becomes aware the no one will wants to listen to him, seemingly for the protection of the people of the city.
He tells the mayor and the authorities that the police officers should carry crosses with them and a stake and hammer, just in case they get into trouble while pursuing Kolchak. They reluctantly agree, but only if Kolchak lets Skorzeny live to see trial.
But he completely breaks his promise once one of his sources gives him Skorzeny’s address. He breaks into the house and finds a woman strapped to a bed. Just as he tries to free her, the vampire returns home. He goes to hide, but Skorzeny finds him. But he holds off the vampire by holding out a cross and revealing the sunlight.
He manages to weaken Skorzeny, and pounds a stake into his heart. Just as the vampire dies, the police arrive to witness Kolchak murdering their suspect.
Kolchak, being the fool he is, gleefully writes up his story to have it published. His editor claims it will be published in full. But Kolchak is told he has been arrested for the murder of Skorzeny. They threaten to use the warrant if Kolchak doesn’t leave town and pretend nothing has happened.
Kolchak, later through his tape recordings, says that Kolchak and all of his victims were cremated. Which is strange. And that when a vampire takes the blood of another person, they too will become a vampire.
It’s easy to see why The Night Stalker is so well-liked. Darren McGavin plays the irritating, smarmy journalist well. Somehow cocky but charismatic.
Even though The Night Stalker came before the TV show, it felt like I was watching the sequel to something. This was a pretty standard vampire story without much in the way character development. Maybe that’s asking too much of a made-for-TV movie. But I’d at least be tempted to watch the TV show (which apparently was a big inspiration to X-Files Creator Chris Carter).
This one was probably lost on me, but considering how well-loved it is, I suggest anyone interested give The Night Stalker a try.