Kolchak: The Night Stalker
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.
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
It was enough to drive every Chicagoan to drink … even a
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
In the alley, a black cat YOWLS at a corpse strung up from a
Elsewhere, inside a ladies dress shop, a “peevish, swishy
male window decorator” complains to an unseen co-worker:
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
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
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?
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.
Ah, come off it, Warren – wood alcohol poisoning went out
with Prohibition. Are you sure you
didn’t find a headless body anywhere tonight?
Kolchak and group of reporters in general)
I guarantee you we have no reports of any …
headless bodies in the neighborhood, although I could
think of one I’d like to see that way since it would obviously eliminate his
Right on time, Warren gets a call about the dead Male Window
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
Repeat those categories, please.
Obituaries, ballet … or the art show.
Choose one …?
Or all three … you could squeeze
them all in!
When does that leave me time for the murder story?
It doesn’t -- that’s the idea!
As RON UPDYKE ENTERS the office:
Not Updyke? You didn’t give Updyke the assignment?
Updyke’s doing the pre-season football game at Soldier’s
What the hell does he know about football -- ?!
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 …
So who’s covering the murder story?
Me. I’ve got
to keep my hand in.
You mean your nose, don’t you?
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?
Obits … art … or the ballet?
What does he know about art?
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.
BECKER MUSEUM – CLOSE ON PAINTING - DAY
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
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
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?”
It’s not listed in here.
We acquired it too late for our brochure.
ANGLE BROADENS TO INCLUDE CURATOR, a Vincent Price type, all
charm, with a smooth, syrupy voice.
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 …?
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?”
Jessee? Jessee? Well,
frankly, I specialize in 16th and 17th Century art …
When did you hang this one?
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.
You mean this could have been painted recently? Copying the style of the Renaissance?
Don’t be silly, Kolchak – you can see it’s old!
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.
Could it be a Rembrandt?
If we could be so lucky …
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
INT. INS OFFICES – DAY
Vincenzo is predictably dissatisfied with Kolchak’s “art”
piece, focusing as it does on the death of the night watchman.
What happened, Carl? Your ghost writer crawl out from under your sheet?
Stay out of this, Updyke! Don’t fool with Fate!
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!
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?
Ah, ah, ah, Updyke – don’t tempt Fate when she’s right
…looking down on me, saying, “Kolchak! Get cracking on those murder stories,
Vincenzo reaches up into the air. Grabs an imaginary object. Holds “it” in his outstretched hand for Kolchak’s
See that, Carl? Now your fate is in my hand
CLOSES, squeezing tightly)
… Get the picture?
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
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
INT. “PAUL’S PLACE” – DAY – ON TABLE PLACEMAT
AS Beatrice fills in the name HENRI BOETJE.
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?
Don’t make me guess.
To add life to his paintings?
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 –
Instead of turpentine, right?
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.
Forget that creep, lady. A deadbeat if I ever saw one!
It is the same man Kolchak just elbowed aside to hog the
INT. INS OFFICES – DAY – ON UPDYKE
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
And my personal IOU guaranteeing you another ticket
before Saturday! Trust me! On my mother’s grave I swear!
This the one you needed to buy a birthday present for, yesterday?
Next to her tombstone!
Casey? I need that info.
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?
Those three decapitation victims – you find out their
Don’t have to.
I already know.
What’ll it cost me to know what you know? My right arm? Here! Cut it
off right here at the elbow!
On the house – they were all plain “O.”
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!
I’ll get you!
You no get outta here alive!
The Guard RAKES the upstairs storage area with bullets, and
Kolchak is hit.
INT. STOREROOM – DAY – CLOSE ON GUARD
Hold the machinegun higher, Joe! Higher – like you’re ready to mow down
a G-man! Look tough!
CLOSE ON KOLCHAK – BEING BANDAGED
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.
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 …
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
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?
Luckily, my legs are nice. I suppose I could shave them.
Remember, you are out on bail for illegal entry, and if the owners of
the dress shop should decide to press charges …
INT. POLICE LAB – DAY
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
Something told me that the curator knew all along that
this was no long-lost Rembrandt. I
was right …
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.
You mean you never saw it before --?
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
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
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)
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
INT. “PAUL’S PLACE” – DAY – CLOSE ON PHOTOS – KOLCHAK AND
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.
Well … it’s probably when they developed the pictures …
yeah, it must be …
Don’t laugh, but it looks to me like the hangman’s hands
are in a different position in this one …
And the noose is shorter?
up and kissing her)
Pay the check; I’ll reimburse you later!
Where’re you going?
To prevent three murders – if I can!
in her purse – again)
Least he could do under the circumstances … was go Dutch …
EXT. PHONE BOOTH – NIGHT
Personally, I hate people who call me on the phone and
disguise their voices … but, sometimes …
Kolchak affects a very heavy, mock-German accent:
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?
Herr Goering’s private collection … interested, ja?
Van der Beck is holed up in his office, alone, one light
I might be …
Perhaps you are available to see me now …?
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.
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
You can hang him over your bed!
I don’t want him over my bed! Suppose in the middle of the night he decided to crack me
with his bat?
That is stupid, Carl Kolchak. Stupid, stupid, stupid!
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
Beatrice shakes her head and starts re-wrapping the painting
as Kolchak mugs ferociously. FADE
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
Women’s Christian Temperance Union, founded 1874.