Friday, January 6, 2012

Episode 2: The Zombie

Episode 2: The Zombie
Original Airdate: 9/20/74
Guest Starring: Charles Aidman, Joseph Sirola
and Earl Faison as The Zombie
Written by Zekial Marko & David Chase
Directed by Alex Grasshoff

Somebody's breaking the backs of members of the Chicago Syndicate, and Kolchak's convinced that the prime suspect is a black man who has died and been buried—multiple times. Once again, it's up to our intrepid reporter to put this monster down, before it gets around to breaking him!

PE: Five minutes into this episode, I realize there's a lot of body-tossing going on in this series.

JS: The stunt players union must have been strong supporters of the show. For the youngsters following along, we should probably clarify that the zombie of the title is of the (now all too rare) voodoo variety. If you can believe it, zombies of the flesh-eating variety were at this point still only represented by the original Night of the Living Dead and a handful of knock-offs, such as Children Shouldn't Play With Dead Things and The Living Dead At Manchester Morgue.

PE: I'm not sure what's more laughable: the badly staged shootout between the cops and the Russo brothers or the idea that Monique Marmelstein (Carol Ann Susi) would fit in the trunk of Kolchak's Mustang. The idea that Kolchak could just drive his car right into the fray must have been implausible even back in 1974. It's a shame the producers (and writers) didn't keep Susi around longer as a recurring character (she'll appear in two subsequent episodes) as Monique, Carl, and Tony form a wonderful comedic triangle. She's certainly a more interesting character than her "replacement," Emily (Ruth McDevitt) an Aunt Harriet retread who made me grind my teeth even at the age of thirteen.

JS: Monique reminded me of the 70s answer to Wendy Jo Sperber. I wasn't fond of her at first, but grew to like her. She's a perfect thorn in Kolchak's side.

PE: The interplay between McGavin and Oakland gets funnier every episode. That's a giant plus since, in this episode at least, it takes a long time 'til we get to the monster. While Kolchak's at the morgue learning that one of the shootout victims is a return visitor (and full of chicken blood), he gets a call from Tony, asking Carl to apologize to Monique for her trunk imprisonment, lest she call her influential Uncle Abe. Vincenzo doesn't know Kolchak is talking to attendant "Gordy the Ghoul":
Kolchak: Chicken blood?!
Tony: Listen, Kolchak, Monique's gonna call her Uncle Abe... Abe the smiling cobra!
Kolchak: In his ear?
Gordy: That's right!
Tony: Kolchak, what are you talking about?
Kolchak: What happened?
Gordy: They buried him.
Kolchak: Buried him?
Tony: Bury who? Abe Marmelstein? If she gets to him, he's gonna come down on me like a ton of...
Kolchak: Chicken blood?
Tony: whatever! Then I'm gonna have to come down on you.
Kolchak (to Gordy): Why?
Tony: That's management.
Gordy: I don't know!
Tony: You're gonna have to apologize to her.
Kolchak (to Gordy): Can you help me?
Tony: Yeah, I can convince her to come to the phone. Now you hang on.
Pure comic genius. The smarts of the comedy in this series have never really been discussed as far as I know. The bad rep on the show is that it became "Monster of the Week" and nothing more. To be fair, that's how I remember it from viewing it back in its initial run. I'm hoping the fun level stays high throughout the run, never mind the monsters.

JS: If not for such interplay, the show would have been deadly boring. The bits are funny enough that you almost forget the horror trappings, until the writers surprise you with them. Oakland, who all too often is confined to the newsroom set, doesn't let that slow him down. He's always giving 110%, whether chasing Carl around the office or screaming into a telephone. A nice counterpoint to the restrained psychiatrist he played in Psycho.

PE: LOL-dialogue continues when Sweetstick meets with rival underworld kingpin Benjamin Sposato:
Sweetstick: You think some of my boys been ripping off some of yours?
Sposato: That's right, Hickory Stick.
Sweetstick: Sweetstick!
Sposato: Whatevah.
Even back in the mid-70s, David Chase had the uncanny knack of knowing exactly how a mob boss would talk and act!

JS: I really enjoyed how that scene was staged, first with Kolchak's signature hat being just in plain sight as he sneaks around behind a car, to the shots of the Sweetstick/Sposato face-off through tires.

PE: I doubt if I liked this one very much as a kid. We get, essentially, 27 minutes of talk before the big reveal and even then the zombie's kept hidden in the shadows and shot from behind. I'm suspecting that's because the budget didn't allow for elaborate (or even mediocre) make-up effects. Ironically, the stuff I would have hated then I loved this time out.

JS: I thought the make-up they used worked well enough, so I'm assuming that they chose to keep the Zombie in the shadows to make the reveal in the last act that much more frightening. And speaking of budget, I'm amazed at how much location footage we're treated to in these episodes.

PE: Joseph Sirola seems to be stuck in a suit too tight for him. That's my only explanation for his "Tex Avery" eyes and constant sweating. I'm Italian and I don't sweat that much so I don't think we can lay blame at the feet of Italy for this one. When he's not perspiring, he's chewing on as much of the screen as he can get his teeth on.

JS: We are treated to cameos from several great actors this time out including Scatman Crothers and J. Pat O'Malley. O'Malley, whose voice I immediately recognized from The Jungle Book, looks and sounds so much like Alfred Hitchcock that his line as the gravedigger referencing a "family plot," seemed like it couldn't be just a coincidence—except for the fact that Hitchcock's film wouldn't be released for two more years.

PE: What the heck is going on with Tony Vincenzo's hair when he comes to pick up Carl at Captain Winwood's office? Looks like he stopped at his local Grecian Formula dealer. And while we're on Captain Winwood. How many Captains and Chiefs are there in the Chicago Police Department and isn't it peculiar that Carl seems to run afoul of a different constable every week?

JS: Despite a slow start, the last act really pays off. Fortunately, unlike the series premiere, Kolchak doesn't deposit his story in the circular file.

PE: Hard to imagine that the co-writer of this episode would revolutionize television drama 25 years later as creator of The Sopranos. In between, he found great success (and an Emmy) as writer on The Rockford Files. The year after this episode aired, Antonio Fargas (Bernard "Sweetstick" Weldon) didn't skip a beat and found his fifteen minutes of fame as pimp "Huggy Bear" on Starsky and Hutch. I'm pretty sure Sweetstick and Huggy shared the same tailors as well as car dealers. Charles Aidman (Capt. Winwood) is a veteran of our pithy remarks since he starred in two classic episodes of Thriller, The Terror in Teakwood and Knock Three-One-Two.

PE Rating:

JS Rating:

Check back at 12pm PST for Mark Dawidziak's take, and at 4pm PST this afternoon, we bring you the first of a three-part surprise feature article by Gary Gerani. You won't want to miss it!

Next up... Kolchak watches the skies!


  1. "Sposato: That's right, Hickory Stick."

    I think he actually calls him "licorice stick." I'm surprised neither of you commented on the climax, which is one of the best moments of TV horror ever - the zombie opening his eyes while Carl is trying to sew his lips shut. For this viewer The Zombie is one of the series best episodes.

  2. I can;t understand a word those Italians say. Thanks for the clarification, John!

  3. This episode always stands out for me because of that "lip-sewing" scene. Not only was it one of the truly frightening moments in the series' run, but it also led to me to discover that other people - some that surprised me - were watching the show.

    On the Monday morning after "Zombie" aired, I went to school and sat there while my 6th grade teacher, Mr. Caponegro, excitedly told us all about this wild show he'd seen that Friday night. He recounted for us how this reporter character had crawled into the back of a station wagon parked in a junkyard, found a zombie, proceeded to pour salt in its mouth, and then had gone to sew up the zombie's lips with black thread until ... YEEEEEEEOOOOOWWWWWW! It made a big impression on him (and subsequently his classroom full of kids). Somehow it was very heartening to know that my teacher watched the same spooky program that I did.

    Re David Chase, does anyone know if he's every spoken at any length about his work on the show and how he regards it today? (Unfortunately my copy of Mark's companion book is packed somewhere in my attic -although I'll be trying to locate it this weekend!).

  4. I agree that the three-way (as it were) between Carl, Tony, and Gordy was a masterpiece of comic construction. For myself, I've always found Monique insufferable and Miss Emily adorable. Go figure. But I'm with Mr. Stell: Carl's nail-biting attempt to "sew up" the case is a series highlight.

    Interesting that for once the cop du jour is not just a pill but actively crooked. I'd be remiss if I didn't point out Aidman's Matheson connections, appearing in "And When the Sky Was Opened" and "Little Girl Lost" on the original TWILIGHT ZONE, and then succeeding Rod Serling as the narrator of the mid-'80s revival. (Crothers, of course, appeared in Steven Spielberg's Matheson-scripted "Kick the Can" segment of TWILIGHT ZONE--THE MOVIE.)

    You didn't mention that John Fiedler, the voice of Piglet, played Gordy. ODD COUPLE fans will remember Fiedler as one of the few cast members to appear in both the movie (as Vinnie) and the show (as the manager of the Security Arms and the trainer of Silver the Wonder Dog). He had previously starred with Jack Klugman in the late Sidney Lumet's 12 ANGRY MEN, and would later appear in Robert Bloch's STAR TREK episode "Wolf in the Fold."

  5. Another 4-typewriter episode for me! I vividly remember sitting on the couch in pure terror as Kolchak climbed into the back of the station wagon and then had to sew the lips shut! Unbelievable! And for my money, I prefer voodoo zombies to the other kind. I'd rather watch a Val Lewton movie than one by Geortge Romero.

  6. I get into some of David Chase's feelings about "Night Stalker" in my upcoming post on "The Zombie" . . . also the salt-sewing moment, Monique, Gordy and other "Zombie" matters.

  7. Each episode that we see, Peter and John give lower and lower typewriter ratings. This is the 4th Kolchak and the lowest rated. This is not a good sign fellow Kolchakers! Pretty soon the ratings will be zero typewriters and then cancellation of A Kolchak A Day blog.

    The horror may be ho hum all these years later but the comedy and humor still holds up. To help me get through today's episode, I went and bought a growler of Summit Black Ale. But I might try a bottle of wine I got at the discount shelf: Poggio Anima Samael Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. With chinese take out I'm all set for the 5th episode. Come to think of it, this menu sounds like something Carl Kolchak would eat and drink...

  8. The broader canvas of the TV-movies would seem to give them an unfair advantage, so I don't know if we even have a level playing field for the episodes to be rated using the same metric.

  9. And there are some excellent ones coming up, folks... "The Devil's Platform," "Bad Medicine," "The Spanish Moss Murders," "Horror in the Heights" and "Mr. R.I.N.G." represent KOLCHAK's "hot period," to coin a David J. Schow phrase. So don't give up on Carl just yet...

  10. Zombie #5 of 20. 3/12 stars.
    Thanks Mr. Gerani, I didn't notice the Chase/mob connection! I thought this was a great episode, I actually thought the mob stuff in the first half was a little slow, but once the old lady puts a spell on Kolchak (his reaction is hilarious)
    it really picked up. Only quibble is its pretty convenient
    Carl happened to find a ready made noose hanging in the junkyard. Good makeup.

  11. I counted 3 thriller alums in this- Charles Aidman, John Fielder, and J. Pat O'Malley. Good score.