Friday, January 27, 2012

Mark Dawidziak on Legacy of Terror

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.


  1. Columbo connection: Sondra Currie, who plays Vicky in this episode, appears in the Columbo episodes Murder in Malibu and Columbo and the Murder of a Rock Star.

    I've always enjoyed this episode. I like how Kolchak has a relationship with Pepe, someone involved in the scheme who has something of a redemption. I think's is climax is nicely set up and handled. And Victor Campos delivers the necessary background and how-do-I-stop-him dialogue with style.

  2. Since Mark mentions the CBS Late Movie, and because I haven't seen it posted on any Kolchak site, here is the listing of airdates and episodes for KTNS for the 1979, 1981, and 1987/88 seasons.

    5/25/1979 The Vampire
    6/1/1979 The Ripper
    6/8/1979 The Zombie
    6/15/1979 They Have Been...
    6/22/1979 The Werewolf
    6/29/1979 The Spanish Moss Murders
    7/6/1979 Horror in the Heights
    7/13/1979 Mr. R.I.N.G.
    CBS Starts Hawaii Five-O Repeats
    9/14/1979 The Devil's Platform
    9/21/1979 Bad Medicine
    9/28/1979 Primal Scream
    10/5/1979 Trevi Collectio
    CBS Airs Basketball Game
    10/19/1979 The Werewolf
    10/26/1979 Spanish Moss Murders
    11/2/1979 Youth Killer, The
    11/9/1979 Chopper
    11/16/1979 Knightly Murders
    11/23/1979 Sentry, The
    11/30/1979 The Vampire
    12/7/1979 The Ripper

    5/29/1981 The Ripper
    6/5/1981 The Zombie
    6/12/1981 They Have Been...
    6/19/1981 The Vampire
    6/26/1981 The Werewolf
    7/3/1981 The Devil's Platform
    7/10/1981 Bad Medicine
    7/17/1981 Spanish Moss Murders, The
    7/24/1981 Horror in the Heights
    7/31/1981 Mr. R.I.N.G.
    8/7/1981 Pre-empted by CBS News Special
    8/14/1981 Trevi Collection
    8/21/1981 Chopper
    8/28/1981 Knightly Murders
    9/4/1981 Youth Killer, The
    9/11/1981 Sentry, The

    9/25/1987 The Vampire
    10/2/1987 The Ripper
    10/9/1987 The Zombie
    10/16/1987 They Have Been...
    10/23/1987 Bad Medicine
    10/30/1987 Spanish Moss Murders
    11/6/1987 Horror in the Heights
    11/13/1987 Primal Scream
    11/20/1987 Trevi Collection
    Pre-empted for Thanksgiving Holiday Movie
    12/4/1987 Youth Killer
    12/11/1987 Chopper
    12/18/1987 Knightly Murders
    12/25/1987 Sentry, The
    1/1/1988 The Vampire
    1/8/1988 The Ripper
    1/15/1988 The Zombie
    1/22/1988 The Werewolf
    1/29/1988 Mr. R.I.N.G.
    2/5/1988 The Devil's Platform
    2/12/1988 Sentry, The
    2/19/1988 They Have Been...
    2/26/1988 Spanish Moss Murders
    3/4/1988 Horror in the Heights
    3/11/1988 Bad Medicine
    Pre-empted for Basketball Game
    3/25/1988 Primal Scream

  3. Occasionally the studios would re-edit TV episodes into telefeatures when the series in question only lasted a season, or less. Obviously syndicated prospects for the hour incarnation were limited -- if the series was stripped Mon.-Fri., KOLCHAK would only last a month before repeating itself. This is also what happened to the short-lived PLANET OF THE APES TV show; its half-season was promptly re-cut into various TV features. But where is the sense in going this route if you're also offering the series itself in syndication? In New York City during the last '70s, if memory serves, WCBS-TV Channel 2 showed "Demon and the Mummy" and "Crackle of Death" as LATE SHOW offerings (16mm prints). But I never, EVER remember seeing the KOLCHAK series itself in local TV syndication, on Ch. 2, Ch. 9, or anywhere in NYC. For me, the next time these episodes showed up was CBS LATE MOVIE, which was a network offering (35mm).

    It's interesting... The original BATTLESTAR GALACTICA (a one-season show) was re-edited into syndicated TV features, but also offered in its original hour format. Most local channels surprisingly chose the regular series version over the hastily-edited telefeatures (WOR-TV Channel 9 in NY did). So I'm curious, now... did ANY U.S. city choose to run the hour KOLCHAK shows in all their 16mm glory instead of, or perhaps in addition to, "Demon and the Mummy" and "Crackle of Death"? Or did the hour episodes really go from network (ABC) to network (CBS) everywhere, and not just in New York?

  4. @ John - You must be talking 1980's COLUMBO episodes, because I know all the 70's titles. Funny, I tried to watch a couple of the 80's COLUMBO's and it just wasn't the same show to me as my beloved 70's COLUMBO's. Why is that?!

  5. The series did a great job of getting some great supporting players before the cameras... They did miss out on having a natural and tremendous cross over, when Carl, lying on a couch in a moment of confession, stressed to the max, tells his doctor how he just can't understand why all these monsters keep falling into his lap in Chicago... The camera pans to show us Bob Hartley, telling Mr Kolchak that perhaps he needs a career change. (or maybe it could have been Tony on the couch)...

    1. Maybe Carl could have run into Bob Hartley's patient, Mr. Peterson, and ask, "Didn't you use to work at the morgue." The response: "That was my brother, Marshall."

  6. Countless Columbo fans feel the same way as Doug K. Even without HATING the later version, they feel as though it seldom exactly "clicked." Including me.

    Speaking of Columbo connections, Pippa Scott played the victim in the very good "Requiem For A Falling Star" from the first version of the show.

  7. I've always been irked by the double-whammy here: they not only foisted upon us two terrible faux telefilms (worthy of the "Alan Smithee" pseudonym that poor David Lynch put on the disastrous TV version of DUNE), but also deprived us of those four episodes, lesser though most of them were. Until I was aware of that, I was always puzzled by the fact that although I watched the show religiously during its prime-time and CBS late-night airings, I was less familiar with those episodes. Now I know why.

    The weirdest example of such behavior that I've encountered was the faux telefilm DOUBLE PLAY, of which I only became aware because one of the two episodes stitched together was "The New House," Richard Matheson's pilot for the short-lived GHOST STORY anthology series (later known as CIRCLE OF FEAR). Did they pair it with another episode of GHOST STORY? No, this time they had the brilliant idea of mixing it up by combining episodes of two shows. So what did they feel was the perfect match for Matheson's spooky tale? An episode of the trucking series MOVIN' ON. Yeah, that seems like a good match that would appeal to the same audience...

  8. For DougK and others who wonder why TV shows filmed in the '60s-'70s look diffeeent than those filmed today:

    Mainly, it's a matter of technology, mixed with in-house studio style.
    From the mid-60s onward, Universal TV favored a brightly-lit, glossy photographic style, the better to show off their movie stars and attractive contract players. In his book about COLUMBO, Mark D. recounts the story about how Levinson & Link wanted this style for their show, and had to battle the veteran Cinematographer Russ Metty to get it.
    Over time, this style gradually fell out of favor, and the DPs who were good at it retired or died. I believe MURDER SHE WROTE may have been the last Universal series to consciously go for that old-style look.

    Anyway, when COLUMBO was revived in 1989, someone at the top made the decision to go with the newly-fashionable "darker" look, so that's why the newer shows look different. Since many of the same writers and directors were being used (at least in the beginning), that could account for your reaction -
    - unless I'm wrong.
    Maybe someday, if Mark ever decides to write THE COLUMBO PHILE II, he can correct me at length.
    I promise to take it like a man.

    1. No Mike, you pretty much have it right. But there were many other reasons the 24 ABC "Columbo" mysteries were, by and large, inferior to the 45 NBC classics. There is the matter of a different look (at a different Universal in a different era). Another was the quality of the supporting casts, which, because of rising costs, never matched the depth of those originals. And, by 1989, it was decreed that all the new mysteries had to be two hours. The original 45 had the luxury of bouncing between 90 minutes and two hours. So many of the ABC "Columbo" mysteries seem hopelessly padded. There are other reasons, but that's enough. Even so, the revival managed a few stellar mysteries (mainly during the first two ABC seasons) that could stand with the 45 originals. The 1989-90 run was particularly good, but, overall, the ABC revival lacks the style, energy and class of the NBC mysteries.

  9. Thanx Mark.

    Now may I make bold and mention the other reason - the one we avoid mentioning?

    When the NBC cycle of COLUMBO ended in 1978, Peter Falk had just turned 50.
    When the ABC cycle started in 1989, he was 61.
    And when the last one finally got made in 2003(?), he was in his mid'70s - and starting to show it.
    I didn't particularly mind - I grew up watching Ray Collins on PERRY MASON - but the demo guys sure noticed, and that's when they decided to not do that new script that Falk had cobbled up. (So I've heard - correction?)

    I had an idea for a COLUMBO which would have addressed this.
    Don't know who the killer would have been, but the sub-story would have shown Columbo trying to scam the LAPD in order to avoid forced retirement. While trying to get the goods on the Villain (someone like Alan Alda or John Forsythe), Columbo would be pursued by a Human Resources cop (I was thinking Bradford Dillman) who was trying to get a cop pushing 70 to just retire like he was supposed to. The story ends with the HR cop actually helping Columbo get the goods on the Villain, and deciding to look the other way while the LT. kept on doing what he was doing.
    OK, maybe not much of an idea itself, but good for a few setpieces perhaps.
    (I always had loads of ideas like this. Details on request... (:-D)

  10. In one famous Columbo, "A Friend In Deed," the deputy police commissioner IS the murderer. So yes, I can imagine them striking a deal -

    Columbo : I look the other way from your murder, and in return for that, I keep this job forever, regardless of the rules.

  11. I loved Erik Estrada as the impossibly young Pepe TorresI'd love to get a photo of him from that appearance.