Sunday, February 19, 2012

Your Quick Reference Guide to "It Couldn't Happen Here"

Welcome to It Couldn't Happen Here! While we've finished our marathon viewing and reviewing an episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker a day, we hope you'll come along for the ride after the fact and post your comments on the episodes as you make your way through the series. While you can access all of the entries in the Blog Archive in the sidebar, we thought it would be helpful to provide this index with links to each of the episode reviews, Mark Dawidziak's daily spotlights, and the other special features posted.


  1. The Night Stalker Review - Mark Dawidziak - Matthew Bradley
  2. The Night Strangler Review - Mark Dawidziak - Matthew Bradley
TV Series Episode Reviews
  1. "The Ripper" Review - Mark Dawidziak
  2. "The Zombie" Review - Mark Dawidziak
  3. "They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be..." Review - Mark Dawidziak
  4. "The Vampire" Review - Mark Dawidziak 
  5. "The Werewolf" Review - Mark Dawidziak
  6. "Firefall" Review - Mark Dawidziak 
  7. "The Devil's Platform" Review - Mark Dawidziak
  8. "Bad Medicine" Review - Mark Dawidziak
  9. "The Spanish Moss Murders" Review - Mark Dawidziak - Deleted Scenes
  10. "The Energy Eater" Review - Mark Dawidziak
  11. "Horror in the Heights" Review - Mark Dawidziak
  12. "Mr. R.I.N.G." Review - Mark Dawidziak
  13. "Primal Scream" Review - Mark Dawidziak
  14. "The Trevi Collection" Review - Mark Dawidziak
  15. "Chopper" Review - Mark Dawidziak
  16. "Demon in Lace" Review - Mark Dawidziak
  17. "Legacy of Terror" Review - Mark Dawidziak
  18. "The Knightly Murders" Review - Mark Dawidziak
  19. "The Youth Killer" Review - Mark Dawidziak
  20. "The Sentry" Review - Mark Dawidziak
DJS Presents The Unfilmed Episodes 
  1. "Eve of Terror"
  2. "The Get of Belial"
  3. "The Executioners"
Special Features

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Kolchak Reborn!

This is it—the last scheduled post for It Couldn't Happen Here. After careful consideration, we have decided to forgo an episode-a-day analysis of The Night Stalker revival. Instead, we leave you with this thoughtful overview of the short-lived series by David J. Schow.

Kolchak Reborn
by David J. Schow 
 
            Reboot The Night Stalker.  How dare they, right?

            Revamp Kolchak into post-McGavin Tormented Hero With A Dark Secret mode; lose the seersucker, lose the hat, lose the yelling matches with Vincenzo, subtract the idiosyncratic byplay — in fact, stomp cruelly on childhood recollect of everything that made Kolchak: The Night Stalker memorable.  Bad, bad TV people!  Evil reivers of cherished youth!

            Right?

            ABC sure thought their 2005 series was a massive fail, canceling it after only six episodes aired.

            Fans of “Classic Kolchak” had plenty to bitch about, too, whining and stamping their hooves about each and every microscopic deviation from what they were convinced was some kind of gospel.  And in the middle of the first decade of the 21st Century, internet comment boards gave even the least literate of these champions ample space in which to wheeze and poot their displeasure … as though their opinions mattered for anything.

            But Classic-K was abundantly available by that time, in the form of comics and tie-in books of new tales that played by the old rules.  For the most part, they did not preserve or perpetuate Carl Kolchak so much as shellac him in amber, the way John Gardner’s “modernized” novels tried to preserve the Playboy Philosophy-era James Bond — accurately, but at the airless cost of repeating what had already been done.  Or they recombined him with other fictional sleuths such as Sherlock Holmes in mashups.

            Upside:  These still-ongoing works kept the flame burning.

            Like many other Kolchak acolytes, producer Frank Spotnitz had begun his career as a journalist, before he fell into The X Files for a marathon nine-season run.  When offered The Night Stalker by ABC and Touchstone Television, he grabbed it with both hands … because he had been 14 when the original series debuted, and freely admits he was one of the show’s biggest fans.  Accordingly, he had attempted to write Carl Kolchak into The X Files, a plan scuttled by Darren McGavin, who initially felt ripped off.  Once McGavin got a proper taste of The X Files, he came onboard as a thinly-disguised Kolchak-manque for two episodes.  In “Agua Mala,” McGavin points out to Fox Mulder:  “If I had had someone as savvy as (Scully) all those years ago … I might not have retired.”

            While it is fair to say The X Files helped enable a Kolchak reboot, it was also a huge obstacle — Kolchak now had to fit into a post-X Files TV universe and not be dismissed (as some put it) as “X Files lite.”  Considering all the other spinoffs and features in the X Files family, it’s a shame Kolchak’s run was truncated, leaving potential character arcs undeveloped and unexplained.  As the pilot episode proves, Spotnitz’s heart was in exactly the right place, even extending to three hat-tips to Classic K:


            (1)  A “digital cameo” by McGavin’s Kolchak in the Beacon newsroom (look close and you’ll see it’s a shot of Kolchak putting a hammer and stake in his workbag, from The Night Stalker).


            (2)  Kolchak’s “bird feeder” hat hanging in the new Kolchak’s home office.

            (3)  The license plate on Kolchak’s upgraded Mustang reads 197DMG2 — as Spotnitz explained, for “Darren McGavin, 1972.”

            Vincenzo was recalibrated as minor royalty more than a father figure; this revised Tony would go to bat for Kolchak, especially when Constitutional rights were at stake.  Kolchak himself was subdivided into a threesome for the sake of more character interplay:  Kolchak himself, now a man harboring a dark secret on a personal quest; Perri Reed, a distaff side and reluctant partner who takes over much of Vincenzo’s old Doubting Tony role; and Jain McManus, who takes over the role of Kolchak’s camera/recorder and becomes his satellite/gofer.  A new Bernie Fain reappears (from the original TV movie), now refitted as an antagonist in the mold of The Fugitive’s Lt. Phil Gerard — thanks to incomplete information and circumstantial evidence, he wants to nail Kolchak for the murder of his wife, Irene (christened after the Kathie Browne character in “The Sentry”).

            The blood so absent from the original series is now present in abundance, offered more as grueling aftermath than jumpy splatter.  Spotnitz specified a color palette where red was used almost exclusively in the context of death or danger (to the extreme of removing the red lights from police cruiser flashbars).  Another welcome wrinkle for a show called The Night Stalker:  This show is drenched in darkness, night and shadow, recalling David Chase’s protestation (“It’s called the Night Stalker, not the Day-for-Night Stalker!”) and evoking the hectic, after-hours urban POV popularized by Michael Mann, under whom Spotnitz had worked on Robbery Homicide Division in 2002

In an interview conducted by Devin Faraci at Chud.com in 2006, Spotnitz noted:  “… the more I thought about the more I realized you can’t do Darren McGavin better than Darren McGavin.  It’s a fool’s errand.  It was better to go for a completely different approach to the character and series and hope that over time, people would accept it — not as better than McGavin, but different.”

Slotted into a kiss-of-death berth against the hugely popular CSI on CBS, The Apprentice on NBC, and the 2005 major league baseball playoffs on Fox, The Night Stalker suffered pre-emptions via Alias, and had little-to-no paid advertising from ABC.  It was cancelled right in the middle of a two-part episode, with four episodes unbroadcast until the series was re-run on the Sci Fi Channel in 2006.  All episodes are currently available on DVD and assorted download options.

For more on Frank Spotnitz, see:
  • Frank Spotnitz Diary of a Night Stalker at EW.com

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Mark Dawidziak on Kolchak in Print

By Mark Dawidziak

     There was a time (that time being the mid-'70s to the early '90s) when it was ridiculously easy to keep track of Carl Kolchak in print. There was the 1973 Pocket Books edition of the novel that started it all, Jeff Rice's The Kolchak Papers, published under the title of the 1972 TV movie, The Night Stalker. Then there was The Night Strangler, Jeff's 1974 novelization of Richard Matheson's screenplay. And that was it. You had those two paperbacks and you had the complete Kolchak in print.

     Nothing much changed for the next seventeen years. Jeff Rice wanted to do more original novels and novelizations for Pocket Books. When the 1974-75 series was starting production, there was talk of a five-novel deal for Jeff. All of that vanished like a vampire exposed to sunlight in August 1974 when Jeff's attorney notified Universal that the studio hadn't settled key rights questions with his client. Jeff was barred from the lot and the deals disappeared. He eventually had to file a six-count civil lawsuit, and, after months of legal wrangling, it was settled on the day the trial was supposed to begin, and, key to all this, Jeff emerged with firm control of  the literary rights to his character. That meant he could authorize Kolchak novels, short stories and comic books.


     Flash forward from 1974 to October 1991. Some guy named Dawidziak adds one more book to that oh-so lightly weighted shelf of Kolchak books. Image Publishing brings out Night Stakling: A 20th Anniversary Kolchak Companion. Although non-fiction, this first history of the Kolchak character set the stage for new fictional stories with our seersuckered hero.While I have it on good authority that the author of Night Stalking greatly enjoyed the writing of that book, he was not satisfied with Image Publishing’s design and distribution (or lack thereof). But Kolchak creator Jeff Rice was satisfied with what he considered the balanced account of his novel being turned into a hit TV movie. Jeff was so pleased, in fact, he agreed to sign a five-year contract with Image founder Ed Gross for new Kolchak novels.


     It was the start of an often-stormy four-year relationship between Rice and Gross. The initial five-year plan, however, was sound and ambitious. Gross would use Image's sister imprint, Cinemaker Press, to publish a mix of original novels and adaptations of the series episodes. Rice would have approval of the writers for books he did not wish to write himself. He also would have editorial control of the project. Publishing two or three books a year in the trade paperback size (six by nine), Cinemaker projected anywhere from ten to fifteen novels by the time the five-year contract was finished. It didn’t quite work out that way.


     The project was to start with a reprint of the first two novels, The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler. These would be followed by an original novel. Gross did not have the funds to make it worth Rice's while to write a new novel, so Gross asked him for a recommendation. Rice suggested the author of Night Stalking. I was flattered but not at all certain I could come up with a story worthy of Rice's character. Before agreeing to terms, I submitted five story ideas to Rice and Gross. Everyone agreed that the first idea was the most promising, so I set to work researching the book that would become Grave Secrets. Each of the books was to be published under the umbrella title of The Kolchak Papers (Rice's original title for The Night Stalker). In other words, the titles would be The Kolchak Papers: The Night Stalker, The Kolchak Papers: Grave Secrets, and so on and so on.


     Unfortunately, we never got to "so on and so on." The reprint of The Night Stalker was published in 1993 with a foreword by Stuart M. Kaminsky and original artwork by Kevin Barnes and Sterling Clark, Jr. It was printed in paperback and hardcover, but Gross was having no luck finding a distributor who could place Kolchak books in bookstores. Delays with artwork pushed Grave Secrets, the first original Kolchak novel  in twenty years, ahead of The Night Strangler. It was published in late 1994 as a trade paperback with original artwork by veteran illustrator Ed Silas Smith. Bringing Kolchak into the '90s was tricky, but the trick was accomplished in concert with Jeff Rice. How to deal with the twenty years before the end of the series and new adventures? Simple, just act as if they didn't happen. We decided that the last episode of the series, "The Sentry," was the case that got Carl fired from the INS Bureau in Chicago. A little later, Tony took a  job as an editor with the Hollywood Dispatch, a scrappy little tabloid nicknamed "the Disgrace" -- respectable, but just. Tony, of course, hires Carl, and, fast-forward, it's 1994. Carl is the same age. He talks the same. He acts the same. Jeff updated the character biographies accordingly.


     During a trip to Los Angeles, Jeff Rice and I scouted locations for Carl’s new home base. The old Hollywood Citizen-News building, a few blocks off Hollywood Boulevard, became the site for "the Disgrace." We checked out an unbelievably depressing hotel nearby and decided to check Carl in. "Dare we do this to him?" Kolchak’s creator asked me as we stood in the shabby room. As we left, Jeff Rice opened the minuscule closet and observed, "Hmm, just enough room for a straw hat and seersucker suit."


     Grave Secrets opens with the mysterious death of land baron Glen Gilmore. The grave secret behind this killing is buried more than two-thousand miles away and more than 150 years in the past (heh-heh-heh).


     I was pleased. And I was even more pleased to learn that Jeff Rice was pleased. All in all, a very pleasing situation, right? It would have been if Grave Secrets had received anything that could be charitably called distribution. Back at Cinemaker, though, things were going from bad to train wreck. Instead of Night Strangler, Ed announced an Omnibus edition of both The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler. Meanwhile, writer Doug Murray had finished the second original Kolchak novel, The Grand Inquisitor. Neither the Omnibus nor The Grand Inquisitor ever saw print, although Ed Silas Smith completed a striking Omnibus cover showing Kolchak "haunted" by Janos Skorzeny and Dr. Richard Malcolm.


     In 1996, about four years into his five-year-contract with Cinemaker, Jeff pulled the plug and pulled back the rights to his characters. So, after four years, Cinemaker published two Kolchak books, the reprint of The Night Stalker and Grave Secrets. Work on the Omnibus and The Grand Inquisitor was completed, but neither book was published. Ed Gross, later editor of Cinescape magazine and co-author of Captains’ Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages (Little, Brown, 1995), accepts responsibility for the projects’ failure. He admits he is “no businessman,” and concedes that his ambition was greater than his resources. He remains a friend and an enthusiastic Kolchak fan. Indeed, much of his well-intentioned efforts were fueled by his great love of the character.


     The Cinemaker collapse left Rice and Kolchak without a publisher. There were overtures from a couple of major publishing houses, but nothing on terms creatively and financially acceptable to Rice.


     The publication of Night Stalking also sparked interest in Kolchak from comic book companies. Here, too, would be a path leading through years of frustration. By 1997, Topps Comics had been promising a series of Kolchak comic books for about four years. The company's biggest sucess has been its line of X-Files comic books, so a Kolchak connection makes sense. Topps' other titles included Dracula (a tie-in with the Francis Ford Coppola movie), Jurassic Park (another tie-in) and The Ray Bradbury Chronicles. All in all, it would appear that Carl would be in the right place. Jeff Rice signed a Topps contract in late 1992. He also wrote a comic-book script for The Night Stalker. After that, both Marvel and DC Comics  expressed an interest in Kolchak. But in the spring of 1997, Topps' new editor-in-chief stated his intention to put Kolchak In May of that year, however, Topps pulled the plug, telling Jeff that a new policy prohibited the launching of "any new titles."


     A few months later, Glass House Graphics, which had packaged comic books for all the major companies, made a run at Kolchak. An understandably frustrated Jeff decided to withdraw Carl from the field in late 1997. So the only quasi-Kolchak comics to appear at that point were: the 1974 Marvel spoof, The Night Gawker; Marvel's Night Stalker-inspired Paul Butterworth -- The Night Stalker (The Tomb of Dracula, April 1976); and Carl's Rice-approved cameo appearance in Sterling Clark's The Renegade No. 1 (Ripoff Press/Magnecom, October 1993).


     The only new Kolchak book that appeared in 1997 was the revised, reworked Night Stalking, published by Pomegranate Press as The Night Stalker Companion: A 25th Anniversary Tribute.


     And that's how things stood in 1999. The Kolchak river ran deep, indeed. Many a fright-minded filmmaker or writer has been swept up in its powerful current, exhilarated by the thrillingly tricky eddies splashing terror over mirth. Still, anyone getting far enough from shore's safety to know that river was deceptively deep also realized that it wasn't exactly what you'd call wide. From this perspective, the Kolchak world was severely limited. You could cross it rather quickly, if you so chose, covering everything that existed of Carl on film and in print.


     Enter Moonstone, a Chicago area comic book publisher making the Kolchak world a great deal wider and richer. I was contacted in 1999 by Moonstone founder Joe Gentile, proposing, of all things, a Kolchak comic book. I was not, to put it mildly, encouraging. I explained to the master of Moonstone the many failures. I described to him just how burned Jeff felt by past experiences with the comic-book world. I warned him what Jeff's reaction might be to publishers bearing lofty promises. To his undying credit, Joe was undaunted and undeterred. His proposal was forwarded to Jeff, and after some frank haggling on both sides, Moonstone received the green light.


     Some thirteen years later, Moonstone remains the official Kolchak publisher for comic books, short stories and even some new novels. To date, they have published more than 40 Kolchak titles. The decision was made early on to follow the Kolchak universe established in Grave Secrets, a Los Angeles setting that allowed for an embracing of the sensibilities of the original novels, the TV movies and the series while also allowing for experimentation and expansion. The first comic book, Jeff's adaptation of the original novel, appeared in 2002 -- thirty years after the TV movie aired. It was followed that same year by Fever Pitch, an original story by Stuart M. Kaminsky and "Get of Belial," an adaptation of the unfilmed Kolchak: The Night Stalker episode. In 2004, those three comic books, along with Stefan Petrucha's "Mask of Moment," were collected in a trade paperback published with my introduction as Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Volume One.


     That same year, 2004, saw the publication of the comic books Devil in the Details, another Stefan Petrucha story, and Lambs to the Slaughter, with a story by Gentile and me. Lambs to the Slaughter and the adaptation of the unfilmed Kolchak: The Night Stalker episode "Eve of Terror" were collected in the 2008 trade paperback, Sound of Fear.


      Many more titles followed, including CJ Henderson's Pain Without Tears and Pain Most Human, as well as several issues of Kolchak: Tales of the Night Stalker, edited by Dave Ulanski.


     In 2005, Moonstone got into the short story business, publishing the anthology Kolchak: The Night Stalker Chronicles. It featured 26 stories by the likes of Elaine Bergstrom, Max Allan Collins, P.N. Elrod, Stuart Kaminsky, Ed Gorman, Peter David, Chuck Dixon, Jason Henderson, Richard Valley, Brett Matthews, Clay & Susan Griffith, Richard Dean Starr, Martin Powell, Lou Agulair, Steven Grant, CJ Henderson, James Anthony Kuhoric, Mark Leiran-Young, Gary Phillips, Adi Tantimedh, Fred Van Lente, Robert Weinberg, Gentile, Ulanski and Mike W. Barr. It also included my Barnabas Collins-Carl Kolchak crossover story, "Interview With a Vampire?" That story was turned into a comic book for Kolchak Tales Annual (2009).


    A second anthology, Kolchak: The Night Stalker Casebook appeared in 2006, with 17 new stories by Pierce Askegren, Mike Baron, Rachel Caine, Tom DeFalco, P.N. Elrod, John Everson, Gentile, Christopher Golden, Rick Hautala, Elizabeth Massie, John Ostrander, Gray Phillips, James Reasoner, Robert J. Randisi, Richard Dean Starr and Ulanski. This one included my introduction/tribute to Darren McGavin and my  novella, "Cancellation." The Chronicles and Casebook anthologies were collected into one hardcover edition, Kolchak: The Night Stalker Compendium, in 2011. Moonstone also published an omnibus edition of Jeff's two novels, The Kolchak Papers, in 2007.


    Rounding out the Kolchak shelf is Richard Matheson's Kolchak Scripts, the 2003 Gauntlet publication collection Matheson's screenplays for The Night Stalker, The Night Strangler and the unfilmed The Night Killers (written with William F. Nolan). 

The Post-KOLCHAK Pu-Pu Platter

by David J. Schow

Cheese has been called “nature’s most perfect food” when there’s very little “natural” about it. Movies and television are often denigrated as “hamburger” and the big studios, as “sausage factories.”  But cheese, hamburger and sausage are among the world’s staple foods (outside of a lot of Asia, anyway, where jellyfish is a side dish to everything — especially in China, don’t ask me why). Look at menus across your favorite assortment of eateries and you’ll see the principal dishes generally boil down to “some kind of meat with some kind of cheese on it.”

Speaking of a long-lost TV pilot, a friend recently told me, “It’s cheesy — but in a good way.”

We love our cheese.  It may not be good for you, but it sure is tasty.  “Cheesy goodness” is a selling point for a lot of food-like items, but when applied to any other arena, “cheesy” somehow came to mean inauthentic or kitschy; by one definition, “something that wants to be good but is bad.”  In the gustatory realm, the usage sprang from the time-honored French tactic of covering up sub-par ingredients with the camouflage of cheese (see:  French Onion Soup).  In general usage it also dovetailed from sports slang, especially in regard to football and goals or plays that “stank” — just like that nasty French cheese that, according to lyric, “smells like people’s feet.”

What my pal told me, above, implies that for every “good” kind of cheese, there’s a “bad” kind of cheese … which means that in all its other slang usages, “cheese” implies something with obvious drawbacks and flaws that the fans of said cheese consciously choose to ignore.

Which brings us to most television, and indeed, most art.

Kolchak: The Night Stalker is larded with cheese … but in a good way.  That cheese which makes the sub-par fast food of TV tastier.

In the pressure-cooker of series production, writers, actors and directors rarely set out to manufacture cheese intentionally, but frequently the cheese layer becomes a way of rescuing the meal, and if that doesn’t work, hey, let’s put some bacon on it!  Let’s add sugar-and-spice-rich dipping sauces!  Past all the glop du jour, though, most people still have a firm idea in their brains of the difference between a good hamburger and a bad one … and please don’t get me started on vegetarianism. *

(There’s a tangential argument to be made here, about how the gradual subjugation of series television by soap-operatic “arcs” has obliterated the once-honorable concept of an episode that can stand alone on its own drama, and converted the meal into an endless succession of appetizers that noodle around and never get to the main course … but that’s a whole ‘nother essay.)

(I can just hear our own Tony Vincenzo – Mr. Enfantino — protesting:  “Cripes!  I thought I had my wires crossed with Spatula & Ladle Magazine!  Cheese?!”)

Another friend, who used to work for the primetime sausage factories that produced most of the TV hits of the 1980s, said, “Back then, you could come up with an idea for a series in the car on the way to work, and the network would give you 26 episodes just to try it out.”  That seems so far away now, and unduly luxurious, but it was true.  A different producer had what strikes me as a good rule of thumb, even today:  If out of the pell-mell rush of sausage-making, you could yield three or four good episodes out of a season, then you were batting a thousand.  And frequently, everybody knows which episodes are the good ones early on.  They make the rest of the toil and frustration almost worthwhile.

The difference, today, is that the evidence is often readily available, via disc and download.  With TV series (as I said in regard to The Outer Limits), it’s instructive to consider the “better” episodes in light of the episodes made around them.

You don’t have to eat everything on the platter.  But some of the leftovers on the Kolchak Pu-Pu tray are still … intriguing.

Sometimes “failed” shows unerringly influence later shows.  Their gold shows through, whether by Monday-morning quarterbacking or some aspect of concept that took time to surface — more time than the brief candle-flicker the show had when it was alive.  This readily explains a big part of the longevity of KTNS and the Kolchak canon in general.  A distinction I find curious is that ever since KTNS was cancelled, somebody, in some form, was persistently trying to breathe it back to life.  The series was gone but Kolchak himself refused to die.

I had a very strange meeting at Morgan Creek in the mid-90s when that company was hellbent on doing a Kolchak feature.  One of the scripts that resulted — virtually a Xerox of the first Kolchak feature — was credited as “by Steve Feke & Dan Curtis, based on the screenplay by Richard Matheson and the novel by Jeff Rice,” which certainly over-covers all the bases.  Everything old was new again.

This was the script in which our hero became “Karl Kolchak,” described only as “middle forties, seedy, unshaven, bleary-eyed” and “looking only slightly better than the cheese” that molders in his fridge (I kid you not).

The producers asked, did Kolchak have to smoke?  Drink?  Couldn’t he be younger?  Couldn’t he investigate serial killers instead of vampires?

Instead of:  How can we present Kolchak as a glorious anachronism in a world that doesn’t know what an anachronism is?

The movie was never made, but by then, The X-Files was up and running.

X-Files creator Chris Carter had always credited KTNS as a germinal inspiration, and his initial efforts to transplant Kolchak into the X-Files realm are well documented — first as Kolchak (unsuccessfully), then as Mulder’s dad (unsuccessfully), and later (successfully) as Special Agent Arthur Dales in two episodes, “Travelers” and “Agua Mala.”  Darren McGavin also filmed scenes as Dales for a third episode, “The Unnatural,” but had to withdraw due to suffering a stroke.  His scenes were reshot with M. Emmet Walsh as Dales’ brother (McGavin’s scenes are available as an extra on the X-Files Season 6 DVD set).

Reportedly McGavin was originally turned off by just how much The X Files seemed like a ripoff of KTNS.  In fact, there are whole web pages devoted to some of the parallels, such as:

“The Ripper” = “Teliko,” “2Shy,” “Squeeze,” “Tooms.”

“The Zombie” = “Kaddish,” “Fresh Bones.”

“They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be” = “Fallen Angel”

“Bad Medicine” = “Shapes,” “Anasazi,” “The Blessing Way”

“The Energy Eater” = “Darkness Falls,” “Conduit”

“The Spanish Moss Murders” = “Sleepless,” “The Host,” “Schizogeny”

“Horror in the Heights” = “Colony”

… and so on.

(A similar anti-synergy happened when I finally decided to sample The X Files by watching an episode titled “Little Green Men.”  I felt it was too beholden to several Outer Limits episodes, and watched no more until the McGavin connection occurred.  By that time, a regurgitated “new” version of The Outer Limits had pooped along to ruin whatever joy I had left in life.)


Earlier, in 1973, Dan Curtis attempted to salvage what was left of his sunken “Kolchak ship” (since he had been iced out of the TV series) by producing and directing a pilot for The Norliss Tapes in exactly the same gear, but a minor key indeed compared to the seersucker titan.  Aired a little more than a month following the debut of The Night Strangler, The Norliss Tapes was scripted by Matheson’s co-writer on The Night Killers, William F. Nolan.

Screen credit insists that Nolan based his work on an unnamed story by novelist Fred Mustard Stewart, then at the height of his post-Mephisto Waltz popularity.  Whether the “story by” credit reflects an arbitration or an actual written treatment, the resultant TV movie is listless and perfunctory as well as deeply beholden to Kolchak — even shoplifting the whole “tapes” idea from Jeff Rice’s original Kolchak Tapes.

Still, The Norliss Tapes is probably a pretty good barometer of what the never-filmed Night Killers might have looked like if you subtracted Matheson’s signature humor and handed the entire project off to second string players:  Likable actors plod through a procedural of the strange, accented with the signature Dan Curtis’ “attack” sequences by an inarticulate, snarling menace, and culminates in a pallid climax that doesn’t amount to much of a resolution.

On paper, Roy Thinnes — veteran of The Invaders — must have seemed a terrific choice for David Norliss, tormented writer and skeptic-turned believer, but his performance is somnambulant and dull — a polar opposite to Kolchak’s verve.  Norliss can’t help but seem like a failed Night Stalker scenario.  At least The Night Killers would have skewed Kolchak even more firmly into X Files territory, by introducing a science fictional antagonist instead of a supernatural one.

To sample The Night Killers, see the selection from the draft dated January 15, 1974, available at darrenmcgavin.net … or check out the full teleplay in Richard Matheson’s Kolchak Scripts (Gauntlet Press, 2003), edited by our very own Mark Dawidziak.

What makes Norliss interesting in the Kolchak canon is its class reunion of much of the talent on both sides of the camera for the Kolchak telefilms.  For completists only, it was still impactful enough for Gene Roddenberry to rip it off several years later with his own failed pilot about occult detectives, Spectre (1977).

In 1987, Nolan resurrected the Norliss protagonist as “David Kincaid” for a series of stories that can be found in Kincaid: A Paranormal Casebook (Rocket Ride Books, 2011).

According to Phillip Jose Farmer’s elaborate Wold Newton Universe — a vast compendium and family tree interrelating nearly every fictional sleuth and supervillain — Carl Kolchak was one of those rare individuals who was preternaturally attracted to the threats he investigated.  As Matthew Isleman observed in a Wold Newton article called “Murder Magnetism: Four Case Studies” —
While murder magnetism seems to affect a number of people, there is a rarer condition I like to call monster magnetism (…) instead of being drawn to a mundane crime, the person is drawn to the supernatural.  One major example of this is Carl Kolchak.  Carl was a reporter who investigated supernatural cases.   Though he lived in a variety of different cities (because of being repeatedly laid off), he would routinely encounter supernatural phenomena.
“From Russia with Madness,” a typically bizarre Wold Newton piece by Octavio Arag√£o & Carlos Martinho, posits that Fox Mulder of The X Files is the son of Tatiana Romanova (of From Russia With Love) and an unnamed American secret agent.  She also had a daughter named Samantha, who was kidnapped by an outfit called MJ-12:
This kidnapping was investigated by a reporter named Carl Kolchak, who unfortunately could not produce enough evidence to blame the government for the crime.  (Sound familiar? – DJS)  Kolchak’s failure made Fox quite disappointed in journalism, a career the boy was considering.  When Kolchak ended empty-handed, Fox decided to infiltrate the enemy.  He would become an FBI investigator.
(The Wold Newton Universe is eminently searchable online, but be warned:  Once you start investigating it, you may become hopelessly lost and mildly insane.)

Seeing Kolchak’s final hurrah in the form of a digital McGavin cameo in the 2005 Night Stalker series reminds us that the last time we saw our bowlegged savior, he was hightailing it away from a guy in a really ridiculous lizard suit in the no-budget closer to his single season on network TV.  Nope, no closure there.

But it can be had.

There is a magical episode of Tales from the Darkside titled “Distant Signals,” which I maintain can be interpreted as a final and most satisfying chapter in the Kolchak legacy.  All you need is a tiny residual sprinkle of the capacity for a sense of winder or suspension of disbelief.

“Distant Signals” was based on a short story by Andrew Weiner originally published in Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone Magazine in 1984.  The teleplay was by Ted Gershuny (Mary Woronov’s ex-husband), and tells the tale of another TV series deep-sixed in mid-season:  Max Paradise, a detective show loosely modeled on The Fugitive.

Its washed-up star, “Van Conway,” was played by Darren McGavin a decade after he had logged his final Kolchak episode — and 27 years after he had played tough guy Mike Hammer, another model for Max Paradise.

Seventeen years after the mid-season cancellation of Max Paradise, an alien benefactor visits Earth to resurrect both Van Conway (now an alcoholic has-been) and the series itself, a foul ball to almost everyone involved in it.  The visitor (wonderfully played by Lenny von Dohlen) wants the “old team” to reunite and make six more episodes of Max Paradise to bring closure to Max’s story.

Why?

Because the faraway aliens have only just received our TV transmissions, and were dismayed that Max’s story just seemed to cut off in mid-stream.

If you squint just a little bit, it’s easy to read the episode as a charming metaphor that saves Carl Kolchak from the “Whatever Happened To…?” file.

As Bill Gibron observed in his incisive writeup of the KTNS DVD set at DVD Verdict:
“Since the dawn of the new millennium, we have more or less given up on monsters.  The old-fashioned belief in the bogeyman and the local legends of haunted houses and ghostly apparitions have all but faded into the woodwork of modern worries.  Molesters and thrill killers are the new ogres that unsettle our sleep, and we are more likely to delve into the mind of a serial slayer than argue over the existence of vampires.  In this technologically complex realm, we dismiss that which does not come to us from the never-resting mantras of the mass-media machine.  Today, bloodsuckers are just confused Goth kids, werewolves are painted with bizarre ethnic origins, and zombies are relegated to bit players in some first-time filmmaker’s living dead epic.  Where once monsters were the major macabre movement, they have been uprooted and replaced by their far more marketable human counterparts.  But boy, back in the 70s we really loved our beasts (and) Carl Kolchak, decked out in a singular set of clothes that made him part schlub, part superhero, became our divine hammer.”
_________________________________________

            * Still, among people of no depth, “cheesy” basically means “older than me,” a dismissive catch-all intended to demote any and everything to quaint, outmoded, knee-slapping oblivion.  Just look at those hats!  This movie sucks!  And while most modern screen-watchers tend to dismiss everything that came before them as cheese — unaware that their faves will look even cheesier in record time — scratch one of ‘em until they bleed and you’ll discover they are usually talking about technical presentation, which has become venerated over story or content because it’s all many newer fables have to offer.  Depth or resonance vex them.

# # # # # # # #

Stay tuned later today for Mark Dawidziak's look at Carl Kolchak in print! And come back tomorrow for David Schow's overview of the revival series!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

DJS Presents The Unfilmed Kolchak: The Executioners


Kolchak: The Night Stalker
“The Executioners”


KOLCHAK (VO)
I’m still having nightmares, even though I know it’s over.  Finis.  Kaput.  Luckily I managed to keep my head while all about me were losing theirs, if you’ll pardon my little touch of the poetic.  Losing their heads, or getting hung, or poisoned … one of the three.  If you were in Chicago this past August, you know what I mean …

Several small clues indicate “The Executioners” was an early story submission, by Max E. Hodge (1916-2007).  The Kolchak depicted seems much closer to the original Richard Matheson incarnation — in the opening shot, we see him putting down a slug of bourbon to settle his nerves; later he mentions a sexual relationship with a character named Beatrice Mae Jessee.  Also hinting at the early vintage of “The Executioners” is the return of Captain Warren of the Chicago police for what might have been his second series appearance after his debut in “The Ripper.”  The timestamp “August,” above, also slots the story close to the beginning of Kolchak’s series timeline.
            What survives of “The Executioners” is a writer’s work draft — something more than a treatment and less than a polished first draft teleplay.

INT. “PAUL’S PLACE” – NIGHT – CLOSE ON BOURBON BOTTLE


KOLCHAK
It was enough to drive every Chicagoan to drink … even a staunch WCTUer.*

NEWSCASTER (OS)
On the local front, again the big news is the parlay of murders committed last night, the second such triple killings this week.  All were within a two-block area in the Loop; all were identical to the murders two nights ago.  One victim was decapitated, the second hanged, the third poisoned, with no apparent motive for the senseless killings …

The TV plays inside the bar as a young couple chat each other up.  Unseen, a “gnarled hand” slips a chemical powder into the woman’s drink.  A “nondescript figure in a black raincoat” limps out of Paul’s Place.

In the alley, a black cat YOWLS at a corpse strung up from a fire escape.

Elsewhere, inside a ladies dress shop, a “peevish, swishy male window decorator” complains to an unseen co-worker:

MALE WINDOW DRESSER
You’re late, Harold, and I might add for the last time!  You’re fired!  In disgrace!  Cut off the buttons on your new cashmere plaid, and go forth into the night.  Don’t argue, just go …

He TURNS, sees the FIGURE approaching him.  He stumbles back against a mannequin in terror.  An enormous Henry VIII executioner’s axe swings INTO FRAME.  Two heads hits the floor.  The mannequin’s ROLLS INTO FRAME.

Kolchak shows up at Paul’s Place (“his neighborhood bar”) and witnesses the crowd around the now-DEAD Woman from the earlier scene.  He dogs Capt. Warren back to the police station:

KOLCHAK
Sir …?  Correct me if I’m wrong, but did you not also find a corpus delecti rendered thusly by his wearing a too-tight hemp necktie, one end of which got caught on the fire escape in a dark alley?

WARREN
Not funny, Kolchak.  What I assume you refer to is a possible suicide – very possible.  No connection between his death and the possible poisoning of a young girl in a cheap saloon … possibly from cheap booze.

KOLCHAK
Ah, come off it, Warren – wood alcohol poisoning went out with Prohibition.  Are you sure you didn’t find a headless body anywhere tonight?

WARREN
(to Kolchak and group of reporters in general)
Positively!  I guarantee you we have no reports of any …
(sarcastically)
headless bodies in the neighborhood, although I could think of one I’d like to see that way since it would obviously eliminate his mouth.

Right on time, Warren gets a call about the dead Male Window Dresser.

KOLCHAK (VO)
Three triple murders in three nights.  If that wasn’t bad enough, the Cubs lost three in a row to the Dodgers … and Vincenzo pitched me three strikes my first time at bat the next morning.

INT. INS – DAY


KOLCHAK
Repeat those categories, please.

VINCENZO
Obituaries, ballet … or the art show.

KOLCHAK
Choose one …?

VINCENZO
Or all three … you could squeeze them all in!

KOLCHAK
When does that leave me time for the murder story?

VINCENZO
It doesn’t -- that’s the idea!

As RON UPDYKE ENTERS the office:

KOLCHAK
Not Updyke?  You didn’t give Updyke the assignment?

VINCENZO
Updyke’s doing the pre-season football game at Soldier’s Field.

KOLCHAK
What the hell does he know about football -- ?!

UPDYKE
(miffed as usual)
I’ll have you know I had a gin fizz with Joe Namath once!  Well … he was only two seats away … at the Palmer House bar … three seats …

KOLCHAK
So who’s covering the murder story?

VINCENZO
Me.  I’ve got to keep my hand in.

KOLCHAK
You mean your nose, don’t you?
(sniffing)
I smell the faint aroma of a Pulitzer Prize … add another round or two of triple murders, and that aroma could get more overpowering than limburger cheese … right?

VINCENZO
(unmoved)
Obits … art … or the ballet?

KOLCHAK
(giving up for now)
Art.

UPDYKE
What does he know about art?

KOLCHAK
(imitating Updyke, from before)
I slept next to an art student once … well, I didn’t exactly sleep.  Neither did she …

Kolchak makes his way to the Pop Art Institute, where he finds said art student, BEATRICE MAE JESSEE, sketching a nude model (who sprawls with a rope around her neck for “relevance”).  In order to make at least a perfunctory stab at the art coverage for Vincenzo, Kolchak has Beatrice take him to the Becker Museum of Art – similar to the Harding Museum in Chicago – where an exhibition of “certified and uncertified” Renaissance works is in progress.

INT. BECKER MUSEUM – CLOSE ON PAINTING - DAY


KOLCHAK (VO)
The Becker Museum of Art was on a back street near the North Side.  It was one of the few buildings Mrs. O’Leary’s cow failed to kick over during the big fire.

PULL BACK as Kolchak and Beatrice examine a Rembrandt-like 1660s work.

BEATRICE
I don’t dig realism, Kolchak.  I say leave exact duplication to the camera and/or Norman Rockwell, in that order.  Not that I’m knocking it, but art – to me – should be impressionistic, not realistic.  Is that quotable?  How about mentioning the theory of dynamic symmetry?  It’s all based on mathematical equations and how good art stems from seven basic geometric roots … or something … I never quite understood it, but it sounds impressive, don’t you think?

Beatrice rattles on, drawing the occasional quizzical stare from Kolchak, until Carl spots a life-sized oil painting, in Rembrandt’s style, with deep shadows caused by the illumination from a painted lamp at the top of the frame.  Beneath the lamp stand three FULL-FIGURED MEN in a barren, cell-like cubicle, staring straight ahead:  A HANGMAN holding a noose, an EXECUTIONER in the middle, holding an axe, and a MONK-LIKE INDIVIDUAL with a large vial of poison.  A metal nameplate is engraved: “The Executioners.”  Kolchak and Beatrice have the same thought at the same time.  Kolchak begins snapping pictures.

BEATRICE
Coincidence …?

KOLCHAK
What else?

BEATRICE
How could some Dutch painter three hundred years ago do our scene today … and be so right on?  It is Dutch, isn’t it?  Seventeenth Century?  What does the brochure say under “The Executioners?”

KOLCHAK
It’s not listed in here.

CURATOR’S VOICE
(from behind them)
We acquired it too late for our brochure.

ANGLE BROADENS TO INCLUDE CURATOR, a Vincent Price type, all charm, with a smooth, syrupy voice.

CURATOR
Awesome, isn’t it?  With a certain charming mystique?  Oh – I’m Emile van der Beck, curator of the gallery.  I see you’re taking notes …?

KOLCHAK
Carl Kolchak, Independent News Service … art critic.  And this is Miz Beatrice Mae Jessee.  You’re familiar with her best-known work, I’m sure – “Nude, Descending on Noose?”

CURATOR
Jessee?  Jessee?  Well, frankly, I specialize in 16th and 17th Century art …

KOLCHAK
When did you hang this one?

CURATOR
It arrived only four days ago, strangely enough, with no return address.  We don’t know the donor, and we haven’t authenticated it.  Yet.  Many of the artists in this particular exhibit are – you might say – persona non grata, you know.  Forgers.  Copyists.

KOLCHAK
You mean this could have been painted recently?  Copying the style of the Renaissance?

BEATRICE
Don’t be silly, Kolchak – you can see it’s old!

CURATOR
Quite right, Ms. Jessee.  At least 300 years old.  We tested the paint pigment; examined the canvas.  What we can’t authenticate is the artist.  It’s not signed.

BEATRICE
Could it be a Rembrandt?

CURATOR
If we could be so lucky …

KOLCHAK
Possible?

CURATOR
Remotely.  Wouldn’t that be exciting?  An undiscovered painting by the great master himself, making its debut in Chicago?  Imagine …

CAMERA PUSHES IN closer and closer on the painting as the Curator speaks, until the Hangman’s hands, holding the noose, FILL THE FRAME.

Later that night, a WATCHMAN makes rounds in the closed gallery.  Gradually we notice, on the balcony overlooking the gallery near “The Executioners,” a pair of HANDS holding a noose.  The Night Watchman moves closer to the painting … examines it … and is LASSOED by the noose and jerked upward by powerful arms that secure the rope to the balcony railing.  He chokes, dies, swings still.

ACT TWO


INT. INS OFFICES – DAY


Vincenzo is predictably dissatisfied with Kolchak’s “art” piece, focusing as it does on the death of the night watchman.

UPDYKE
What happened, Carl?  Your ghost writer crawl out from under your sheet?

KOLCHAK
Stay out of this, Updyke!  Don’t fool with Fate!

VINCENZO
Fate …?

KOLCHAK
Fate!  Can’t you see what’s happening, Tony?  Fate took me to that museum yesterday where the watchman was hung!  Fate made me park my car in the front of the very motel where the salesman was decapitated less than three hours after I left!
(pushing a red pin into a Chicago street map on the wall)
… and this pinhead here … that poor waitress?  Do you realize it was just my fate she was poisoned in the very apartment house where my cousin Lucille’s boyfriend used to live, which makes me familiar with the territory?

UPDYKE
Fate.  Hah.

KOLCHAK
Ah, ah, ah, Updyke – don’t tempt Fate when she’s right there
(pointing skyward)
…looking down on me, saying, “Kolchak!  Get cracking on those murder stories, pronto!”

VINCENZO
(pointing up)
There …?

KOLCHAK
Right there.

Vincenzo reaches up into the air.  Grabs an imaginary object.  Holds “it” in his outstretched hand for Kolchak’s inspection.

VINCENZO
See that, Carl?  Now your fate is in my hand
(which he CLOSES, squeezing tightly)
… Get the picture?

KOLCHAK
(nodding slowly)
Worth a thousand words …

Kolchak dashes back to the museum before he can be stopped.  He corners the Curator in his office.  He leaves his draft of the article for “approval” and sneaks into the gallery (saying, “It makes me nervous to watch anyone read my copy”), where he notices bright red flecks on the edge of the Executioner’s axe in the painting.  He scrapes some onto a sheet of paper, which he folds into his pocket.  He then discovers a signature of sorts, in the lower right-hand corner of the canvas, concealed by fresh paint.  By shining his penlight through the canvas from behind, he perceives a capital B, a small o-e, and a scrawl.

A police lab buddy of Kolchak’s (a “bribe-ee” like Gordy the Ghoul) identifies the red flecks as human blood.  Kolchak hurries back to Beatrice’s art class, where she is sketching a nude dude clutching a baseball bat.  He cuts her loose for lunch – another bribe.

EXT. “PAUL’S PLACE” – DAY – ON ONLOOKERS AND TOURISTS


KOLCHAK (VO)
Whenever a murder takes place, there’s always the morbid out to see the scene of the crime.  They say the day after Valentine’s Day, 1929, you couldn’t get near the Clark Street Garage … which, incidentally, is just up the block from Paul’s Place.

INT. “PAUL’S PLACE” – DAY – ON TABLE PLACEMAT


AS Beatrice fills in the name HENRI BOETJE.

KOLCHAK
Henry Boach?

BEATRICE
On-ray Boe-chee.  A Belgian painter who may or may not have studied with Rembrandt.  He was a real weirdo – or in Dutch, “vierdo?” – whatever.  Know what he mixed into his pigment?

KOLCHAK
Don’t make me guess.

BEATRICE
Human ashes.

KOLCHAK
To add life to his paintings?

BEATRICE
No, now, seriously!  Henri Boetje was a convicted murderer who admitted killing a dozen people, then cremating them and mixing their ashes with his oils.  Before the cremations he drained their blood and used it –

KOLCHAK
Instead of turpentine, right?

BEATRICE
You peeked …

Kolchak phones CASEY, his police-lab connection, to tell him their “deal” for football tickets is off, since Carl already knows about the blood.  Casey tells him the blood from the painting is not three centuries old … but less than 24 hours old.  He hangs up.  Kolchak, panicked, calls him back.  Casey smoothly finagles three tickets on the fifty yard line and “no info over the phone.”  Kolchak dashes out of Paul’s place, leaving Beatrice to pay for lunch.

MAN AT NEXT TABLE
Forget that creep, lady.  A deadbeat if I ever saw one!

It is the same man Kolchak just elbowed aside to hog the payphone.

INT. INS OFFICES – DAY – ON UPDYKE


KOLCHAK (VO)
I’m not really a murderer at heart.  When I told Updyke I’d kill him if he didn’t give me three tickets to the Bears-Packers game, I didn’t really mean “kill,” like dead, know what I mean?  Even though he told Vincenzo later that I had threatened his life, he couldn’t have honestly believed me.  Otherwise, why would he have had the guts to make me settle for two?

INT. POLICE LAB – DAY – ON CASEY


CASEY
Two …?

KOLCHAK
And my personal IOU guaranteeing you another ticket before Saturday!  Trust me!  On my mother’s grave I swear!

CASEY
Some mother.  This the one you needed to buy a birthday present for, yesterday?

KOLCHAK
Flowers!  Next to her tombstone!  Casey?  I need that info.

CASEY
Okay… it’s fresh blood, as I said.  Very rare type: AB negative, the kind they ask for donors on radio and TV when someone needs a transfusion, you know?

KOLCHAK
Those three decapitation victims – you find out their blood types?

CASEY
Don’t have to.  I already know.

KOLCHAK
What’ll it cost me to know what you know?  My right arm?  Here!  Cut it off right here at the elbow!

CASEY
On the house – they were all plain “O.”

KOLCHAK
What about the fourth victim?

Casey needs a sample to tell, so Kolchak sets out to find one from ROGER (the window dresser) by breaking into the dress shop.  He is suddenly confronted by a bizarre apparition:  an ELDERLY ITALIAN GUARD brandishing a drum-fed Tommy gun!

GUARD
I’ll get you!  You no get outta here alive!

The Guard RAKES the upstairs storage area with bullets, and Kolchak is hit.

ACT THREE


INT. STOREROOM – DAY – CLOSE ON GUARD


PHOTOGRAPHER (OS)
Hold the machinegun higher, Joe!  Higher – like you’re ready to mow down a G-man!  Look tough!

CLOSE ON KOLCHAK – BEING BANDAGED

KOLCHAK (VO)
I was still alive, having survived one of those movie cowboy injuries – a bullet grazing my shoulder.  None of the reporters were bothering about me.  They’d found themselves a living legend:  Joe Costello, a gangster from the Prohibition era.

JOE
Sure, I knew Capone!  Old Al and me used to eat dinner at this little restaurant in Cicero called the Domino Club.  It ain’t there no more.  It got messed up one night when Moran’s gang come in and shot up the place …

KOLCHAK (VO)
Unfortunately, my wounded shoulder was one of my lesser problems at the moment.  There was this Lt. Frisbee … who hated my guts anyway …

Frisbee JAILS Kolchak.  Vincenzo bails him out.

INT. INS OFFICES – DAY – EXCU VINCENZO


VINCENZO
(through grit teeth)
Ballet, Carl!  B-A-L-L-lay!  You will cover ballet, and only ballet, even if it means wearing a tutu and toe shoes – you dig?

KOLCHAK
Luckily, my legs are nice.  I suppose I could shave them.

VINCENZO
Not funny.  Remember, you are out on bail for illegal entry, and if the owners of the dress shop should decide to press charges …

KOLCHAK
Ballet?

VINCENZO
Ballet.

INT. POLICE LAB – DAY


KOLCHAK (VO)
On my way to the ballet interview, I just happened to be passing by the police lab …

Casey verifies that the window dresser’s blood was also the elusive type AB.  Kolchak returns to the museum to try and gain some further clue from the painting, and confronts Emile van der Beck with the information concerning Henri Boetje.

INT. CURATOR’S OFFICE – DAY


KOLCHAK (VO)
Something told me that the curator knew all along that this was no long-lost Rembrandt.  I was right …

CURATOR
I knew Henri Boetje … only too well.  Henri Boetje was my great-great, ad infinitum grandfather, on my mother’s side.  The painting had been handed down through the generations to me, the last living direct descendant.  I’m not married; I have no children … frankly, all my life I’ve been curious to see the painting.

KOLCHAK
You mean you never saw it before --?

CURATOR
Not until four days ago.  It’s been crated up, in storage, ever since I inherited it.  Actually, no one has seen the painting since 1879, to be precise.  In Brussells.

CURATOR
Mr. Kolchak … I said I never married, never intended to have children … it’s these headaches, inherited, every fourth generation male.  No one should be forced to suffer like this.  No one!  They must stop!  With me!  Oh, my god – I can’t think

INT. PUBLIC LIBRARY – DAY


KOLCHAK (VO)
Actually, van der Beck never did answer my question, so I did a little research with the aid of a Belgian exchange student.  In the Chicago Main Library we found an obscure Belgian almanac, published in Brussells in 1880, listing notable events of the previous year.  It seems an unexplained series of triple murders took place in the city during that previous year … 1879.

Kolchak hands the student a $10 bill.

INT. INS OFFICES – DAY – (AS KOLCHAK TYPES)

KOLCHAK (VO)
The Becker Museum seemed to be the focal point for the current series of murders.  But who is the murderer – or murderers?  Just for a starter, how about Emile van der Beck?

Vincenzo, totally snowed, thinks Kolchak is finishing up his art and ballet pieces.  He tosses some photos for the articles on Kolchak’s desk.  Carl notices two slightly different shots of “The Executioners.”

INT. “PAUL’S PLACE” – DAY – CLOSE ON PHOTOS – KOLCHAK AND BEATRICE

KOLCHAK
One was taken the day you and I visited the Museum of Art.  The other was taken the next day, when I was alone – after the watchman was hanged.  You’re an artist; your eyes are trained to spot details.  If you can’t see it … maybe it’s not there.

BEATRICE
(squinting)
Well … it’s probably when they developed the pictures … yeah, it must be …

KOLCHAK
What?

BEATRICE
Don’t laugh, but it looks to me like the hangman’s hands are in a different position in this one …

KOLCHAK
And the noose is shorter?

BEATRICE
Yeah.

KOLCHAK
(leaping up and kissing her)
You’re terrific!  Pay the check; I’ll reimburse you later!

BEATRICE
Where’re you going?

KOLCHAK
To prevent three murders – if I can!

BEATRICE
(fumbling in her purse – again)
Least he could do under the circumstances … was go Dutch …

ACT FOUR


EXT. PHONE BOOTH – NIGHT


KOLCHAK (VO)
Personally, I hate people who call me on the phone and disguise their voices … but, sometimes …

Kolchak affects a very heavy, mock-German accent:

KOLCHAK
Herr van der Beck …?  You do not know me, Herr van der Beck, but I haff a painting vitch I am sure vill be of great interest to you.  Perhaps if I dropped a hint?
(very confidential)
Herr Goering’s private collection … interested, ja?

Van der Beck is holed up in his office, alone, one light showing.  Drinking.

CURATOR
I might be …

KOLCHAK
Goot.  Perhaps you are available to see me now …?

CURATOR
No, no … not tonight.  Ah – tomorrow.  Call me tomorrow.  I’ll be leaving here shortly tonight.

Kolchak hangs up and speeds away after completing the call.

KOLCHAK (VO)
I was only two minutes away from the Museum; certainly enough time to get there before van der Beck could leave.  But his idea of a “short time” and mine certainly differed.  I waited over an hour.  Then –

Kolchak spots a shadowy, indistinct figure sneaking out a side door.  He tracks it to a nearby apartment building.  The figure takes the elevator to the fifth floor.  Kolchak hustles up the stairs just in time to hear a WOMAN, screaming.  He rushes into an open apartment and barely avoids being split in two by the EXECUTIONER’S AXE.

KOLCHAK – FROM MURDER’S POV – MOVING

KOLCHAK
Van der Beck!  Take it easy!  I know it’s you – but it’s your headaches that are making you do this!

But the figure seems much more the Executioner from the painting than the frail van der Beck.  Kolchak heaves a chair; the axeman hacks it apart in mid-air.  As the killer bears in, Kolchak DUCKS – and the axeman goes flying out the apartment window from the force of his own swing.  When Kolchak hurries downstairs he finds nothing on the sidewalk below except a large, running, multicolored blob of PAINT … and an extremely upset ELDERLY LADY whose poodle has just tracked into the mess.  She saw no body fall.  Kolchak hurries back to the Museum … and the Lady, thinking him to be some sort of paint-balloon prankster, sends the oncoming police after him.

INT. BECKER MUSEUM OF ART – NIGHT – MOVING WITH KOLCHAK


KOLCHAK (VO)
What I’d just seen didn’t make a lick of sense; still, there had to be some kind of explanation, and somewhere inside the art museum I felt there was the answer.

He finds an answer he didn’t count on:  van der Beck’s DEAD BODY.

KOLCHAK (VO)
Dead – from poison!  Well, that kicked my theory into a cocked hat.  That Emile van der Beck was some kind of insane killer, murder being a habit he had inherited from his ancestor, the artist, Henri Boetje.  Well, if it wasn’t van der Beck, then who …?

Kolchak heads back to the painting, in much the way the nightwatchman had, earlier.  We SEE the waiting set of hangman’s hands, the ready noose.  EXCEPT …

“The Executioners” is now singular.  The only figure in the painting is the MONK-LIKE FIGURE holding the poison vial.  The HANGMAN is missing.  In the empty space where the AXEMAN once stood is a dripping puddle of paint, as though the figure had been reduced back to its basic pigments.

Suddenly a NOOSE drops around Kolchak’s head from above.  He is hauled off the floor by the HANGMAN.  Carl scrabbles for his penknife and is unable to slice through the thick hemp.  His feet leave the ground.  His hands struggle to keep the noose from drawing tighter.  He gives a final yank and the Hangman – who has been unable to secure the rope to the railing due to Kolchak’s struggles – FALLS over the edge to get SKEWERED on a lance protruding from a full set of knight’s armor.

The HANGMAN’s body immediately begins to dissolve into dripping paint, coating the armor thickly.  As a mystified Kolchak watches, a similar puddle of paint is forming beneath the spot where the Hangman stood in the painting.

Kolchak stares at the painting for a moment, then sticks his penknife into the Monk-Like Figure.  The paint again starts to flow.  Kolchak SLASHES the canvas.  Smashes the frame against the gallery floor.  The PAINTED LAMP on the canvas abruptly flares, starting a real fire.  The fire quickly engulfs the Museum.

KOLCHAK (VO)
What Mrs. O’Leary’s cow failed to do, the painted lamp in the painting did!  It was obvious the museum would be completely consumed by flames in minutes.  I couldn’t think of anything to save except myself … and?

Kolchak salvages Emile van der Beck’s body, dragging it from the office and lugging it out into the night on his shoulders.

KOLCHAK (VO)
Don’t ask me why I thought it was important to save a dead body.  Maybe because it was the only legitimate dead body in the place I could scoop up and save without stuffing it into an oil paint tube …

EXT. INS BUILDING – THE NEXT DAY


Beatrice Mae Jessee ENTERS the building, carrying a wrapped painting.

KOLCHAK (VO)
Things are back to normal now.  The woman who almost got hacked up by the axeman now thinks it might have been a nightmare … that it wasn’t real at all.  I didn’t dispute her theory.  How could I prove what actually happened?  Who’d believe a painting could come to life?

INT. INS OFFICES – DAY


As Beatrice holds up the painting for Kolchak.  It is her NUDE BASEBALL PLAYER.

BEATRICE
You can hang him over your bed!

KOLCHAK
I don’t want him over my bed!  Suppose in the middle of the night he decided to crack me with his bat?

BEATRICE
That is stupid, Carl Kolchak.  Stupid, stupid, stupid!

KOLCHAK
I know, but just to be on the safe side, how about I trade the ball player for your “Nude in the Noose” broad?  I wouldn’t mind if she climbed out of her frame …

Beatrice shakes her head and starts re-wrapping the painting as Kolchak mugs ferociously.  FADE OUT/END.

#

It seems like no accident that Beatrice’s last line of dialog echoes one of the most infamous lines from Plan 9 From Outer Space … because had “The Executioners” gone to production, it surely would have usurped the worst-of-series berth.
            In a way, “badness” in the sense of the schlock horror/science fiction films of the 1950s was what KTNS was all about.  The entertainment value of the series derives largely from a wealth of eccentric peripheral characters (the folks from whom Kolchak bribes, wheedles and cons his leads) and his weekly run-ins with the regulars, in particular his florid arguments with Anthony Albert Vincenzo.  That Kolchak will overcome the weekly menace is never in question.  The point of the show was that it was kind of a Rockford Files of the supernatural, demonstrating how blithely Kolchak copes with the day-to-day madness (and monsters) surrounding him in a contemporary urban environment.
            “The Executioners” seems spun off from two primary sources:  The hour-long Twilight Zone episode “The New Exhibit” (in which Jack the Ripper, Bluebeard and other members of a wax museum’s Murderer’s Row seem to come to life to dispatch people who threaten the existence of the exhibit) and Robert Bloch’s “The Grim Reaper,” a Thriller episode in which the eponymous painting apparently murders, with fresh blood appearing on the edge of its scythe each time a victim is reaped.
            The abundance of killings in “The Executioners” seems to be without any motivation whatsoever, and Kolchak is “saved by accident” too many times to count.  Business clearly depicted onscreen is nonetheless belabored by extraneous voice-overs from Kolchak and redundant dialog.  (In fact, this idea may hold the record for Most Kolchak Voice-Overs in a Single Show.)  Unlike other episodes, the en passant “conflicts” with Casey, Vincenzo, et al, are never really resolved.  Even a David Chase pass to spice up the antique dialog (all of which seems to have time-traveled to roost from a 1930s Warner Brothers gangster flick) probably would not have saved this one.
            Wax museum statues and paintings coming to life were both creaky horror tropes by the early 1970s anyway, although Night Gallery tried to freshen the latter up one more time in “The Cemetery” and “The Escape Route.”  (I’m sure there are other exceptions.)
            Discuss.

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*            The Women’s Christian Temperance Union, founded 1874.