By Mark Dawidziak
Preparing for a convention appearance in "Legacy of Terror," Carl Kolchak tells us, "I promised I'd show up with a haircut, new hat and pressed suit . . . but I lie a lot." The truth is, he should have showed up with a better script.
Each Kolchak episode has its share of frightening and funny moments, and this one is no exception, but, overall, "Legacy of Terror" is poorly structured and paced. Suffering from a patched-together quality, it sort of clunks along like the Mummy played by Lon Chaney Jr. in those 1940s Universal horror films. Despite such entertaining interludes as Kolchak's encounter with Mr. Eddy, the taxidermist sensitive about the image of his profession, "Legacy of Terror," to borrow a line from The Night Stalker Companion, "unravels like a loosely wrapped mummy."
|Erik Estrada as Ponch on CHiPs.|
Even Kolchak's opening narration seems trite and tired and wearily routine: "Among the philosophers, the great thinkers and the common Joes of this world, no question is more controversial than truth. Remarkable as it may seem, I can attest to the following events did occur, whether you believe them to be true or not." Cut the gab, Carl, and get me rewrite. We need a punchier lead.
Well, everybody probably was getting pretty punchy at this point in the first and only season of Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Like "The Werewolf," "Legacy of Terror" squanders a fairly promising idea: a 500-year-old Aztec warrior rising every 52 years to claim five victims. Richard Malcolm required six victims every 21 years, so this Aztec model can go much longer between terror tuneups.
On the list of Kolchak capers, this one ranks near the bottom, although it does feature several notable guest stars and supporting players:
Erik Estrada's presence as Pepe Torres is particularly intriguing, since he'll go on to star as Ponch in CHiPs, and Cy Chermak would later produce, yes, CHiPs.
|Sorrell Booke as Boss Hogg on The Dukes of Hazzard.|
Sorrell Booke, who plays the touchy taxidermist, went on to play Boss Hogg on The Dukes of Hazzard. The Boss Hogg persona was so strong, it tended to overshadow Booke's versatility. The Buffalo native's film credits included Fail-Safe, Black Like Me, Bye Bye Braverman, What's Up, Doc? and Slaughterhouse Five. Between Kolchak and Hazzard, he appeared in two episodes of Columbo ("Swan Song" and "The Bye-Bye Sky I.Q. Murder Case") and five episodes of All in the Family.
Ramon Bieri makes his second appearance as a police captain, but, this time he's playing Captain Webster, not Captain Joe Baker, the role he played in "Bad Medicine." But, of course, there had been a Captain Webster in "The Energy Eater," but he was played by Robert Yuro. Go figure. Why not just have Bieri return as Captain Baker?
Victor Campos, who plays Professor Jamie Rodriguez, has appeared in episodes of Dexter, ER, Six Feet Under and Arrested Development. The Kolchak guest star was making appearances on Kojak as Detective Gomez.
Pippa Scott, who plays Tillie Jones, had appeared as Laura in "The Trouble With Templeton," a 1960 episode of The Twilight Zone, and as Marcia in "Parasite Manor," a 1961 episode of Thriller. Her films include John Ford's The Searchers and Auntie Mame.
|Captain Webster? Captain Baker?|
Mickey Gilbert, who played "The Ripper" in the first Kolchak episode, returns to play the mummy. That earns him a tie for most appearances as a Kolchak creature. Also with two monsters apiece are Richard Kiel (in "Bad Medicine" and "The Spanish Moss Murders") and Craig Baxley (the title roles of "Mr. R.I.N.G." and "The Sentry"). But Craig Baxley also appears in "Legacy of Terror" -- as Rolf Anderson, the Green Beret who becomes one of the sacrificial victims. The stunt specialist appeared in a fourth Kolchak episode, "Primal Scream," but not as the monster. That distinction fell to another member of the flying Baxley family, Gary. Another Baxley, Paul, played Dr. Jules Copenik in "Primal Scream."
Look closely at the final few seconds of "Legacy of Terror." Gilbert's dormant mummy opens its eyes during the fade-out. Intentional? Either way, it's a spooky moment.
And as most Kolchak fans well know, "Legacy of Terror" is one of four episodes that Universal pulled out and edited into two TV movies for syndication. That was in 1976, a year after the series left the air. With Kolchak bouncing between two cases, the sixteenth and seventeenth episodes --"Demon in Lace" and "Legacy of Terror" -- became Demon and the Mummy. The sixth and tenth episodes -- "Firefall" and "The Energy Eater" -- became Crackle of Death. Darren McGavin was called in to loop connecting dialogue. Jack Grinnage and Simon Oakland were called back to overdub a few lines of dialogue. With no other bridging material, however, the films never seem more than precisely what they are: two hastily slapped-together movies. The editing at times is sloppy. The dubbing frequently is poor. And the cutting between two cases often is confusing. In Demon and the Mummy, for instance, the action shifts between heart attacks on the campus and hearts cut out near the hotel. "They were made for the same reason all pictures are made," said Harry Tatelman, vice president of Universal Pictures Television, "to make money." Yet the syndicated presence of these two movies yanked the four episodes out of Universal's Kolchak package for local stations and cable channels. They were not seen when CBS made Kolchak: The Night Stalker part of its late-night lineup. They were not seen when cable’s Sci-Fi Channel aired the series (although Sci-Fi did pick up the two 1976 movies for occasional showings). They would remain "lost episodes" until the Columbia House Video Library put out all twenty episodes -- complete and uncut -- in its Collector's Edition series. They've been restored with the other sixteen episodes ever since, and, of course, are included in Universal's box set for Kolchak: The Night Stalker.