Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Episode 10: The Energy Eater

Episode 10: The Energy Eater aka Matchemonedo
Original Airdate: 12/13/74
Guest Starring: William Smith, Elaine Giftos
Written by Arthur Rowe and Rudolph Borchert
Directed by Alex Grasshoff

A hotel expansion might as well have been built on an Indian burial ground, because it's upset Native American spirit Matchemonedo. Kolchak enlists the help of a modern day medicine man to calm the restless spirit.

JS: This episode has one of the longest, most drawn out openings yet. I don't think the goal was getting a grand tour of Chicago, or showcasing the Luchi de Jesus score. I'm guessing they somehow came up short on time, and cutting in more shots of the monster wasn't an option. But once we get past that, we get right to business, and meet the first babe of the episode, "Second Girl," wonderfully portrayed by Diane Harper (who has a young Debra Winger look to her -PE). As the character was also a would-be actress, it's no wonder she does such a convincing job. After bouncing from TV show to TV show for 8 years, Harper finally got her big break in film (after which she apparently chose to retire), as the 'radio voice' in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (That was her? I'll be damned! -PE).

PE: I know the guy's got a nose for news but why would Carl sense something up when Nurse Eisen (Giftos) whispers into her boss' ear at the press conference? Yeah, she's a nurse but it is a hospital. His trek through "No Admittance" areas behind her is a little far-fetched even for this series.

JS: Come on! After making himself at home at every crime scene he enters—even when the crime is in progress—how can his following her be seen as out of character? Giftos, babe #2 of the episode, has a bit of a Jenny Agutter/An American Werewolf in London-thing going on.

PE: Oh dear! I smell one of those "invisible menace" calls down to the spfx lab when the budget's dwindling.

JS: I have to say, of the invisible enemy episodes, this is my favorite. I think the force's invisibility is justified by the story, plus, the real world manifestations are actually interesting. And I give them bonus points for actually showing us something, by piecing together the X-Rays. You can't deny that was a cool sequence.

PE: At least the newsroom banter crackles. Kolchak uses his usual charm to screw up Tony's head again. Vincenzo wants Carl to investigate a mob shooting but the reporter wants to stick to the hospital incident. Tony's adamant:
Carl (shrug and sighs): All right, I'll cover it. But it's a waste of time as you'd know if you've ever done one.
Tony (outraged): If I've ever done one? How you think I got behind that desk?
Carl: I don't know. How?
Tony: I was top crime reporter in this town when it was important, when it was dangerous! If you weren't careful, you could wind up under a... under a Pierce Arrow!
Carl (sarcastically): Oh boy, that was a long time ago, Tony. Yeah, you've probably forgotten how (waves his hand). No, I'll do it.
Tony: No! I'm gonna show you how to dig out a story!
Emily: Good for you, Mr. Vincenzo. I like to see older people with spunk.
JS: I actually didn't think the writers had the right tone for Kolchak/Vincenzo, as evidenced by the rude fashion in which Carl dismisses Tony at the hospital.

PE: You just don't get good security guards today like they had in 1974. Carl walks into the hospital with a stethoscope around his neck, looking like anything but a doctor and the boob just lets him go right in. This, despite the fact that Kolchak hasn't even tried to hide his camera!

JS: Anyone will tell you, the trick is to act like you know what you're doing. Carl's obviously smoother than you think.

PE: Kolchak brings an architectural engineer to the hospital undercover and the guy is flummoxed. He can't explain why the air conditioning is super cold but the floor is hotter than hell. He also offers no explanation as to why there's a boom microphone above his head. I couldn't trust a guy with such a bad rug.

JS: Ouch! Let me take a moment to introduce babe #3 of the episode - Joyce Jillson as the toaster-impaired neighbor to Jim Elkhorn. Jillson was the official astrologer for Twentieth Century Fox, suggesting astrologically favorable dates for movie openings. You'd think I was making this up, but she was the once who apparently decided that Star Wars should open on May 25, 1977. And clearly that's the reason the movie went on to become a blockbuster.

PE: Call me crazy but that almost sounds like the Jaws theme (about seven months prior to its release)  as we're following the (very lovely) Nurse Eisen to the Pathology Lab. I like this babe, she's got moxy:
Carl: Alright, let's recap it. How about the elevator... and the heat... and the plaster being knocked off the walls... and I hear that people are dying...
Eisen: Well, of course, people are dying. This is a hospital!
Interesting though that she'd jeopardize her job by telling Carl all about the problems the hospital's been having and topping off her recap by showing Kolchak the latest victim... who just happens to be lying on a gurney right behind them.

JS: I thought she was great. But I've got a problem. After they meet with Jim, Kolchak pushes her out the door so he can go off with Elkhorn. In the next scene, the two men are at the hospital, where Matchemonedo does some damage in the morgue. All they seem to care about is picking up the x-rays, while seemingly dead nurses are strewn everywhere... including Eisen? If that's not her, why the lingering shot? At least Mel Tartar got a brief moment alone with Kolchak when his dead body was discovered back in "The Werewolf."

PE: Best line of the show: Carl interviewing Jim Elkhorn: "About Matchimodo. Is that any relationship to Quasimodo?" Elkhorn's played by William Smith (Conan's pop), who's at least as good as Richard Kiel at chanting Indian mumbo jumbo. (It beats Old MacDonald, that's for damn sure. -JS) Smith was a good-looking, rugged guy, at the time, who went on to semi-fame as Falconetti on Rich Man, Poor Man and as Kimo in the final season of Hawaii Five-O. The obvious comparison is Clint Eastwood, who Smith co-starred with in Any Which Way You Can (he was the one who didn't eat bananas). Was I the only one who expected Nurse Eisen to emerge from Elkhorn's bedroom when Carl comes to call and the shaman answers his door in a robe?

JS: I thought Jim and "Charles" Kolchak had a great rapport. I really liked how they partnered up to deal with Matchemonedo. I like to think if the series had continued, Kolchak and Elkhorn might have worked together again on another Native American mystery.

Uncensored x-ray of Matchemonedo
PE: Poor Claudia Granoff (Melissa Greene). Not only is she paralyzed and stuck in one of those funky beds, but they've given her a mute nurse. "Let's go over the budget again boys. Are you sure we can't afford looping? Well, how about a bear costume? I hear Kiel's still in town."

JS: I like to think that Kiel portrayed the invisible Matchemonedo, earning him a Kolchak monster-of-the-week three-peat.

PE: Diana Lanier (Joyce Jillson) took the words right out of my mouth when I saw Nurse Eisen out of her uniform and in that purty dress: "My rocks are melting." This is not the first time Elaine Giftos graced a nurse's uniform (and been out of it as well!). In 1970 she played Nurse Sharon (complete with flowing cape!) in a beautiful slice of Roger Corman Americana that just missed being nominated for Best Picture, The Student Nurses.

JS: Did anyone else think the Energy Eater might manifest itself and get Elkhorn while his hand was in the toaster? Kids, don't try this at home.

PE: The last time Robert Cornthwaite looked in a microscope and saw something this incredible was up  at that arctic outpost in The Thing From Another World (1951).

JS: Did you somehow miss our pal John Mitchum (Batman, Thriller, Dirty Harry) as the janitor?

PE: This is one of those shows where I can forget the abysmal acting, cheapskate effects, plot implausibilities, and the lack of a climax, and just enjoy the goofiness of the abysmal acting, the cheapskate effects, the plot implausibilities, and the lack of a climax. And about that climax: I wasn't sure if Kolchak was knocked out by the gas or someone inadvertently included an outtake of McGavin lowering himself to the floor for a cat nap between takes. All that stunt work Darren did and he can't do a believable fall into unconsciousness?

PE Rating:

JS Rating:

Next up... Kolchak faces the The Rakshasa!


  1. I agree wholeheartedly with John that the piecing together of the creature's eye out of the x-rays is really cool.

    This episode might be my least *favorite* of the series, but that doesn't mean I don't really enjoy it. As I always say, when all else fails, there's always Darren McGavin to fall back on when it comes to enjoying a KOLCHAK episode.

    William Smith is great in this, but I'm always disappointed when he runs away like a school girl during the final showdown. Get back here, ya sissy!

  2. So, John rates this episode higher than...

    ... okay, nevermind, that way lies madness.

    Actually, even though this episode gets a low rating from many fans, I rather like it. It's a real non-ending, but what comes before was pretty gripping.

    Kudos to the reviewers (yes, I did say that!) for picking up on the fate of the lovely Nurse Eisen - a lot of fans don't realize she actually gets fried by the energy eater in one of the show's more heartless kiss-offs. (Yes, from the angle and with the blackened makeup it's hard to determine if that is indeed Giftos, but it's a headscratcher why they focus on the body if it's not supposed to be her.

    But it just comes off as cruel that the show doesn't have Kolchak and Elkhorn discover her body while they're picking up X-ray slides - you'd think it would give them some extra personal motivation to find the answer. But no, Nurse Eisen is left dead, unmourned, unmissed and completely unmentioned by our heroes...

    ... which, whether intended or not, makes Kolchak come off as a bit callous overall. Carl is just interested in the story; once you can't help him advance his pursuit of it, he'll shove you off into an elevator.

    And this is another difference from the TV-movies and the series. We get the sense that Carl had a life outside the newsroom in the movies (or wanted to, with Jo Ann Pflug in NIGHT STRANGLER). But the Kolchak of the series, despite the uptick in comedy, is at heart a lonelier figure. Even though the INS crew was fleshed out to provide Carl with a bit of "family," we see he has little use for Updyke and only berates Tony when he's not trying to hoodwink him. If not for Miss Emily, would Carl be nice to anybody? That's why it's so bothersome at the end of this episode (again, good pickup by reviewers) when Carl dismisses Tony with a curt, "Goodbye, Tony" at the hospital. If Tony isn't Carl's best friend, is anybody? I get the sense that the person he's really closest to is that unseen listener he's dictating to on his tape recorder, that unmentioned reader of these far-out stories he can never get printed. In short, it's his audience, it's US... and that's a bit sad, when you think about it.

  3. So far nobody has commented on the fact that this episode is obviously a reject from the OUTER LIMITS series. How come we did not discuss this show on WE ARE CONTROLLING TRANSMISSION? I guess it was just not up to the OUTER LIMITS standards and was kept in the vaults until 1974.

  4. Hey everyone. First of all, I just want to say that you guys are doing a great job with the show. I followed We Are Controlling Transmission, and now I'm following this one. I got lazy for a while and didn't comment where I would've, but I'm going to back up and do that now. For now, this episode was one that always creeped me out. The only glimpse of Matchemonedo we get is the x-rays of its' eye. So I really like it.

  5. I haven't seen this in a long while, but I agree with the little complaints about how the story handles the nurse at the end. It's one thing to get a likeable character killed, but you're supposed to make a little more out of it when that happens. Especially because, I seem to remember William Smith and Elaine Giftos having genuine "chemistry" in this episode. Or at the very least, they make a very "attractive couple."

  6. THE OUTER LIMITS did do this story -- it was called PRODUCTION AND DECAY OF STRANGE PARTICLES ... and was equally bereft in many of the same ways.

    Like "Firefall," this episode DOES leave Kolchak with another "living ally," albeit one who runs away at the first opportunity. Much as I enjoy William Smith, just imagine how imposing Clint Walker would have been in this role.

    The bravura scene in which the X-rays are collaged to reveal Matchemonedo almost makes up for the downside -- it evokes the Mexican "God's Eye" weavings and thus is very mythologically resonant.

    It's okay, dramatically, for Kolchak and Jim Elkhorn to miss Janice's corpse in the lab amid the hubbub, but there should have been a voice-over notation by Carl at the end, to earmark the tragedy of her death. To trash her without comment devalues her when in fact she was Kolchak's "in" for the whole episode. Oddly, you will glimpse Kolchak getting nastier, overall, as the series progresses -- there's one upcoming episode in which he is almost a total dick, perhaps wearied by the war, or perhaps reflective of McGavin's increasing dissatisfaction, who knows?

    Since The Night Stalker ran for a single season of twenty episodes, the only way we can chart the inevitable decline (or not) is to split the season in half, and check out Peter and John's rankings so far.

    Peter's average episode rating was 2.3 and for John the average was 2.15, which means both rated the first half of the season as well above average.

    If we consider 3 typewriters or better the mark of a great show, then four shows were deemed worthy. Peter and John agreed on “The Vampire” while Peter included “The Ripper” and “The Spanish Moss Murders” and John ranked “The Energy Eater” highly.

    There were a couple of duds, “The Werewolf” and “The Devil's Platform” but “They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be... “ (a.k.a. “It's episode three and we're already over budget) was the only stinker, ranked half a typewriter by both Peter and John.

    It looks like we've finally found a show Peter and John agree on. Of the ten episodes so far, they gave the same ranking to five shows, and were within half a typewriter for another four. The only bone of contention was the 1.5 typewriter difference of opinion for “The Spanish Moss Murders, which Peter raked at 3.5 and John at 2.0.

    Of the ten shows, collectively, Peter and John ranked one show at 3 typewriters or higher, six shows at between 2 and 3, and three shows below 2 typewriters.

    So, what does it all mean?
    For the first half of the season, Peter and John rated 10% of the shows as great, 60% were average to better than average and 30% were deemed below par. That's a seriously great batting average. It'll be interesting to see how the second half of the season holds up.

    All the best,

    Glenn :)

  8. And here I thought we'd only get one serving of Glenn (if we were lucky!) on this particular blog. I find it amusing that despite your empirical data to the contrary, some folks consider us Kolchak-haters!

    Thanks, as always, for the interesting analysis!

  9. THE WEREWOLF is one of the best episodes 40% of the time, everytime!

  10. Thanks John. I've been bedridden for most of the past two weeks, and just watching the episodes and trying to keep up has been a major effort. Fortunately, the stats for Kolchack are pretty straightforward compared to Batman, where we got into ranking the villains, etc. I look forward to posting comments on some of the upcoming episodes.

    All the best,


  11. A real conundrum here as I despise when genre shows go for the invisible menace gimmick but its got William Smith...WILLIAM SMITH! Kolchak teaming with the king of the biker film,a combo that's impossible to hate. Too bad Carl never made it out to Arizona for a Billy Jack teamup.

  12. # 4 of 20, 4 typewriters. Great episode. 3 cute girls- Debra Winger-lookalike playing an actress, Diana Canova-look alike playing the the nurse (she's even funnier) and hot blonde in the apartment. Love the sexually suggestive dialog in that scene; "Jim my rocks are melting", "Your rocks are stuck in my toaster", "I'll just eat oatmeal instead." Good,
    detailed Indian lore, the plot of this reminded me of the 12978 movie Coma.

  13. No offense to William Smith, but to some of us "the king of the biker film" (as far as there is a single king) is Adam Roarke.

  14. Don't forget Barry McGuire in Werewolves on Wheels

  15. I'd give it 2 out of 5 stars: the main issue seems to be the structure of the episode. The whole menace of Matchemonedo is a bit muted. Shouldn't there be more fear to the structural failure of a giant building while you're in its basement? It's shrugged off twice as not even that big of a deal. Then Kolchak actually manages to convince others of the menace at the end of the second act, then decides to go down and face off against Matchemonedo needs an ending? This whole episode seems like a great idea with a really awesome invisible monster reveal that wasn't given enough to do. Also, does Matchemonedo really need to 'eat' energy? I don't feel it was fleshed out enough, or there was anything really at stake in this episode to really up the horror factor. There are moments (the x-rays forming the eye is perfect) but overall this one really needed a lot of work. It's not 'Youth Killer' bad, but it needs a lot of redemption.