Kolchak: The Werewolf

Werewolf on a cruise ship (I know, I know, it’s serious)

Kolchak and the cruise ship There’s a lot I really like in this episode, and one thing that really lets it down. But we’ll save that for later.

After the usual introductory framing narration, which has Carl Kolchak sitting on a dock with the cruise ship he’s just disembarked from visible behind him, this week’s episode begins in snowy Chicago shortly before Christmas. The staff at INS is throwing a holiday party that doubles as a bon voyage for editor Tony Vincenzo, who is headed out for an all expenses paid working vacation aboard the passenger liner Hanover, a “floating anachronism” that’s been in service since the 1930s and has finally been run out of business by the jet age.

For those observing the evolution of the character Miss Emily, Ruth McDevitt appears briefly here for the first time as the INS staff  “office mother,” but the name of her character isn’t Emily; it’s Edith Cowells.

Unfortunately for poor Tony, a phone call in the middle of the party puts an end to his vacation plans. Accountants from the New York INS offices are coming to audit the Chicago INS office partyoffice’s accounts and Tony has to be there to pick them up at the airport–the same airport he was going to fly out of.  Since he can’t go and half the office staff are down with flu, Tony gives Carl his tickets and an assignment to write a nostalgia piece about the Hanover’s final journey, which happens to be a swinging singles cruise. Carl is also expected to deliver some personal interest stories about his fellow passengers.

One thing I like about this episode is the picture it gives us of the early-to-mid ’70s, when ocean travel as a means of transportation was dying off with the rise of commercial overseas flights, but when cruises for entertainment were just becoming popular. The Love Boat is a mere 3 years in the future.

It’s also a peek into the blossoming singles culture of the day, through Carl Kolchak’s somewhat bemused eyes. He’s especially astonished when he learns that his roommate aboard the ship, Mel (Dick Gautier) and Mel’s girlfriend Wendy are actually a divorced couple who have been getting along so much better since they split up.

At the cocktail party get-together that first evening, Mel and Wendy fix Carl up with another woman they met earlier, Paula Griffen (Nita Talbot).

Paula is another part of this story I like. She’s a fast-talking, major movie buff; I’ve seen all the movies she talks about even if Carl hasn’t. Even though their relationship isn’t exactly a romance, she’s as close as Carl will get to another girlfriend in this entire series.  He hasn’t been on a date since The Night Strangler.

Paula and CarlPaula is impressed that Carl is a newspaper reporter.

Paula: “You get to go to all these marvelous places, meet interesting people.  Did you ever see Too Hot To Handle? Clark Gable? Myrna Loy? He was a reporter and she was an aviatrix. They had all kinds of adventures. They fell in love. They went up the Amazon River where there were head-hunters… and it isn’t anything like that, is it?”

Carl: “The head-hunting is.”

There’s another passenger aboard the Hanover who doesn’t go to the cocktail party, and whom Carl doesn’t meet: Bernhardt Stieglitz (Eric Braedon; from IMDB, I see that he was on a soap opera for years, but the thing I know him best for is playing the rat-bastard who had Zira and Cornelius killed to try and prevent an ape-dominated future in Escape from the Planet of the Apes.) He’s not as massive a jerk here, but he’s short-tempered and snappy with everyone he deals with from the moment he arrives on the ship. At least he has the excuse that he’s got a wound on his arm that refuses to heal and he’s been troubled lately by terrible nightmares.

A full moon rises on the Hanover’s first night out, and an unlucky passenger walking alone on deck on her way back to her cabin becomes the werewolf’s first victim. The werewolf then makes its way up to the ship’s bridge, where it attacks three crewmen on duty.

An emergency siren goes off during this second attack, and blares for so long that it attracts Carl’s attention and curiosity. He abandons his baffled new friends at the party and heads out to see what’s going on. He’s barred from going up to the bridge, but he sees the ship’s doctor heading that way. Then he hears gunshots, growls, and general sounds of commotion from another part of the deck and runs off to investigate that.

An officer tells him that the shots he thought he heard were the sounds of a high-pressure hose that got loose and was whipping around, but that it’s all under control now. Of course Carl doesn’t believe this.

When he goes down to the radio room, the man on duty there won’t let him send a message out to INS in Chicago; the equipment is out. Carl’s suspicions that something is going on are further roused by the pistol that’s sitting ready to hand on the table. What’s that for? he asks.

For the big swimming meet tomorrow, the radio-man explains.

But the pool’s closed, Carl observes.

“I know that, sir,” and he shoves Carl out the door.

Carl returns to the cocktail party and tries to enlist Paula’s help by describing a scene in Across the Pacific where Mary Astor provides a distraction for Humphrey Bogart so he can search someone’s room. Paula doesn’t fall for it. She’s seen that movie 8 times and knows there’s no such scene. If Carl wants her to distract someone for him, he can just ask without playing games.

And distract she does, pretending to lose a contact lens on the deck outside the radio room to draw the man on duty out to help her find it. Carl sneaks in to have a look at the messages that have been sent out: the key ones concern queries about the background of the passengers, and a request to turn the ship around and head back to port.

Meanwhile, the werewolf isn’t finished with its prowling for the night. It attacks two couples that have gone to the closed and empty swimming pool. They wind up being thrown into it anyway. Carl is on hand to catch the end of this attack, snapping photos of the bodies in the pool and even the werewolf itself as it jumps out at members of the ship’s crew who are trying to capture it. The werewolf also knocks Carl down as it flees and he’s out for the rest of the night.

Carl wakes the next morning in a bed in the ship’s infirmary. The film has been taken from his camera, and Bernhardt Stieglitz is in the next room, tersely consulting the doctor about his own medical issues.

Although Stieglitz never says a word to Carl directly and the two don’t ever do more than pass each other by while Stieglitz is in human form, Carl hears and observes enough to form suspicions about this man as the mangled bodies of the ship’s passengers and crew pile up.

The first thing Carl overhears is the ship’s doctor discussing the reopened wound in Stieglitz’s arm, his dizzy spells, and the nightmares he’s been having the last couple of months since he began his medical leave from NATO. He was stationed in Greenland and  was recently discharged from the Billings Naval Hospital in Montana following some traumatic incident they don’t go into here. This cruise is supposed to be a rest cure, but Stieglitz isn’t feeling very rested. He asks for a narcotic to knock him out at night and stop his dreadful nightmares. The doctor refuses to give him anything stronger than a mild sedative to help him sleep.

Stieglitz storms out, unaware that Carl’s been listening to this whole conversation.

A little laterStieglitz in chains, Carl will bump into Stieglitz in the corridor just outside the infirmary and discover that the locked medical supplies cabinet has been broken into. He immediately guesses who the thief must be.

What Kolchak won’t see is Stieglitz injecting some of the morphine he’s stolen and chaining himself up on his bed that evening. Not that this does any good once the transformation begins. The werewolf simply breaks the chains and heads out for another evening’s prowl.

There are no police aboard the ship, so Carl has to make a nuisance of himself with the Hanover’s captain and crew to see that their werewolf problem is addressed.

Unlike the police, the ship’s crew are aware of what they’re dealing with. Instead of destroying the film from Kolchak’s camera, Captain Wells (Henry Jones) has had it developed. The pictures of the werewolf came out pretty well.

Captain Wells: “How much time can we buy if we change course now and try to outrun the rising moon?”

The captain and crew are anxious to keep this information from the passengers and to cover the whole thing up. The last thing Wells wants to deal with on top of a werewolf running around and killing people is Carl Kolchak and his prying questions.

Since he’s blocked from sending radio messages or making ship-to-shore phone calls from his own room, Carl asks Paula to phone Tony in Chicago from her room. She gets through easily and brings him some interesting information: Two months ago, six men stationed in Greenland were attacked by an unidentified animal; five were killed and the last survived his injuries. One month ago, a family in Wyoming was killed by wolves, the first recorded wolf attack in North America (Kolchak mentioned this incident in his opening narration, accompanied by black-and-white photos and a lurid newspaper headline: “Wolves Slaughter a Family of Four.” When Paula mentions it here, it’s a family of five.)

Paula disappoints me when Carl consults her about how to combat a werewolf. How can an obsessive classic movie fan not be familiar with The Wolf Man? I can’t believe Carl’s never seen it either. Curt Siodmak’s werewolf lore should be common knowledge even if you never have to face an actual werewolf. At last, she dredges up something about silver bullets, although she seems to think it comes from some Western starring John Wayne. Carl remembers that much too.

But how to obtain silver bullets on a ship out in the Pacific OceKolchak makes silver bulletsan?

  • First, steal some silver. The buttons off of Captain Wells’s dress uniform will do.
  • Second, melt the buttons down using an  acetylene torch.
  • Third, ask Mel and Wendy if there’s a priest on board. No, Carl and Paula are not interested in getting married.

The best Mel can produce is a drop-out Divinity school student who can recite a prayer for the dead in Latin over the melted silver.

When Stieglitz transforms that night, breaks his chains, and bursts out of his room, Carl is ready to go.

So where does the show fall down? It’s when we get a good look at the werewolf. They even freeze on his face just before one commercial break so the viewer can study it for far too long.

Shabby werewolfMy, that’s a shabby looking werewolf. You can see how little effort went into this makeup: No fangs, for one thing. When he’s in motion, it’s painfully apparent that no one bothered to put fur on the back of the stuntman’s neck or his ears, even on his arms above the wrist.

Plus, this werewolf never bites anyone, only runs around shouting “Rrarr! Rrarr!” When he kills his victims, it’s by tossing them off of balconies or into the drained swimming pool or slamming them up against the nearest wall. This reticence may have something to do with the television standards of the time, but the vampire episode the week before managed to do a lot more and not look quite so cheesy.

Up on deck, there’s a somewhat suspenseful game of Cat and Mouse–if the cat were a six-foot-tall biped and the mouse had a shotgun loaded with homemade silver shot. Carl tries to hunt down the werewolf, and the werewolf stalks him from the shadows. When the werewolf leaps out, Carl does fire at him a couple of times, but it isn’t the silver bullets that dispatch the shabby werewolf in the end.

Back on the dock beside the Hanover, Carl concludes his story. Even after the werewolf is gone, the cover-up continues. The ship’s crew claims that there was a psychotic killer on board and he either killed himself or fell overboard. All traces of Bernhardt Stieglitz’s existence, down to his luggage and his name on the passenger list, have been removed. NATO denies that any man by that name worked for them. The survivors of the werewolf attacks aboard ship have been taken to Switzerland to be treated for “a rare blood disease”. Tony Vincenzo refuses to publish any story Kolchak submits about this subject.

What else can he do now but go home? Carl grabs his suitcase and hails a taxi for the airport.

About Kathryn L Ramage

Kathryn L. Ramage has a B.A. and M.A. in English lit and has been writing for as long as she can remember. She lives in Maryland with three calico cats. As well as being the author of numerous short stories, novellas, and essays, she is the author of "Maiden in Light," "The Wizard's Son," and "Sonnedragon," novels set on an alternate Earth whose history has diverged from ours somewhere during the medieval period. All three are part of an intended series of fantasy novels that mostly take place in a dukedom called the Northlands, a part of the Norman Empire that roughly covers the north-eastern U.S.
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