Kolchak: The Vampire

The Vampire

“This vampire didn’t come from Transylvania. It came from Las Vegas!”

Although no one says so distinctly–probably for copyright reasons–this episode is a sequel to the original Night Stalker movie.

Catherine Rawlins, the eponymous vampire, is another victim of Janos Skorzeny, never found during the time he stalked Las Vegas. Now, she returns from her unmarked grave.

The story begins one night about three years after the events of The Night Stalker in the desert just outside Las Vegas. A lone driver takes a wrong turn and finds herself on a dead-end road that’s closed for repairs, then she a flat tire. She gets out to change it, cutting her hand in the process and dripping a small amount of blood on the ground just off the road near her car.

While she changes her tire, she doesn’t immediately notice an upheaval in the sandy ground behind her. Two slightly out-of-focus hands emerge from the earth.

Hands!Unexpectedly for the beginning of a Kolchak episode, the car’s driver doesn’t become the newly-risen vampire’s first victim. When she finally sees the hands reaching up out of the ground, she abandons her car and runs away screaming into the night. Civilization mustn’t be very far away. Carl Kolchak’s narrative informs us that by the time the woman returned with the police, there was no sign of a body, dead or undead, by the roadside. The police dismissed the report as coming from an hysterical and over-imaginative kook.

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Kolchak: They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be…

This isn’t one of my favorite episodes; I usually skip over it on the DVD. But I’ll bet that Chris Carter, creator of The X-Files, likes it more than I do. He’s always attributed the inspiration for his own show to his teenaged watching of the Kolchak series, and you can certainly see some inspiring points in this particular episode.

Spaceship Carl Kolchak sits at his desk in the INS offices, speaking into his pocket tape recorder:

I knew this would be more than the biggest story of my career. It was the biggest story in the lives of everyone on this planet. I fought for the story, fought harder than ever before.

I wanted people to know, to be prepared–if you can be prepared for something like this…

CheetahAs usual, Carl’s story of bizarre happenings in the Chicago area begins with a murder–not a woman or a man this time, but a cheetah at the Lincoln Park Zoo. The big cat is attacked by some unseen menace in its cage one night (and I wonder what they were really doing to the poor thing to make it look so agitated).

When his editor Tony Vincenzo tells Carl about the cheetah being “missing” the next morning, he says that this is old news. He’s confused it with a “missing” panther from the day before. When Tony corrects him, Carl recalls that a panda died at the same zoo last week, and this pattern interests him enough to pursue the story.

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Dark Shadows: The Mystery of the Missing Pen

ds-pen When I first watched Dark Shadows via Netflix, Collection 3 of the pre-Barnabas Beginning series wasn’t available. I skipped from the end of Collection 2, concerning the murder of Bill Malloy, to Collection 4, where the case is wound up, and missed most of the actual mystery story in between.

Since I got the entire Dark Shadows series on DVD for Christmas, I’m finally able to watch that missing section–episodes 71 through 105, about 7 weeks of airtime from the autumn of 1966.

Quick recap of the backstory: The body of Collinses’ cannery manager Bill Malloy washed up on the rocks below the cliffs of Collinwood, but the police believe that he was actually killed at a place a little farther up the coast called Lookout Point. His broken watch suggests that this happened at 10:45 pm, halfway between the last time he was seen alive at 10:30 by his housekeeper Mrs. Johnson, and the 11:00 Roger, Burke, and Sam waitingmeeting at the cannery, where Roger Collins, Burke Devlin, and Sam Evans were expecting him. Of course he never showed up.

Since Malloy intended to produce evidence that proved that Burke wasn’t driving the car during that drunken hit-and-run accident that sent him to prison for manslaughter–and that Roger was driving–Roger is very naturally the prime suspect. And Roger makes the most of it by trying to look as suspicious as possible.

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Christmas Mysteries

For years, I collected different film & TV versions of A Christmas Carol on DVD and watched them around this time of year, until I got thoroughly sick of Tiny Tim and Jacob Marley and “Humbug!” and the rest of it.

I began to look around for other holiday-themed viewing, and eventually turned to the extensive number of mystery stories I have on the shelves. How many of them are set at Christmas, so I could watch bodies pile up at English country houses and missing jewels turn up in weird places over a holiday weekend? Quite a few.

The Blue Carbuncle

The Blue CarbuncleActually, I have two TV versions of this classic Sherlock Holmes story on DVD–one from the Jeremy Brett series from the 1980s, and the other from a series made in the late 1960s starring Peter Cushing. Several episodes of the latter have been lost, but a handful including The Blue Carbuncle survive.

The story: A famous gemstone is stolen from its owner at a posh London hotel. The man sent in to repair the heating is immediately arrested for the crime in spite of his protests that he’s innocent; he doesn’t have the big, blue gem on him and a reward is offered for its return. Then the gemstone turns up in the crop of a Christmas goose, which was dropped in the street by one Henry Baker along with his hat. Who’s this Henry Baker and what connection does he have with the theft? How did the stolen gemstone get from the hotel to the insides of the goose? Have the police got the wrong man? Holmes investigates by tracing the history of the goose from the place where it was purchased to the yard where it was raised to find the true thieves, and all on a frosty Christmas Eve.

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Kolchak: The Zombie

The second episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker breaks away from the template established by the two made-for-TV movies that the show was based upon. And it’s educational as well!
Zombie on a crosstown busNo exotic dancers, massage-parlor employees,  or anybody else dressed like Barbara Eden get  murdered this time; it’s a clash between Italian mobsters and a black numbers-running syndicate that drives the plot of this episode. All the victims are men.

This story was co-written by David Chase, who would go on later in his career to write a great deal more about mobsters, but sadly very little about the living dead coming back to take revenge on those who killed them.

The episode begins with Carl Kolchak’s pithy voiceover narration introducing us to a trio  of low-level mooks counting up the receipts from their small-change racket in the otherwise empty back section of a parked semi-truck. Their work is interrupted when someone starts banging on the barred truck doors–the cops, they think as they scramble to destroy incriminating evidence, but the unseen person who bursts in on them proves more dangerous. After firing some ineffective shots, two of the men jump out of the trunk and escape. The third man, named Willie Pike, gets tossed around like a rag doll and ends up dead.

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Kolchak: The Ripper

Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin, now and for always) is riding on an El train through Chicago and talking into his little pocket tape-recorder. Although his lip movements don’t match the narrative voice-over, this is what he says to get our story started on the right note:

“If by chance you happened to be in the Windy City between May 28 and June 2 of this year, you would have had very good reason to be terrified. During this period, Chicago was being stalked by a horror so frightening, so fascinating, that it ranks with the great mysteries of all times. It’s been the fictional subject of novels, plays, films, and even an opera. Now, here are the true facts…”

The first episodes of the television series Kolchak: The Night Stalker aired in September of 1974, a little less than 2 years after The Night Strangler.

Dan Curtis and Richard Matheson were no longer involved in Kolchak‘s production, but the template for the episodes that followed was already established by the two hugely successful made-for-TV movies created by these two: world weary and wise-cracking reporter Carl Kolchak will continue to have brushes with the occult in the course of his regular newspaper work, and end up doing battle with supernatural creatures both traditional and bizarre. His boss, editor Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland) will object strenuously to just about everything Carl does, as will the local police or other authorities involved in investigating the matter.
The Ripper
The worst I can say about this first episode is that it adheres too closely to the template established by the two movies: A number of attractive young women are murdered by a man with supernatural powers. Only, it’s not a vampire, nor a mad doctor looking for the elixir of eternal life. This time, it’s Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper.

The idea that the famous-but-never-identified prototype serial killer was somehow immortal had already put forward in a short story with the above title by Robert Bloch, and also converted into an alien entity that jumps from body to body in an original Star Trek episode.

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CD Review: Return to Collinwood

I’m not done with Dark Shadows yet. An extra feature on one of the final DVDs for the television series, after the last episodes, was about an audio play written by Jamison Selby, David Selby’s son; it was performed by some of the show’s actors at fan conventions in the early 2000s, then they went into a studio and recorded it.

I checked for it on Amazon. Still available!

Return to CollinwoodThe story is on 2 discs.  Some of the actors play their old, familiar characters again. Nancy Barrett is Carolyn Stoddard, now owner of Collinwood since her mother Elizabeth has passed on. David Selby is Quentin Collins, 140 years old, but he puts gray streaks in his hair to look like a well-preserved 50ish. Kathryn Leigh Scott is back as Maggie Evans. John Karlen is still Willie Loomis, living at the old Collins house.

I like that Jamison Selby has followed some of the projections for these characters provided by the show’s writer Sam Hall. Carolyn has been working for years as Head of Psychical Research at the University of Maine (sadly, not Miskatonic U). Maggie was married to Joe Haskell and has been widowed for about 1o years. Maggie now works at the nearby Windcliff sanitarium, where another old boyfriend, Sebastian Shaw (Christopher Pennock) is currently a catatonic patient. She and Quentin are an item again, and she meets him at the train station when he returns from a trip to Peru; he’s been traveling all around the world since 1970, and has most recently tried unsuccessfully to locate the long-missing David Collins. David Collins went away after a quarrel with his father Roger and hasn’t been heard from since.

Other actors from the show are present as new characters. Roger Davis, who played Peter Bradford/Jeff Clark, is Ned Stuart, Carolyn’s husband. They’ve been married about a year prior the events of the audio play. Donna Wandrey, who was Roxanne Drew, is the dour Collinwood housekeeper, Mrs. Franklin. Marie Wallace, who played Evil Eve and Mad Jenny, is the not-at-all evil and entirely sensible Jessica Loomis, Willie’s wife.

The Loomises are hoping to stay on at the old house now that Carolyn is in charge. Willie has been renovating the place, putting in electricity and plumbing, as well as a big-screen TV. He’s in the process of installing a hot tub when he discovers a mysterious package hidden within the wall–a package addressed to him.

The surviving Collins family has been summoned to Collinwood for the reading of Elizabeth Collins Stoddard’s will and to try contact her spirit at a specific date and time, since she expressed a desire to speak to them all one last time. The only actual Collinses to make it are Carolyn and Quentin. David wasn’t found. Roger predeceased his sister, and who knows where Barnabas is?

To contact Elizabeth, they’re going to hold a seance. You know that the Collinses love their seances even more than I do and will leap on any old excuse to have one.

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Excerpt from “Who Killed Toby Glovins?”

Toby Glovins cover detailThe bride’s and groom’s friends prepare decorations in the garden the evening before the wedding…

The last chain of flowers was finished as the sun sank out of sight behind the garden wall. Bicky and, at his brother’s insistence, Dotty joined the girls and Felix to help hang the garlands up around the bower frame. Evelyn, who had been working swiftly to finish before sunset, put down the knife he’d been using to trim the flower-stems, washed the green stains from his hands in the water from one of the tubs, and hastily left. Phillip went over to Kell and the two began to talk quietly.

Freddie lay back on the grass and stared at the sky overhead as twilight settled in. The color had waned from bright, cloudless blue to a dusky lavender and was beginning to deepen. It was a beautiful evening, still, clear, and quiet. He could hear Kell and Phillip whispering together, and the smell of Kell’s cigarette in the cooling air made him wish he had one of his own.

There was some animated discussion at the bower, then Felix, Piggy, and Perdita came to stand over him.

“The girls,” announced Felix with a grin, “have a proposal.”

“A dance!” cried Perdita. “There’ll be lots of dancing tomorrow. We need to practice.”

“We need boys. We can’t all dance with Felix,” Alma said with her customary giggle, but she managed to claim Felix for her partner just the same.

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The Ghost of a Tower

Or, the story behind a cover photo.

The photograph for the cover of Who Killed Toby Glovins? was taken at a place called Layer Marney, which is about 1/2 an hour’s drive outside Colchester in the UK. I went there at the end of the same day I wandered around the lanes of the Suffolk countryside in search of Abbotshill; after I visited Lavenham, I drove south again down around the other side of the city. This was my last stop of the day.

Let’s call this part of the journey “Looking for Foxgrove.”

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DVD Review: The Uninvited

I first saw this film in the early hours of a New Year’s day, when I was about 12. After spending the week after Christmas at my grandmother’s house, my family drove home on a snowy New Year’s Eve and got in in time to watch the usual Times Square midnight countdown on TV.

Mom and Dad went to bed right afterwards, but before my little sister and I could pack up the big Christmas box of Legos, the same TV station began to show a movie; its opening caught our attention.

We stayed up to watch the whole thing, and didn’t get much sleep afterwards.

The opening scene? A black and white shot of waves crashing on a ragged, rocky coastline, and Ray Milland’s voice saying:

“They call them the haunted shores, these stretches of Devonshire and Cornwall and Ireland which rear up against the westward ocean. Mists gather here, and sea fog, and eerie stories.  That’s not because there are most ghosts here than in other places, mind you–it’s just that people who live here are strangely aware of them. You see, day and night, year in, year out, they listen to the pound and stir of the waves. There’s life and death in that restless sound, and eternity too.  If you listen to it long enough, all your senses are sharpened. You come by strange instincts. You get to recognize the peculiar cold that’s the first warning, a cold which is no mere matter of degrees Fahrenheit, but a draining of warmth from the vital centers of the living.

The Uninvited ghost“Local people tell me they would’ve felt it, even outside that locked door. We didn’t. They can’t understand why we didn’t know what it meant when our dog wouldn’t go up those stairs. Animals see the blasted things, it appears.

“Well, my sister Pamela and I knew nothing about such matters. Not then, we didn’t…”

 

It takes stronger wills or much more sleepy heads than two little girls possessed that night to turn the TV off after such a tantalizing beginning.

I’m glad I had the chance to see it then; it’s not a movie that’s been widely shown. Before it came out on DVD a couple of years ago, I don’t think I’d seen it more than twice in the 40 years since that initial viewing. Unlike a lot of spooky movies I enjoyed in childhood, this one lives up to my first impression. It’s still a great ghost story with a ghost that still looks very good.

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