In 1972 a television movie starring Darren McGavin caught my attention. It was called The Night Stalker and told the story of a Las Vegas newspaper reporter, Carl Kolchak as he tracks down a serial killer who turns out to be a vampire. It was based on the then unpublished novel, The Kolchak Papers written by Jeff Rice and adapted for the small screen by Richard Matheson. Dan Curtis was the producer. You might remember that name from another television series thriller, Dark Shadows- a macabre spin on the afternoon soapbox opera which aired in the 1960s. The Night Stalker premiered January 11, 1972 and became the highest rated television movie for that year.
Glowing with the success of the first film, ABC commissioned Richard Matheson to write a sequel, The Night Strangler, which aired a year later in 1973. This followed Kolchak on yet another search for a serial killer; only this one hid out in the underground city of Seattle and strangled victims for their blood which he used to keep himself alive for over a century. It also became a ratings success, and so it logically followed that, Kolchak: The Night Stalker became a new series that ran on ABC from 1974-1975; again starring Darren McGavin as Kolchak, with regular, Simon Oakland as his long-suffering editor, Tony Vincenzo- not to mention every ghost, ghoul, vampire, or monster you could ever have nightmares of.
A youthful Tony Piazza with Darren McGavin working on a TV movie in the mid 1970s.
In 2005 the series was re-imagined with Carl Kolchak portrayed by Stuart Townsend. It was canceling however after a couple months due to low ratings.
Night Stalker 2005
I enjoyed the original show, and have it in my DVD collection. Both television movies were intriguing… but the second, with its images of the buried city of Seattle continued to hold my curiosity even up to today- especially after I’d learned back then that such an underground city existed.
Darren McGavin in character as Carl Kolchak
Flash forward to the present, and a recent trip to Seattle, where I saw in a brochure that tours of that underground city were being offered. How could I pass that up after being haunted by the images long ago of that spooky strangler running through the ruins of a century old buried city in pursuit of our hero, Kolchak. Well, let me say that the reality was not exactly like the celluloid image… but was it disappointing? I would say, definitely not. Let’s take a look:
Start of Tour at Pioneer Square, Seattle, WA.
Spooky Sidewalk Skylight
Entrance to the old Seattle bank
Bank vault where guard was shot dead. Guide says his ghost still wanders the corridors
Door near the bank. Someone buried behind those bricks? Hmmm.
Old sign in rubble…Sam’s Bar? For Spirits?
Inside of the old bar…notice the pillar- it’s an original
Lounge seating from adjacent hotel
Hotel wall painted to look like wallpaper
Finally, I have seen the lost city’s celluloid version, however it wasn’t in Seattle buried under the streets, but very much above ground in downtown Los Angeles. Yes, it is the famous Bradbury Building, (it was dirtied up for the movie- not pristine as in the photo), but very recognizable. Luckily I didn’t come across any century old stranglers, but then again, that’s Hollywood!
Bradbury Building, Los Angeles, CA
The Night Strangler- who didn’t make an appearance- thank goodness!
This guy’s in desperate need of Dr. Whosits French melon extract creme.
As an aside, I’ve also met and talked with Simon Oakland on the set of Bullitt in 1968, and visited with Jo Anne Pflug (co-star) of Night Strangler when she was filming A Step Out of Line in 1971.
Tony Piazza is author of the 1930s Hollywood murder mystery novel, “Anything Short of Murder,” which had its roots on the TCM fan website. His second novel, “The Curse of the Crimson Dragon” was next released early 2012, and in July of this year, his latest Tom Logan Mystery, “A Murder Amongst Angels” was published and is now available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble websites. He was an actor/extra during the 1970s and worked with such legends as Steve McQueen, Paul Newman, and Karl Malden. His non-fiction e-book “Bullitt Points” is an in depth look at the making of “Bullitt” from a person who was there. Look for it on Amazon and Barnes and Noble websites, or at the link posted below. All profits go to the Boys Republic charity: www.bullittpoints.com.
Also: The new Tom Logan mystery thriller, A Murder Amongst Angels is now available!
Find it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and wherever fine books are sold. Also available for $2.99 on Kindle.