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Night Strangler, The

Entry updated 12 February 2021. Tagged: Film.

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Made-for-tv film (1973; vt The Time Killer). ABC Circle Films for ABC-Television. Directed and produced by Dan Curtis. Written by Richard Matheson, based on characters created by Jeff Rice. Cast includes Richard Anderson, Scott Brady, John Carradine, Wally Cox, Margaret Hamilton, Al Lewis, Darren McGavin, Simon Oakland, Jo Ann Pflug and Nina Wayne. Make-up by William Tuttle. 74 minutes, expanded to 90 minutes for home DVD release. Colour.

After being fired and run out of Las Vegas in The Night Stalker (1972) (see Kolchak: The Night Stalker), acerbic reporter Carl Kolchak (McGavin) renews his working relationship with newspaper editor Tony Vincenzo (Oakland) in Seattle. Vincenzo hires Kolchak for his current paper, albeit with some trepidation, and assigns him to cover the death by strangulation of an exotic dancer at a men's club. This brings Kolchak into conflict with the police, led by Captain Schubert (Brady), and with the newspaper owner Llewellyn Crossbinder (Carradine), as well as with Vincenzo, but also leads to friendship with another dancer, Louise Harper (Pflug). Harper helps Kolchak after "Charisma Beauty" (Wayne) is similarly murdered, as does fellow worker Mr Berry (Cox) who points out how similar the killings are to several from 1951. This in turn uncovers a trail of strangulation murders with some slight blood-loss every twenty-one years back to 1889, when the newspaper was founded. After much conflict with Schubert in particular, Kolchak traces the killer to a hidden lair in the Underground ruins of Old Seattle, largely destroyed by fire in the late 1880s. There he confronts a hundred-fifty year old alchemist, Dr Richard Malcolm (Anderson), who has been trying to perfect an elixir of life (see Immortality) based on spinal fluid from young women, and make its effects permanent. Malcolm has been insane since the death of his family in the historic fire, and keeps their remains with him in his quarters. Kolchak destroys the final dose of the elixir, leading to Malcolm's reversion to his true age moments before – alerted by Louise – the law bursts in. Before old age can destroy him, Malcolm jumps to his death from a ledge. At the conclusion, Vincenzo surprisingly attempts to publish the whole story but is stopped by Crossbinder; he and Kolchak are both fired. They leave town with Louise, who is no longer welcome in Seattle after aiding Kolchak.

The Night Strangler was the primary pilot for the Television series Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-1975). Almost identical in plot to the original telefilm, it is of slightly more sf interest, featuring a Mad Scientist rather than a supernatural Monster like the first film's Vampire. Veteran actress Hamilton appears briefly as Prof Crabwell, an expert on mythology. Lewis portrays a homeless tramp living in the underground ruins; this sequence was deleted from most prints for many years. The 90-minute version is to be preferred.

The novelization was The Night Strangler (1974) by Jeff Rice, though with Matheson's name displayed prominently on the cover. Chris Carter has acknowledged the television series as a major influence on him. [GSt/DRL]


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