TV movie

Wicked Wednesday: The Night Stalker (1972)

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.

Wicked Wednesday: Scream, Pretty Peggy (1973)

One of the things about horror films that is simultaneously amazing and painful to watch is golden-era Hollywood icons “lowering” themselves to the genre.

Case and point: Bette Davis. While originally known for her great dramatic roles, her later career was marked with much more horror/thrillers such as Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? But the last decades of her life had her in over a dozen TV movies.

One of them is the 1973 thriller Scream, Pretty Peggy, which originally aired on ABC.

Scream, Pretty Peggy follows young art student, Peggy (go figure). Desperate for a job, she takes work as a house keeper for the wealthy Elliott family. When she arrives at the house, she’s turned away by the elderly Mrs Elliott (Davis), but her son Jeffrey stops her and invites the student in.

Bright, perky Peggy gets herself the job, and even manages to earn herself more money in the negotiations. Charmed by the weird girl, Jeffrey allows her to even bother him while he work on his sculptures. But she has one rule: stay away from the rooms above the garage.

During her first day, Peggy sees a photograph of a young woman, who Mrs Elliott explains is her daughter Jennifer. She claims that Jennifer is in Europe.

Each night she heads back home from work, Peggy notices that she’s being followed by a car. She eventually confronts the man, who says he is Thornton, father of the last girl who worked for the Elliotts. He explains that he hasn’t heard from his daughter, but Peggy is unable to help him. When he arrives at the Elliotts’ house, they claim to know nothing either.

Peggy eventually moves in with the Elliotts with Mrs Elliott injures her leg. Her first night in the house she awakes to the sound of a banging door and spots that the garage door is open. When she goes to investigate, she sees a figure in a white gown go up to the rooms above the garage.

When she confronts Jeffrey about it, he admits that Jennifer is not in Europe, but living above the garage. She’s insane, but the family couldn’t bare to lock her up. Peggy then becomes determined to make friends with Jennifer, despite being warned away by both Jeffrey and Mrs Elliott. Mrs Elliott continuously warns Peggy away, but the girl (increasingly enamored with Jeffrey) refuses.

Peggy finds an item with Thornton’s name on it, and decides to try and contact him. The place where he’s staying inform her that he hasn’t been seen in a couple days. And upon investigating, Peggy sees the man’s car locked away in the garage.

Knowing that something is not right, Peggy tries to hunt down Jeffrey. While in Jeffrey’s studio, she’s attacked by the figure in the white dress. Peggy manages to escape and finds Mrs Elliott in her room. She tells the woman what has happened, saying that it was Jennifer. But Mrs Elliott only tells Peggy, “It’s all your fault.”

Jeffrey is finally found, and Peggy tells him about Jennifer’s attack. He goes up to Jennifer’s rooms above the garage to confront his sister. Peggy and Mrs Elliott watch from outside.

Jeffrey emerges and informs them that he has killed Jennifer. She tried to attack him, and she fell on her own knife. When Peggy tries to call the police, she’s ordered not to.

Frustrated and confused, Peggy goes to Jeffrey’s studio and tries to talk to him. Only Jeffrey isn’t there – it’s Jennifer. Or rather, ‘Jennifer’ in Jeffrey’s mind (basically Jeff wearing some shit make-up). ‘Jennifer’ tries to attack Peggy, but is shot by Mrs Elliott.

Mrs Elliott neatly wraps up the story, telling Peggy that Jeffrey killed Jennifer when she tried to leave for Europe to get married. He hid her body in one of his sculptures, and ‘Jennifer’ began to take over his mind. Each time he was with a woman, the Jennifer part of his brain became jealous and violent.

So basically, don’t killer your sister.

While the ending is an exposition dump, it doesn’t detract too much from the movie overall. Scream, Pretty Peggy is a great film, TV movie or no. Honestly, Davis is such a scene-stealer. Completely magnetic with even the most mundane lines thrown at her.

While the twist is by no means original, it’s still fun. And Scream, Pretty Peggy have some great, subtle spooky moments that I loved. Peggy is quite an unusual character for a horror film. She’s resilient and bouncy, and a touch obnoxious (but I liked her anyway). I say give this piece a go. If anything, it’s just a joy to see Davis on screen.