Saturday, December 30, 2017

Carl Kolchak and The Headless Motorcycle Enthusiast, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Fifteen, Chopper

 Written by a very young Robert Zemeckis, Chopper is one of the strongest episodes of the entire series and features Carl chasing an updated headless horseman on a motorcycle.  The leader of a 50’s motorcycle gang who was accidentally decapitated has come back from the dead and is lopping off the heads (his nickname was Swordman) of his old gang, who have all moved on with their lives.  Featuring another MASH alum Larry Linville as the latest detective for Carl to antagonize, Carl goes through police captains like so many typewriter ribbons (see what I did there). It’s ironic, Carl insists it’s a headless living dead corpse on a motorcycle, and the captain is convinced it’s a rival motorcycle gang in a costume, when it’s obvious, even to a 70’s audience, that this is a stuntman in an oversized leather jacket.  The proportions all wrong.
Anthony’s on a diet, so he’s extra-annoyed with Carl.  Watch out for Jim Backus, you know, Thurston Howell the Third, as a motorcycle salesman who has a WWII flashback, and take note of the campy museum director’s Mid-Atlantic accent; you just don’t hear that anymore.  But it made anything Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn say sound so sophisticated.



PREVIOUSLY, on Kolchak: The Night Stalker:  Chicago’s Favorite Witch Hunter On the Catwalk, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Fourteen, The Trevi Collection



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Friday, December 29, 2017

Chicago’s Favorite Witch Hunter On the Catwalk, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Fourteen, The Trevi Collection

Bewitched mannequins come to life and kill people in The Trevi Collection, where Carl steps into the world of haute couture to investigate a some more sketchy supernatural murders in what has to be the raciest episode of the season; there’s a lot of scantily clad models running around, in addition to a shower scene.  It’s not Carl in the shower, if you were wondering; we never get to see his apartment.  For all we know he lives at the INS office or in his car (he does have only one suit).
Fun fact: witches hate the sound of breaking glass and they can’t be drowned, which is the origin of the dunking chair.  Also, publicly accusing a witch of witchcraft will weaken their power, good to know.


PREVIOUSLY, on Kolchak: The Night Stalker: Carl Kolchak Alters His State and Chases A Caveman, or Thoughts on Episode Thirteen, Primal Scream 


NEXT on Kolchak: The Night Stalker: Carl Kolchak and The Headless Motorcycle Enthusiast, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Fifteen, Chopper





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Thursday, December 28, 2017

Carl Kolchak Alters His State and Chases A Caveman, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Thirteen, Primal Scream

Only in Chicago (and only on a story Carl Kolchak is running down) can some random multi-national petro-chemical company bring back some ice core samples from up north, and when those ice cores melt, the frozen cells released spawn, evolve and grow (in a weekend) into a fully functioning rampaging ape-man.  The science is sketchy in Primal Scream, and I really think the series worked best when it stayed in the supernatural lane, but I have to admit it’s fun to watch Carl chasing a missing link straight out of the prologue to 2001 (1968).  Watch out for Jamie Farr, Klinger from MASH (and arguably a bigger star than Darren McGavin at the time), as Jack Burton, a High School science teacher.

PREVIOUSLY, on Kolchak: The Night Stalker:  Carl Kolchak Veers Into Sci-Fi and Fights a Robot, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Twelve, Mr. R.I.N.G.


NEXT on Kolchak: The Night Stalker:
Chicago’s Favorite Witch Hunter On the Catwalk, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Fourteen, The Trevi Collection




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Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Carl Kolchak Veers Into Sci-Fi and Fights a Robot, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Twelve, Mr. R.I.N.G.

Mr. R.I.N.G. stands for Robomatic Internalized Nerve Ganglia, in case you’re interested (and I know you are), a Westworld (1973) inspired android, that is to say, a guy wearing a circuit board face mask acting like a robot.  Mr. R.I.N.G. escaped from his lab and is running amuck in Chicago, completely ignoring Asmiov’s First Law of Robotics (nerd) and killing everyone who threatens him.  He’s also reminiscent of Michael Myers, though John Carpenter’s Halloween was two years away, and this is more of a modernized Frankenstein.  Carl runs into a government conspiracy featuring proto-Men in Black (in an AMC Pacer!) and gets help from a comely lady scientist, and a campy mortician.   Not including Ron Updyke, there’s a lot of campy characters in The Night Stalker.  Was this just a thing that viewers didn’t notice or tacitly accepted in the 70’s?
Mr.  R.I.N.G. was portrayed by stuntman Craig Baxley, who went on to work on The A. Team, The Dukes of Hazzard and Predator (1987).  Also watch out for Julie Adams, Kay from Creature From The Black Lagoon (1954) as Mrs. Walker, a bereaved widow.


PREVIOUSLY, on Kolchak: The Night Stalker: Carl Kolchak and The Bollywood Sasquatch, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Eleven, Horror in The Heights

NEXT on Kolchak: The Night Stalker: Carl Alters His State and Chases A Caveman, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Thirteen, Primal Scream



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Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Before Saruman, Before Count Dooku, He Was The Count, or Thoughts on Horror of Dracula

Count Dracula was stuck in the long shadow of Bela Lugosi’s iconic 1931 performance before Hammer’s introduced a modernized more explicit version in Horror of Dracula (1958).  Everyone, even in 1958 knew the Dracula mythos and how it works, and Jimmy Sangster’s screenplay acknowledged this by using the same characters but tweaking the original plot; Jonathan Harker’s engaged to Lucy, not Mina, and he goes to Castle Dracula with the expressed intention of killing him.  Of course, that’s harder than it looks, but Peter Cushing in his first portrayal of Doctor Van Helsing is ready to take up the slack.
Peter Cushing gets star billing but the breakout star is Christopher Lee, his suave, malevolent and debonair performance completely modernized the Count, aided in great part by his imposing height, and the added sensuality and violence.  Buffy vamps might burst into CGI smoke and ash when staked, but Hammer vamps are more analog, pulpy, and the violence isn’t implied, the studio showed as much blood as they could get away with at the time.  Also, to my knowledge and don’t quote me on this, the first vampire film in Technicolor.  Watch out for Michael Gough, Alfred in Tim Burton’s Batman (1989), as Arthur Holmwood.
Any of these old school vampire movies can be viewed as either a Victorian metaphor for the evils of premarital sex and losing your virginity, or a cool guy in a cape that sucks blood.  The choice is yours, and blood is the life.



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Monday, December 25, 2017

A Very Bad Santa and An Even Worse Mrs. Claus, or Thoughts on Bad Santa 2

 The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree in Bad Santa 2 (2016), which features Kathy Bates as Willie’s foul-mouthed, punk rock mama/felon, Sunny Soke.  Kathy is only 7 years older than Billy Bob Thornton but no worries, the filmmakers tweaked the math and in the movie she had him when she was 13.  Now that that’s been settled, we can move along with the plot, such as it is.
Thirteen years after Bad Santa (2003), Willie is even more miserable and suicidal when he teams up with his mom and Marcus, his dwarf partner from the first film, to rob a Christmas charity in Chicago.  Much like Home Alone 2 (1992), history repeats itself with the same cast and the same premise, but diminishing returns.  However, Brett Kelly’s back as Thurmann, all grown up and still sandwich-obsessed (he works at a subway sandwich shop) and Christina Hendrix is introduced as the comely charity foundation owner and reluctant AA sponsor for guess who.
From Mark Waters, the director of Mean Girls (2004), it’s not as subversive or mean spirited as the first one, but it’s set in Chicago (Montreal), so you get a more traditional Christmas vibe.  The real question is; how much self-loathing misanthropy and dick jokes can you tolerate during the holidays?  And another thing: if Marcus has been in the big house for the past decade, there’s no way he would have had an Instagram account, and it’s not like it was a very funny joke in the first place.



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Saturday, December 23, 2017

Just How Bad Can He Be, or Thoughts on Bad Santa

To be fair the whole trend of bad/insert occupation movies began with Abel Ferrara’s Bad Lieutenant (1992), but the genre really took off with the subversive Christmas movie Bad Santa (2003), which featured Billy Bob Thornton as Willie Soke, an unapologetic chain-smoking, hard drinking, foul mouthed, suicidal degenerate and career criminal who poses as a shopping mall Santa in order to rob the stores.  From Director Terry Zwigoff of Ghost World (2001, one of my favorite movies, but sadly no ghosts), it’s the juxtaposition of happy Christmas music and themes that makes the movie, aided in large part by the strength and on-screen charisma of Billy Bob Thornton.  The power and the freedom of Willie’s character is that he has nothing to lose, so he does whatever he wants.  He’s a very likeable bad guy, and audiences sympathize with his declared and larger than life weaknesses.
Also with Canadian actor Brett Kelly Thurman, 9 years old at the time of filming, as Thurmann, maybe the most pathetic, poignant and absurd kid ever committed to screen.  He wears Willie down with his naïveté and faith in the Santa suit (it is a Christmas movie, after all).  It’s a far more courageous performance than Billy Bob Thornton’s.  Tony Cox plays Marcus, Willie’s partner in crime.  Like many Hollywood little people of a certain age, Tony Cox got his start as an Ewok in Return of the Jedi (1983), in addition to appearing as the preacher in the wedding scene of Beetlejuice (1988)
Watch out for Cloris Leachman, Frau Blucher from Young Frankenstein (1974) as Thurman’s grandma, Lauren Graham as Lois, a hard drinking bartender with a Santa fetish, Ethan Phillips, Neelix from Star Trek: Voyager as Thurman’s dad and John Ritter as the Mall manager and Bernie Mac as the security chief.  There are also cameos by Alex Borstein as a random mom and Bryan Callen as a Miami bartender.
There is a character arc for Willie Soke, and a bit of a redemption that seems unrealistic, but that’s what makes this a Christmas movie and not another raunchy comedy heist movie.  There was a sequel Bad Santa 2 (2015), which I also watched and reviewed because hey, it’s Christmas.



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Friday, December 22, 2017

Carl Kolchak and The Bollywood Sasquatch, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Eleven, Horror in The Heights

Of course Carl has a police scanner in his vintage mustang, and when he hears about some hinky rat mutilation murders in a Jewish neighborhood, he has to check it out.  There’s a lot of swastika graffiti in the neighborhood but they’re reverse swastikas, or the ancient Hindu symbol used in this case (it’s the Night Stalker, after all) to ward off evil.  Because in Horror in the Heights Carl chases a Hindu Rakshasa, who can only be killed with a crossbow loaded with bolts blessed by the god Brahma.
The Rakasha can take on the form of a trusted friend or loved one, and when he gets close, he eats you.  He actually looks like a shaggy, toothy sasquatch reminiscent of the salt monster from Star Trek (which to be fair had a remarkably similar premise).  It’s a guy in a suit, but I’d take a costume any day over a cheap CGI monster.  Watch out veteran TV actor Phil Silvers as Harry Starman, a witness.  Carl also gets some help from a campy antiques dealer and specialist in Indian mythology.
This episode was also written by Jimmy Sangster, and if that name sounds familiar it’s because he directed Hammer’s Lust for a Vampire (1971), as well as the screenwriter for Hammer’s The Curse of Frankenstein (1957), Horror of Dracula (1958) and The Mummy (1959, and all starring Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee).


PREVIOUSLY, on Kolchak: The Night Stalker: Carl Fights Some More Native American Evil Spirits, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Ten, The Energy Eater


NEXT on Kolchak: The Night Stalker:  Carl Kolchak Veers Into Sci-Fi and Fights a Robot, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Twelve, Mr. R.I.N.G.



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Thursday, December 21, 2017

Carl Fights Some More Native American Evil Spirits (This Time in a Hospital), or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Ten, The Energy Eater


Carl Kolchak can’t help himself, he looks for mysteries, and he’s open to extraordinary explanations.  It’s his long-suffering editor Tony Vincenzo’s fault; in The Energy Eater Tony sends him out to write a fluff piece on a hospital opening, and Carl comes back with a conspiracy and a hospital cover-up.  See, it’s a brand new building, but there are power issues, cracks in the walls, hot zone and general creepy things going on.  Not to mention the patients having their plasma congealed while their life energy is drained out.  Carl goes around impersonating doctors and hospital orderlies, generally poking around and looking for trouble, and what he finds is the Matchi Manitou, an invisible Native American bear god that can only be seen through X-ray or infra-red film.  He gets some help from a modern shaman with an MBA, and an assortment of comely nurses
With a supernatural explanation to a sci-fi premise, the movie predates The X-Files’ Ghost in the Machine (1993), which upgraded the monster to a rogue AI.  But an invisible monster too close to the invisible alien in They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be (did they think we’d forget so soon)?  I think you can one invisible monster per season, two, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, begins to look like carelessness.

PREVIOUSLY, on Kolchak: The Night Stalker: It’s Kolchak vs a Louisiana Swamp Monster, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Nine, The Spanish Moss Murders


NEXT, on Kolchak: The Night Stalker:  Carl Kolchak and The Bollywood Sasquatch, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Eleven, Horror in The Heights



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It’s Kolchak vs a 7-Foot Louisiana Swamp Monster, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Nine, The Spanish Moss Murders


Richard Kiel returns in The Spanish Moss Murders as the Père Malfait, the aforementioned Louisiana swamp monster, but really he just looks like a sniper in one of those ghillie suits.  Carl checks out a sleep clinic in an episode that turns into a reverse Nightmare on Elm Street, in the sense that the nightmares of a Cajun musician that’s been asleep for six weeks comes to life and starts killing all of his enemies.  It’s a nice acknowledgement of the Chicago music scene as Kolchak interviews Cajun expats and learns all about Zydeco (not really).
In other news (see what i did there), Tony’s giving a speech at some fancy journalism awards dinner (which Carl won’t attend), and his seersucker suit gets wrecked by the end of the episode from fighting the Père Malfait.  We’ve already determined that he only has the one suit, so his drycleaners will have to work overtime to get him ready for next week’s episode.

PREVIOUSLY, on Kolchak: The Night Stalker: Tom Skerritt is Discount TV Damien, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Seven, The Devil’s Platform

NEXT, on Kolchak: The Night Stalker:  Carl Fights Some More Native American Evil Spirits, or Thoughts on The Energy Eater


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Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Carl Fights a 7-Foot Undead Shapeshifting Angry Shaman (and Bond Villain), or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Eight, Bad Medicine

Like every episode, Bad Medicine starts with Carl narrating into his tape recorder, but what’s interesting is that he’s paraphrasing F. Scott Fitzgerald, with the assumption that the audience will keep up and get the reference.  Because Carl’s a writer, that’s part of his appeal, and 70’s audiences were way more literate.  (They also had hands of steel.  Have you ever tried typing on a manual typewriter?  It’s like pushing bricks).
At any rate, Kolchak finds himself hob nobbing with the Chicago hoi-polloi while investigating a series of high-end jewelry burglary and murders.  Of course there’s no such thing as an ordinary murder in The Night Stalker, and Carl soon finds himself chasing a shapeshifting “Diablero” Native American ghost shaman portrayed by Richard Kiehl, you know, Jaws from The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), and the Kanamit in my second favorite Twilight Zone episode, To Serve Man (1962, the first being Nightmare at 20,000 Feet).  He’s uh, technically in brown-face, or has a really deep tan, so that might be seen as offensive to a more sensitive, contemporary audience.  Richard Kiehl would return in the next episode as Père Malfait, a Cajun swamp monster, and think how much better those parties on West Egg would have been if they’d had one of those.



PREVIOUSLY, on Kolchak: The Night Stalker: Tom Skerritt is Discount TV Damien, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Seven, The Devil’s Platform

NEXT, on Kolchak: The Night Stalker: It’s Kolchak vs a Louisiana Swamp Monster, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Nine, The Spanish Moss Murders.





you can read my books for free on amazon kindle,  or buy the paperbacks, available at fine bookstores everywhere (or really, just on amazon). 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Tom Skerritt is Discount TV Damien, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Seven, The Devil’s Platform

Politics and deals with the devil seem like a match made in heaven (see what I did there), and in Episode Seven, The Devil’s Platform, Carl is on his way to interview a Kennedy-esque senatorial candidate when he’s distracted by a far more interesting and gruesome elevator accident.  The future senator is a shapeshifting demon Rottweiler who leaps from the wreckage; he’s been eliminating all his political rivals (and a mistress) in run for the Illinois senate with eyes on the presidency.  Yes, it’s reminiscent of The Omen, but that movie came out in 1976, two years later, so technically, one could argue that this TV show inspired Richard Donner’s film.
It’s nice to see an early Tom Skerrett as the senator candidate Robert Palmer, but this is nowhere near his first performance, he had already appeared in Robert Altman’s MASH (1970), and Harold and Maude (1971, if you wanna sing out, sing out).  Incidentally, that is Carl’s only suit; the dog tears it and he tries to get Tony to pay the dry cleaning and tailor bill.




PREVIOUSLY, on Kolchak: The Night Stalker: Spontaneous Human Combustion Was a Thing in the 70’s, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Six, Firefall

NEXT, on Kolchak: The Night Stalker: Carl Fights a 7-Foot Undead Shapeshifting Angry Shaman (and Bond Villain), or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Eight, Bad Medicine



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Saturday, December 16, 2017

Spontaneous Human Combustion Was a Thing in the 70’s, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Six, Firefall

Carl always writes the story he’s interested in, and in most cases, (well, all of them), that story involves mysterious deaths.  In Firefall he chases a pyro-ghost doppelganger who’s immolating the close friends of some famous Chicago conductor.  The doppelganger angle, and how to defeat it, is explained by a nice Gypsy lady who actually believes him, for once.  Watch out for David Doyle, Bosley from the original Charlie’s Angels, as a fire expert.  Or he might be an insurance expert, the episode wasn’t clear.
Some random observations: Ron plays the French horn, which isn’t a euphemism, (except yeah, it sorta is), the INS keeps their deep storage files in the men’s room and while we can all agree that one of the stars of the series is Carl’s gorgeous vintage lemon yellow 1966 Mustang, but is it supposed to be a piece of junk in 1974?  Is this a Millennium Falcon situation?  And how does he find the perfect parking spaces in downtown Chicago?  And who drives up, directly into a crime scene in progress, jumps out, elbows the cops out of the way and starts taking photos?  That’s Kolchak for you, he’s fearless when it comes to getting the story first.

PREVIOUSLY, on Kolchak: The Night Stalker:  Carl Takes a Moonlit Cruise, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Five, The Werewolf

NEXT, on Kolchak: The Night Stalker:  Tom Skerritt is Discount TV Damien, or Thoughts on Kolchak: The Night Stalker Episode Seven, The Devil’s Platform



you can read my books for free on amazon kindle,  or buy the paperbacks, available at fine bookstores everywhere (or really, just on amazon).