Before “The X-Files”, Darren McGavin was reporter Carl Kolchak whose news stories would focus on the supernatural and science fiction aspects of a story. “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” only ran a short (it was only about 20 episodes)season on ABC. Although it lacked the creative fire power of the two TV movies (Producer/director Dan Curtis, director John Moxey and writer Richard Matheson were not involved with the series at all), the best episodes had a sharp sense of humor and a couple of young contributors that would make their mark elsewhere (the creative team behind “Back to the Future” and the writer-producer of “The Sopranos” were both contributors to the series). I realize that writer/creator Jeff Rice ended up suing Universal over the TV series but do wish that an interview with him or commentary tracks had been included.
Released to coincide with the new “The Night Stalker” TV series produced/written by Frank Spotnitz (“The X-Files”, “The Lone Gunmen”), the series is bare bones when it comes to extras.. However, the episodes will be uncut which is a big plus for fans. Having had to suffer through versions burned from the Sci-Fi Channel broadcast, I’ll be happy to finally have these sans commercial interruptions.
There’s good and bad news about the format; all these are released in the dual layered, dual sided format. Because it requires a disc to be “pressed” four times instead of two, there’s a higher chance of problems with the discs. Universal has, in the past, had a problem on occasion with the dual layered/dual sided DVDs freezing up (I recently had a problem with “McCloud” and others have had other problems). Hopefully they’ve solved the manufacturing snafu that caused this problem in the first place and this won’t be a problem here. I didn’t have any of the discs freeze up on me when I tried them but that doesn’t mean that certain players may not have this problem because of flaws during the manufacturing process.
The good news–at last this series is available on DVD. It doesn’t look anywhere as good as MGM’s release of “The Night Stalker/The Night Strangler”. There’s a lot of debris in the image and the images are very, very dark–much darker than necessary which makes night scenes kind of a problem to view at times (since much of the series takes place at night this could be a problem). The packaging is nice with the shows each stored in a single slim line jewel box which will help prevent wear and tear. “Kolchak” was recently voted the worst looking DVD transfer of 2005 (at TVonDVD)because of the poor contrast, image quality, etc. Should you still get it? Absolutely. If you’re a videophile the image quality may bother you but if you’re just watching it for the enjoyment of the show I doubt it will except on the first couple of episodes.
Sure there were dogs here (the werewolf episode among them) but there were also some exceedingly good episodes that demonstrated a unique, quirky sense of humor that translated well to TV. As a monster-of-the-week horror series, “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” had no peers during the 70′s. Among the best episodes are “Horror in the Heights” (written by Jimmy Sangster “Horror of Dracula”), “Chopper” (written byBob Gale & Robert Zemeckis -”Back to the Future”, “Contact”, “Forrest Gump”)and a number of terrific episodes written by “The Sopranos” creator David Chase. I would have loved a commentary track from Jack Grinnage (Ron Updyke)but I suppose that’s asking for too much. There are no extras outside of promos for other Universal products. Since there’s a blank side on the last disc, there was plenty of room to include some. Why not include the promos that ran on ABC for the show? I’m sure there are vintage interviews with Darren McGavin. Since Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz are such great fans of the series why not interview them (along with Jeff Rice) for the set here?
As a big fan of the late (he passed away in March 2006)Darren McGavin and fan of the original TV movies, I’m glad to see this finally coming to DVD but do wish that Universal had included either vintage interviews that McGavin gave at the time or, better yet, commentary tracks or current interviews with McGavin or the surviving cast/production members. It may not be perfect but, hey, at least it has finally arrived on DVD.
Were there cheesy episodes? Sure but then again it’s good cheese with witty dialogue and great performances from a seasoned cast of veterans. The best episodes showed wit and imagination and look pretty good even though optical effects and make up weren’t quite as advanced as today. You can see Mulder to some extent in Kolchak and Scully’s doubting Thomas in Vincenzo. If you get a chance you should also see Darren McGavin’s two appearences on “The X-Files”. He also has a cameo (via digital technology)in a witty tip of the hat in the pilot episode of the new “Night Stalker” TV series. Oh and…
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Since the announcement of a “modern update” was announced for Night Stalker (with Stuart Townsend as Kolchak), I knew two things… The new series will more than likely be terrible, and two, that Universal will finally release the original series on DVD to coincide with the new series. Nothing gets these studios off of their rears like self-promotion. Well, all I can say is “It’s about time!”
I loved watching Kolchak: The Night Stalker when it first aired (I was in 4th grade). Reruns aired in the early 80′s as part of a rotation on the CBS evening movie or late movie, or whatever they called it. Sci-Fi has been running them occasionally with little or no pre-announcement and unfortunately 4 episodes (Legacy of Terror, Demon and Lace, Firefall, and The Energy Eater) have only been presented as two movies that merely combined the episodes into a confusing mess called “Demon and the Mummy” and “Crackle of Death”.
Finally we will have all 20 episodes as they should be seen. The lack of special features is disappointing but not suprising. As other reviewers have commented, I would love to hear commentary from Jeff Rice, David Chase, and/or especially Darren McGavin. I don’t normally review something before it hits the streets, but short of a gigantic mess-up on Universal’s part, a high rating is definately warrented for this amazing series.
Personal favorites: “Horror In The Heights” which the Kolchak Companion describes as the episode most likely to sell the series to a non-viewer. Also high on the creep scale are “The Spanish Moss Murders”, “Chopper”, and “The Zombie”. What a great gift just in time for Halloween!
Just for the record I want to make it clear that I am reviewing the DVD box set of the TV series ‘Kolchak: The Night Stalker’ unlike at least half of the other reviewers on these pages who have reviewed the original Telemovie.
As for my review, let me add my voice to the chorus in saying how wonderful it is to finally have all 20 episodes of the series on DVD. The show has been a favourite of mine since it’s initial run in Australia, and has never lost its sparkle, largely due to excellent performances by the cast.
I’m not going to cover the actual content here, other reviews that were on the right subject have done that well enough.
I am VERY disappointed in the manner the series has been released. Universal needs to understand that double sided DVDs are a thing of the past. I hate them; they are difficult to look after, and due to the 4-pass process, more prone to failure.
Surely with the cost of media today, it would not have made a noticeable difference in cost to release these as single sided/dual layer discs. I know MGM released the Telemovies as a Flipper as well, but at least they cleaned up the source material and added some extras. A little effort was shown, unlike Universal’s continuing stream of bare bones and ‘near enough’ attempts.
Picture quality is also of a dubious nature. OK, so the show is called ‘The NIGHT Stalker’, that doesn’t mean you’re not supposed see anything!!! The Ripper in the first episode virtually vanishes in his black suit in the dark, to the point where you don’t know what’s happening at times. Brightness and contrast have been adjusted so that information contained in these dark areas has ‘blended together’. No amount of adjustment on your TV will let you see any more.
Universal have done little or nothing to improve the picture quality of these episodes. I have VHS tapes of the show, and while they are of course, lower in resolution, there is virtually NO difference in image clarity. Aside from the hopefully more permanent nature of DVD media, there is little to no reason to spend your money chasing a better image. You won’t find it here.
I read in a newsgroup recently that Universal executives have passed an order allowing no more than 2 hours restoration to be done on a single episode from any of their catalogue being released to DVD. That would barely be enough time to identify problems, let alone put them right. For a startling comparison, check out the work that the BBC restoration team are putting into restoring Doctor Who and other titles from their archives (http://www.restoration-team.co.uk/). It puts most other studios to shame.
In closing, if you buy this box set, you’ll have the series, just not in a condition that it deserves, given the popularity and fan base it has inspired in it’s lifetime.
1 star for Universal’s handling of the set, 5 stars for the episodes themselves.