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Crackle of Death

Entry updated 4 April 2017. Tagged: Film.

Made-for-tv film (1976). Francy Productions for Universal Television. Produced by Cy Chermak. Directed by Alex Grasshoff and Don Weiss. Written by Arthur Rowe and Rudolph Borchert from an idea by Rowe ("The Energy Eater"); Bill S Ballinger ("Firefall"). Cast includes Fred Bier, Philip Carey, Elaine Giftos, Jack Grinnage, Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, William Smith, Michael Strong and Robert Yuro. 92 minutes. Colour.

This film actually comprises two cobbled-together episodes of the Television series Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-1975): "The Energy Eater" (13 December 1974) and "Firefall" (8 November 1974). Kolchak first investigates a series of deaths involving an invisible Native American bear-spirit entity, the "matchemonedo" ("The Energy Eater"). This creature had long been in Suspended Animation owing to cold lake waters, until a hospital was built on a reclaimed portion of land. It survives by draining the energy out of living things; when accidentally photographed by x-rays it resembles a swirling cloud with a giant eye. For once, Kolchak is able to convince the authorities to take appropriate action, by freezing the creature with liquid nitrogen, with help from construction foreman/shaman Jim Elkhorn (Smith) and Nurse Eisen (Giftos). A second set of killings ("Firefall") proves to be the work of a ghostly revenant, a deceased arsonist who covets the body of orchestra conductor Ryder Bond (Bier) and uses flame to destroy its enemies when they fall asleep. Kolchak manages to send the spirit of arsonist Frankie Markoff (also Bier) back to rest at the gangland meeting/business area where he died, which bursts into flame giving Kolchak just enough time to escape. Sergeant Mayer (Carey) and police captain Webster (Yuro) are the law enforcement officials he must deal with, while Walter Green (Strong) is the constructor (and demolisher) of the hospital.

Conventional wisdom of the period said that short-run television series could not make enough profit to be worth syndicating for reruns, a notion put to rest in the following year when Kolchak: The Night Stalker became a regular feature on The CBS Late Movie, continuing for some years afterwards. Actors McGavin, Oakland, and Grinnage returned for voice-over work in hope of making Crackle of Death flow more smoothly, but with limited success. A second such film titled The Demon and the Mummy (1976) was made at the same time from the Kolchak episodes "Demon in Lace" (7 February 1975) and "Legacy of Terror" (14 February 1975) – equally uneven, but with no arguably sf elements. Owing to the existence of these films, the four relevant episodes were for many years omitted from the Kolchak syndication package, until at last included in the home video release. [GSt]


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