Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Episode 4: The Vampire

Episode 4: The Vampire
Original Airdate: 10/4/74
Guest Starring: William Daniels, Kathleen Nolan
and Suzanne Charney as The Vampire(ss)
Written by David Chase
(from a story by Bill Stratton)
Directed by Don Weis

A series of vampire-like murders in Los Angeles convinces Carl Kolchak that maybe not all of Janos Skorzeny's victims were discovered back in Las Vegas. Tricking Tony into sending him to L.A. for a transcendental meditation story, Carl instead uncovers his latest monster: Catherine Rawlins, the vampiress! With the help of Faye Kruger, a real estate agent with dreams of being a journalist, Kolchak convinces his editor that he's writing his piece on the guru while secretly tracking down Catherine. 

PE: A brilliant idea, tying the show in to the original tele-film by bringing back one of Janos Skorzeny's victims. My only questions would be what took her so long to rise from her grave and why did she immigrate west to L.A. Interesting that the Skorzeny name is never brought up. Indeed, not much conversation at all about the case that got Kolchak run out of Vegas.

JS: Things get off to a great start with those hands reaching out of the ground. This episode must have been a real nightmare-inducer for kids in October of 74!

PE: Larry Storch is really good here, acting against type as "The Swede," a calm, reserved reporter buddy of Carl's from Vegas, rather than the usual Jerry Lewis clone we've come to expect from the actor. That bowtie has got to go though.

JS: I was excited to see Storch in the credits, but to be honest, was disappointed that he had such a fleeting role. I guess I'll have to wait for our Ghost Busters A Day blog to get my Larry Storch fix.

PE: After a one-episode hiatus, the fun is back in the Carl-Tony relationship. I'll wager that's due to writer Chase. Kolchak's faux stubbornness when Vincenzo orders him to go to Los Angeles to cover the marriage of a fifteen year-old guru (which is exactly where our reporter wants to go) is hilarious and infused with the kind of comic timing that made their interactions in the first two episodes so entertaining. At one point, after checking into his Hollywood hotel, Carl picks up the phone and asks the operator to connect him with his mother... Mr. Antonio Vincenzo.

JS: You know that I hate to admit when you're right about something, but you hit the nail on the head. The LA assignment scene is one of the best yet between Kolchak and Vincenzo, and kudos to Jack Grinnage who, as Updyke, has to play witness to the verbal sparring without getting a word in edgewise.

PE: Other than to have a female presence, I see no reason why realtor Faye Kruger was brought into the story and further, no reason for Carl to drag her along. Kolchak works better as a loner. I do concede that having Faye write the story on the guru while Carl hunts down the vampiress leads to a very funny bit when she wires the story to Tony. The editor, assuming Kolchak wrote the story, wants to know why it reads more like a listing than an expose:
Tony: Does his mansion really have copper pipes throughout?
Kolchak (puzzled, looking at Faye): Copper pipes throughout?
Tony (shouting now): Yes, plumbing... plumbing!
Kolchak (shifting through Faye's papers): Well, yes, Tony, some of these mansions do have... copper pipes!
Tony (sarcastically): Fascinating! And they also have low maintenance grounds, Spanish tile roof, and a separate adobe cabana?
Kolchak: Yeah, yeah, that's what it says, Tony. I thought it was very interesting.
Tony: I thought I had my wires crossed with Better Homes and Gardens!
JS: To me, she came across as a poor man's Ann-Margret. I guess they felt they needed her to explain how he could find the house for the climax, but even that doesn't justify how much screen time she receives.

PE: It was only a matter of time before William Daniels (an actor I always confuse with Harlan Ellison for some reason) climbed aboard the Head Honcho Cop Carousel. Known primarily for his concurrent roles as Dr. Mark Craig on St. Elsewhere and as the voice of K.I.T.T., the talking car on Knight Rider, Daniels, for me, has always exuded that perfect balance of menace and authority.

JS: I thought he was another great character actor just perfect for the role. I also have to say, I thought it was nice having an episode set in L.A., giving us a bit of a Hollywood travelogue.

PE: For those of us lucky enough to have frequented the city of stars, Carl Kolchak (or actually David Chase?) sums it up nicely:
"Hollywood. I was beginning to see they do things strangely there... What can you expect from a city that erects a building to look like a stack of flapjacks and where some of the men dust their eyebrows with glitter. Compared to Tinseltown, Chicago was beginning to look like the Garden of Eden."
JS: Let's talk about the real star of the episode, Suzanne Charney as Catherine Rawlins. From the moment we first see her, leaning into the car window with the slightest grin on her face, I knew someone was in for trouble. Of course, I felt that lessened the impact of the next scene, when the filmmakers would have us believe that she's being attacked by a male vampire—only to turn the tables on the audience. It was a clever twist; I just felt her true nature had already been telegraphed. 

PE: Catherine Rawlins makes for a great vampire, evoking the classic Hammer femmes like Ingrid Pitt (The Vampire Lovers)  and Andree Melly (The Brides of Dracula). A little too much of the "dancing vampire" bit at times (complete with gnarled Lugosi hands) but it doesn't ruin the mood. It helps that Charney wasn't saddled with bad fangs (or worse, no fangs at all). Those chompers look real to me. (Frighteningly enough, her other credits include Vasectomy: A Delicate Matter. -JS) Much more realistic than the "football players" that the monster throws through a window. You can very clearly see one of the stuntmen get a running start and leap through the plate glass.

JS: What made Rawlins particularly scary, aside from her apparent ability to unhinge her lower jaw at will, was all of the hissing. I wasn't seeing her as a lovely Hammer vampire like you were. To me, she triggered memories of the female vampires from Blacula and Salem's Lot that freaked me out me as a kid. If I had seen this when it originally aired, I would have found her far more terrifying than Skorzeny in the original TV movie.

PE: Nice climax, filmed up at the Cahuenga cross.

JS: It's a great scene, with a fantastic parting shot of Kolchak and Lieutenant Matteo standing over the staked body with the burning cross in the background.

PE Rating:

 JS Rating:

Next up... Kolchak faces The Werewolf!


  1. If you look close there's even one brief shot of Carl headed up Beachwood Drive!

    You also get a quick shot of the Egyptian Theatre, before they remodeled the courtyard.

    The "Cahuenga Cross" is visually cited in a drive-by, but they mocked it up on the Uni backlot in order to burn it, although I've often wondered why nobody has set the goddamned thing on fire for real. Hmm, I've got some gas out in the garage ...

    Agree that whenever the dialogue perks up, it's most likely Chase doing a production polish. He tends to take ordinary back-and-forth dialogue, the kind that probably read like fallout from 1940s factory movies, and render it crisper by using specific references and wordplay.

  2. This is, hands down, my favorite episode for so many reasons, most notably because it's the only one implicitly connected with the original movie (plus I just love vampires), although it's interesting that they never come right out and say so. Perhaps not coincidentally, Weis directed Richard Matheson's favorite of his TWILIGHT ZONE episodes, "Steel" (recently sorta remade as REAL STEEL).

    I agree that those reaching hands were muy scary, reminiscent of the Count Yorga movies I never liked, and that they somehow managed to make Catherine look really scary without fancy makeup. That shot of her looking in the car window always gets me, and--aptly--looked like something from a Dan Curtis production. Loved Daniels as John Adams in 1776, and enjoyed Storch's bit as another Vegas connection.

    Was thinking what a shame it is that so many of the early episodes have a title right up front that prevents any suspense as to what Carl will be up against. Of course, for most of us, "The Rakshasa" would not have presented that problem.

    Carl seems to be a little more of a schmuck than usual this time around, in terms of how he treats people like Tony (whom he plays like a violin in wangling the L.A. assignment) and Faye, but the stuff with her real-estate-flavored article is hilarious. I also found it odd that they had her get the IRS and INS confused, when they could simply have had her think that "INS" was the Immigration and Naturalization Service, which would have fit the story at least as well. Since I don't like Ann-Margret, the poor man's version did nothing for me otherwise.

    Carl's essential bravery and resourcefulness come to the fore once again as he braves the vampire's lair, and that fiery-cross climax was excellent. I love the way he pulls himself proudly up under the shocked gaze of Mateo.

    Well, if I could only put one weekly episode in the time capsule, this is it.

  3. This was the first episode my brother and I tried to watch as kids. We got to the hands reaching up out of the ground part and that was it. The TV went off. Too scary for us.

  4. You're right - a great episode.

    I didn't mind the Faye character (entirely believable as an L.A. realtor). Yes, she's not absolutely necessary; in fact, they could have eliminated the entire subplot had Carl simply taken off to L.A. on personal time to allow him to do his investigative reporting.

    But this would make it an almost EXACT replay of the original movie, which wouldn't work as well since Carl already KNOWS there are vampires, what they can do, their weaknesses, etc. There's really not much investigating to do in that regard.

    Also, eliminate the Faye character and you have Carl in his hotel room alone - do we really want voiceover for everything?

    Which leads to another issue - in the two movies, we had one villain who never spoke and one who did (when uncovered). In the series so far, we've had four completely silent menaces (although we see Catherine speaking, WE don't get to hear it).

    Yes, the antagonist can sometimes gain in eerie menace by remaining menacingly silent - but it also restricts the TV scriptwriters when you can't have any verbal byplay between the hero and the villain (by default, that antagonist often becomes the police chief-of-the-week).

    Fortunately they would soon start mixing it up.

  5. In spite of all the fresh elements and the relative novelty of a female vampire, I found the execution of this episode to be strangely flat, a series of dutifully "covered" events without the necessary ups-and-downs that distinguish great suspense filmmaking. Terrific moments begin, then end abruptly before blossoming into full-fledged terrific scenes. For the most part, action sequences and elaborate set-pieces (like the burning cross) are filmed on the same emotional/excitement level as surrounding conversation scenes, lending the tale a curious stop-and-go, choppy quality. Perhaps director Don Weis should have screened Terence Fisher's HORROR OF DRACULA for a refresher course on how to modulate a hero's methodical investigation with horror set-pieces and a climax that register dramatically because they are extended, well balanced and excitingly choreographed (a la the conclusions of the original NIGHT STALKER telefilm, "The Ripper," and several KOLCHAK episodes to come). Bottom line, for me? A series of cool ideas that never quite congeal into a satisfying cinematic whole.

  6. Before the angry villagers (or as Peter and I like to call them, the "Pigeon from Hell-ers") ignite their torches on the Cahuenga cross and start calling for Gary's head, let's remember that we're all friends here, and everyone is entitled to their opinion. As crazy as those opinions might be. ;)

  7. Hear, hear! I firmly defend your right to be wrong! ;-)

    Also - note to all vampires: it's not a great idea to rent a house 100 yards away from a giant white cross.

    1. Good one and the only possible flaw in the episode. Why would she get a place near a giant cross? Guess it came back to haunt her!

      At this point, guess it did not matter to most viewers as this remains a favorite and one of the best shows of the series.

  8. Well, Gary's rep is such that it's much more likely he's right and I'm wrong, which is why I made no attempt to rebut or immolate him. But since these are, in fact, opinions, it could be argued that there are no wrong answers.

    And grgstv338, I had the same thought myself about the cross. It's like the lever in BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN that, if pulled, will "blow us all to atoms." Well, what bonehead included THAT design feature? My contribution to that area is the mythical "delete all" key on a computer keyboard that, if hit accidentally or on purpose, will wipe your entire hard drive.

  9. Wait, you don't have that key? I mean, mine's specially marked, I know where it is... er, you don't think anything bad could possibly come of------------------------------------------------------------------------------

  10. I've never yet seen a fall TV season in which at least one critic hated the show generally considered the best new series -- and at least one critic loved the show generally considered the worst new series. Been running out there all by myself on more than one occasion, so having the intelligent dissenter is a good thing. Opinions, after all, are sharpened by running them across the edge of disagreement. Can't remember who said that. It might have been Carl Kolchak.

  11. Has anyone ever done a comparison between The Vampire episode of Night Stalker and the '3' episode of The X-Files? The X-Files shows off its Night Stalker influence especially blatantly there, IMO.

    This blog has many references to William Daniels, but no mention of 'Captain Nice.' That'll always be my primary frame of reference for him no matter what else he does.

  12. And how's this for symmetry? NBC's superhero spoof "Captain Nice," created by Buck Henry, premiered January 9, 1967, the same night as ABC's superhero spoof, "Mr. Terrific." Daniels, the star of "Captain Nice," was a guest star on "The Vampire." The "Mr. Terrific" co-star Dick Gautier,who played Hymie the Robot on Henry's "Get Smart," was a guest star on "The Werewolf," the "Night Stalker" episode that followed "The Vampire." And Daniels' "Captain Nice co-star, Alice Ghostley, was a guest star on the eighth "Kolchak" episode, "Bad Medicine." Composer Jerry Fielding worked on both "Captain Nice" and "Kolchak: The Night Stalker."

  13. Finally, at the last minute, we get a spike in the typewriter ratings. The two movies and the three prior episodes had each received a lower rating until now we were at ground zero(zero typewriters that is). But Peter and John revive themselves just like a vampire, and voila, 3 1/2 typewriters! Being the cynic I am, I figured they had to give a higher rating or the mob of "Pigeon From Hellers" would march again!

  14. >> I figured they had to give a higher rating or the mob of "Pigeon From Hellers" would march again!

    I actually hated this episode but, just between you and me, Walker, I thought I'd throw 'em a bone before I tear into the rest of the episodes. Remember what goes up surely must come back down!

  15. Never been a huge off-the-rack vampire fan as far as TV/film is concerned but i was pleasantly surprised how much i enjoyed this episode when i revisited it a few Halloweens back while watching the entire series again. If any one image from the show has stayed with me since i was a kid ("CHOPPER" aside!),it's the one of the hands struggling to get out of the ground. The first time i saw that particular image was during a promo spot for KOLCHAK when it was aired on CBS Late Nite and the hands looked so small to me that i thought they were children's hands and that creeped me out to no end. Discovering they were a full grown woman's hands killed the creep factor for me but i enjoyed realizing that i had let my imagination get the best of me.

  16. #15 out of 20, 2 1/2 typewriters, its not a bad episode, still I'm surprised so many people like it, maybe because they were hungry for more vampires after the pilot. The story isn't that original, it doesn't add much to the vampire lore,the subplot with Kathy Nolan (still pretty sexy, she looks great in The Real McCoys) isn't that funny. Well-photographed episode, a great final image with the burning cross- I remember that shot from years ago.

  17. Great ep - loved every second of it and think every character and line are essential. Why hasn't anyone given the switcheroo hooker, lovely Anne Whitfield, a mention? Loved her scene.

  18. I've always wondered how the 50something CK (as McGavin was about 52-53 at the time) could have outrun the superhuman Katherine to that cross.