Friday, January 13, 2012

Episode 7: The Devil's Platform

Episode 7: The Devil's Platform
Original Airdate: 11/15/74
Guest Starring: Tom Skerritt, Julie Gregg
Written by Donn Mullally from a story by Tim Maschler
Directed by Allen Baron

Opponents of senatorial candidate Robert Palmer are dying off in a series of bizarre accidents. Kolchak soon clues in that Palmer's strongest supporter has horns and carries a pitchfork.

PE: Does the fact that Kolchak begins quite a few of these dramas reflecting on the story he's just witnessed ruin the suspense factor or is there not even a suspense factor at work here? We all know that he'll survive anyway, right, so why fake it? Just thinking out loud. I recreated that yacht explosion, by the way, when I was 14 years old, in my backyard with an Aurora battleship and two M-80s. The effect was exactly the same!

JS: Kolchak finally faces the devil! Or his dog, anyway. Funny how it doesn't take much suspension of disbelief to go along with a politician having sold his soul to the devil.

PE: Ambulance attendants were a little more easy-going back then. Nothing complicated like stretchers or back boards. If you look closely, you'll see the paramedics doing the 1...2...3 and throwing the victims into the back of the ambo. And once again, a violent but bloodless crime scene. I'm hoping we're not seeing here what became prevalent over at the Batman blog before too long: a disease we came to refer to as Dozier-cheap-itis. I'm assuming the script when finished came in at 47 minutes and so the five minutes we see of Carl Kolchak walking down the street at the beginning of the episode, stalked by a huge ugly dog (in broad daylight, no less) were added for padding rather than exposition. The scene goes nowhere by the way as we see the dog sitting in front of the bar, growling, waiting for Carl to make a move, and then suddenly we're whisked to a dark room where Kolchak is developing film. Did Bowser get bored? A nice poodle come along and make him an offer he couldn't refuse? 

JS: Perhaps it played differently to audiences in 1974, but I didn't think the elaborate elevator crash sequence was very effective. There was no tension the way it was shot—it just dragged on and on. And forgetting the question of why a Rottweiler would be in a building elevator, why wouldn't the crash kill it, too?

PE: Because he's the devil's dog, silly! Although I must admit when he attacks Carl he's more like a Chihuahua. The dog wrangler should have spread more beef on McGavin's double. But why would the devil be so obvious as to give his pooch an inverted star for a dog tag rather than FIDO? 

JS: After Kolchak goes to visit her, I thought Palmer's wife (Ellen Weston) might develop into an interesting accomplice to the evil politician. We find out she's aware of her husband's deal, and ultimately wants him to walk away from it, but her fate, unfortunately, is dealt with offscreen. Did the devil come to collect her husband's debt from her?

PE: Weston has a hot, Judy Carnes vibe to her. I'll dispense with the usual bestiality jokes but have to wonder if she knew her husband was a dog (and not just the kind of dog wives accuse their husbands of being).  This episode has a couple of beautiful Kolchak-babes to keep our minds off the horrid script. We're also treated to Julie Gregg, who plays Palmer's mistress. You might remember Gregg as  Sonny Corleone's long-suffering wife in The Godfather.

JS: Just a point of clarification. Don't most hospital bound murder victims flatline after they stop struggling?

PE: Since we're going for clarification, don't most dog mauling victims experience a bit of torn clothing? I've heard in some rare cases, victims have even bled a bit. Susan seems to have been attacked by a Sesame Street hand puppet rather than a hound from hell. At least the cops showed up pretty quick. In fact, any quicker and there would have been no attack.

JS: Palmer's Satanic Bachelor pad is the most interesting location in the film. It's even decked out with some nice skeletal portraits! As he tries to convince Kolchak to join the cause, he claims the reporter is good, but not great, because, "You have personality flaws that are going to keep total success from your grasp." I'll bet Vincenzo would have jumped at the chance to second that motion.

PE: I want to know why the devil dog can be photographed and his image is present for a couple minutes but then disappears. Wouldn't it be wiser of the devil to not leave any proof at all? And why have the dog's presence at the scene at all? He's the devil and if he can make an image disappear from a picture, surely he can make the dog disappear as well before he has witnesses. I would think the two guys who split apart the elevator door in the first place would report to the police that there was a really big, albeit somewhat friendly and cuddly, mongrel inside when the door opened. While I'm asking questions no one can possibly answer, why does the dog let Carl live? Okay, so he needs to get away quickly the first time he "attacks" Carl after exiting the elevator but then, in front of his human form's house (I wonder if he's got a dog house, as well, out in back), he does everything he can not to rip Kolchak's jacket pocket while digging out his pendant. You'd never know this was an evil killer Satanic hound.

JS: Tom Skerritt, who I generally like, doesn't appear to be having much fun here. He fails to project the kind of charisma you'd expect to see in a political candidate, and he wanders through his scenes with about as much energy (perhaps less so) as the Zombie of the second episode of the series.

PE: Skerritt looks more like a 70s porn star here but he displays the same somnambulistic acting method he brought to Alien, The Dead Zone, and Cheech & Chong's Up in Smoke. The latter (where he hilariously plays a perpetually stoned Vietnam vet) is probably the best showcase of the "mumble while I walk" approach he perfected in the late 70s.

JS: One has to wonder if the writers really understood the powers they were giving Palmer. Without a doubt, he's some sort of were-Rottweiler. But that ability appears to be tied to his amulet. When he loses the amulet the first time, in dog form, he seems aware and intent on getting it back. So we should assume he's still in league with the big D, albeit trapped in dog form, right? Does destroying the amulet free him of his burden, but stuck living out his life as a dog? If he were in human form, would he have reverted to being a nice guy? Is it wrong to feel like there are too many unanswered questions?

PE: You got questions? Why did Skerritt emerge from his wrecked car as a dog? Was he driving the car in pooch form or just revert after the crash? Where's our resident police chief? Why does Tony Vincenzo eat at Matty's if he's afraid of  getting botulism?

JS: Robert DoQui, who plays a park police officer who shoots the devil dog at point blank range several times with no effect, also appeared in The Outer Limits episode "The Invisible Enemy."

PE: The devil dog was used a couple more times in the 1970s after this show aired. Most famously, of course, in The Omen (which, coincidentally, also featured photograph oddities), but also a TV-movie directed by genre favorite Curtis Harrington called Devil Dog: Hound From Hell (1978), and a fairly effective episode of the short-lived and rarely-seen Quinn Martin's Tales of the Unexpected called "Devil Pack" and starring Van "The Green Hornet" Williams. I'd love to do a QMTotU-a-day blog but the darn thing hasn't been legally released (other than a Goodtimes VHS of its feature length episode, "A Force of Evil," starring Lloyd Bridges).


PE Rating:



JS Rating:



As a special Friday the 13th treat, later this afternoon Gary Gerani will spill the beans on Topps' Kolchak: The Night Stalker trading cards... that weren't. And coming this weekend — a double-header of special Kolchak features, courtesy of David J. Schow. Tomorrow we'll present a reproduction of Stuart Kaminsky's 1975 write-up on Kolchak: The Night Stalker, and you definitely won't want to miss Sunday's look at the Stalker-esses of the series.

Next up, Kolchak faces The Diablero!

14 comments:

  1. Peter mentions a point that many of us have noticed concerning the suspense factor. There really is very little suspense and Kolchak often starts off the show by talking about what has happened, etc.

    I guess if you first viewed the series as a child, then maybe you were scared because you were not yet jaded. However in 1974 I was 32 and basically saw the series as a comedy show with some supernatural elements. I certainly did not feel much of a suspense factor at all.

    Now almost 40 years after first seeing the series, I feel even less suspense while watching Kolchak go through his comedy act. It does make me laugh though.

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  2. I couldn't figure out why Kolchak didn't just douse the dude with the holy water, but maybe it slipped from his fingers. And why does Palmer turn into a nice puppy (perhaps willing to fetch his mistress' slippers) after being de-amuleted? Definitely too many unanswered questions in this episode. The devil is in the details.

    I was a little bit intrigued over the possibility that Kolchak would consider making a deal with the devil to get his Pulitzer, but knew it never would have happened.

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  3. Pete inadvertently reminded me of something else — look close, and you'll see that McGavin deserves props for very RARELY using a stunt double (check back on all the rail dangling in "The Werewolf," for example). He does pratfall-style spills with Kolchakian elegance. That's usually him driving like a maniac as well -- up on curbs, over trashcans, and a lot of screeching, smoking, sliding stops.

    Skerritt's stoned demeanor, to me, was minted in M*A*S*H* in 1970. Sleepy he may be, but it is Palmer who gives us the spellbinding speech about Kolchak's inner wants and needs, and since Kolchak rarely discloses stuff about himself, it's revelatory.

    Nobody knew who Robert DoQui was when he appeared in OUTER LIMITS at the tender age of 30. Everybody remembers him from the ROBOCOP films.

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  4. Props to this episode for coming to us before THE OMEN and DEVIL DOG: THE HOUND FROM HELL.

    I was always amused in Mark's book that Skeritt just flat out says "I really have no memory of doing that.". He goes on to say (and I'm paraphrasing) "I was doing a lot of episodic television at that time and a lot of it is a blur."

    Well, at least he was being honest!

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  5. The thing that always struck me most about this episode, having nothing to do with its intrinsic merits (or lack thereof), was how much it felt like a dry run for the aforementioned DEVIL DOG, which I admittedly haven't seen for decades. I mean, other than DRACULA'S DOG (aka ZOLTAN, HOUND OF DRACULA), how many demonic-canine movies are there, anyway? (I don't count THE OMEN, since the dog wasn't the focus there.) The plots of DEVIL DOG and "Platform" are not really that similar, although when the Satan-pooch begins to exert its evil influence on the family, the son rigs a student-government election. A junior Bob Palmer? Speaking of whom, this one is also conspicuously light on notable guest stars, outside of the normally awesome Captain Dallas.

    GoodTimes shout-out! (Used to be their Copy Manager until the company was mismanaged into bankruptcy and virtually all of us got laid off.)

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  6. Sharpen up those stakes, fellas! Mr. FANTASTIC TELEVISION is at it again... but please, don't let my apparently out-of-touch views on this series stop you from reading the little ditty coming up later today regarding NIGHT STALKER trading cards. No editorializing there, just some cool data about what could-have-been.

    As for your underwhelmed reaction to "The Devil's Platform," well, what can I say? My friends and I saw things differently back in '74, as did the general public. KOLCHAK was in serious ratings trouble by mid-season, but the show was ultimately renewed because the last few episodes before the mid-point perked up in the ratings. Those episodes, "Platform" among them, successfully expanded the series formula in a subtle way by embracing more offbeat monsters (like a devil dog) and opening up the monster's personalities just a tad without sacrificing their ice-cold demeanor (perfect casting choice Tom Skerritt as the politician may still be one-dimensional, but he has a relatable motivation, scenes with other characters that demonstrate this, and actual dialogue that sheds some light on Mr. Kolchak himself). Whatever other flaws this episode has or doesn't have, what it is accomplishing by keeping KOLCHAK going for a full season, along with the next few installments, cannot be stated strongly enough. Clearly, altering the formula subtly and saving the series doesn't seem to register with many retro-viewers here, but it meant a helluva lot to us NIGHT STALKER fans back in the day, who were grateful that this tangible problem was addressed, more imaginative and involving stories were being produced, and that we'd get ten more episodes out of the deal.

    Finally, there's the taste factor... Scenes that you consider bad I rather like. The dog keeping pace with Kolchak at the beginning of the episode is a wonderful bit-of-business, not only establishing the creature's sentient aspects in a clever way, but providing a neat frisson of movement and music... a cinematic touch without a horror attack to rely on. When there is an actual attack, like in the park, it's character-driven, more emotionally involving than usual (the girl's death in broad daylight being especially shocking), and it's shot, edited and scored with noticeable style.

    Yes, there would be even better episodes coming up -- Lord, we always considered them better; can't wait to see what you guys think! -- but, if nothing else, "Devil's Platform" deserves credit for being one of those close-to-midseason shows that saved KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER from extinction. Back in '74, we were very, very happy about that.

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  7. Knowing that, I would definitely give it another typewriter, if I were into the whole numbers thing. Of course, 11-year-old moi knew none of that at the time, and was just glad to see each episode, warts (which I probably overlooked) and all!

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  8. Woof. Since Kolchak succeeds in yanking the devil dog's chain twice, you'd think Evil Senator would have invested in a heavier, more secure binding for his man-into-beast mojo controller.

    But Gary is right in that the show couldn't continue to have creepy, hulking & SILENT menaces that could never interact with Kolchak in any meaningful way.

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  9. Attention - The dog in DEVIL DOG: THE HOUND FROM HELL was a German Shepherd, not a Rottweiler. His name was "Lucky", but that's not important right now.

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  10. Ok episode. That dog needs a teeth cleaning- why doesn't he kill Kolchak instead of just taking his pendant back? Episode lacks a police antagonist- you'd think someone would be investigating all those 'accidents'- and a demonologist.
    Final scene is pretty good. Thriller alum sighting: Jeanne Cooper from The Big Blackout.
    2 1/2 typewriters.

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  11. The head-on car collision is a series classic and a dog instead of Skeritt coming out if the car is icing in the cake! Anyone note the error in that scene?

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  12. Great line from Tony:

    Artichoke Pasta?

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  13. I recognize one of the paintings in Palmer's Satanic Bachelor Pad (see above screen grab) from NIGHT GALLERY's syndication version of THE SIXTH SENSE episode "Candle, Candle, Burning Bright."

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  14. If Palmer knew of Kolchak's desire to get back to New York and win a Pulitzer, how could Palmer miss the fact that Kolchak had already knocked off 2 vampires, a zombie, a werewolf, and a doppelganger?

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