Cult movie and television fans will always hold the original The Night Stalker in high regard. The 1972 television series that aired on ABC and starred Darren McGavin as a reporter trying to track down a vampire on Las Vegas was an originator in that it brought this type of material to television before it got popular with later shows like The X-Files. Bringing the series back might have seemed like a good idea, but without McGavin in the lead role, it honestly just isn't the same.
This short lived series was up against some serious competition when it aired on ABC against CBS's monster hit, C.S.I., and it wasn't surprising to see it canned so quickly after only a handful of episodes were broadcast. It's a shame that the series wasn't given more of a chance, as given time it could have grown into something better than it will likely be remembered for. On that level, as a remake of the original series it is pretty poor – it lacks the humor and the originality that its predecessor had as well as McGavin's remarkable screen presence. However, on its own legs the series is at least entertaining and at times even suspenseful.
Carl Kolchak (this time played by Stuart Townsend of Queen Of The Damned) has left Las Vegas where the F.B.I. thinks he was responsible for the murder of his wife and taken a job writing as a crime reporter for the Los Angeles Beacon. Here he works with senior crime reporter Perri Reed (the stunningly beautiful Gabrielle Union of Bad Boys II and Cradle 2 The Grave) and photographer Jain McManus (Eric Jungmann of Monster Man and Not Another Teen Movie). Though at first his new partners are skeptical of his strange ways and unusual tactics, they soon come to realize what Kolchak has realized ever since that night his wife was killed – there are things out there that we do not understand and probably never will understand. Along the way, Kolchak hopes to figure out who or what really killed his wife that night, by tying together some similar murders, many of which happen to have a strange scar on the wrist of the victims that match that on the body of his wife.
So with this series, the producers have essentially taken Kolchak out of Las Vegas, made him younger, and given him a couple of young sidekicks. The series still deals with the supernatural but it's been updated and made to feel like a cross between The X-Files, Millennium, and yes, C.S.I.. This is not the Night Stalker that many of us remember, but it isn't a bad series when not compared to the original and left to stand on its own two legs. Unfortunately the series really wasn't given enough time to grow and a lot of loose ends were left when it was pulled – that's where the DVD set comes in. Like the Fox release of Harsh Realm, this Touchstone two disc set supplies fans with the episodes that were completed for the series and never broadcast (and in the case of Night Stalker, there are four of them).
Here's a brief rundown of the episodes contained in this two disc set:
Pilot - This is the one that kicks the series off, and it's not a half bad way to introduce the character to us. A woman is dragged out of her home and into the desert and the fetus of her unborn child is ripped from her stomach. The husband is the prime suspect but when the murders continue after he's apprehended the cops know they've got the wrong man. Perri and Jain are adjusting to working with their new partner, the strange Carl Kolchak, who has just joined the team and is already starting to make waves within the reporting community.
The Five People You Meet In Hell - Completely out of the blue, a high profile lawyer bashes his wife's head in with a baseball bat. A few days later, a judge slits her husband's throat while making dinner. Both of the murderers claim to have been told to do it by a dead relative from their past. It all ties into a Manson-esque cult leader who may or may not have mind control powers, trying to get revenge on those who had him locked up. Unfortunately for Perri, she had a hand in putting him away and he hasn't forgotten about her part in all of this.
Three - An innocent college girl is found dead when a sorority initiation goes horribly wrong. Kolchak and crew start looking into the murder and find that it has ties going back a few years to a secret society that exists at the university and their arcane rights of passage that involve facing your deepest fears. When Kolchak finds out that it all ties into an abandoned house that was once the scene of a murder, he knows that there's a lot more to this than meets the eye.
Burning Man - A biological terrorist is taken down and killed after he threatens to kill people using fire from hell. Everything seems to be solved until a copycat murderer starts running around actually burning people up. The investigators think that it's simply someone inspired by the dead man's actions but Kolchak, being Kolchak, is sure that there is something more sinister at work than just another lunatic running around with a book of matches.
Malum - A father and son have been traveling from town to town, and every time they show up somewhere for a while, someone inevitably winds up dead. While Kolchak can't prove that these two are responsible, he does know that the father is very abusive to his son and that the son might be venting in strange ways – somehow he knows that these deaths are tied to this pair, but proving it might just be impossible.
The Source - Kolchak gets a scoop on the murder of a drug peddler in the area who was killed by a gang of bikers. When he refuses to spill the beans as to his source, and a DEA agent tied to the murder of Kolchak's wife disappears without a trace, his old friend Agent Fain comes snooping around to try and prove Kolchak was the killer all along. This was the last episode to air on television, and it ended with a cliff hanger.
The Sea - Picking up directly where the last episode left off, Kolchak and Perri are on the run as the bike gang, or at least the things that they think are the bike gang, are chasing them down to make sure they stay quiet. Agent Fain isn't giving up easily, however, as he takes Jain into custody and starts grilling him for information on Kolchak and the case..
Into Night - A murder takes place in Los Angeles where to people who worked at the same office are found dead. While this, in and of itself, isn't all that unusual for a big city like L.A., the fact that the bodies are found mummified definitely ensures that this one ends up on Kolchak and Perri's radar.
Timeless - The Los Angeles Beacon was founded a long time ago and every thirty-five years since the paper has been published, someone connected to it winds up dead, each murder baring an uncanny resemblance to the last. When Kolchak and Perri find out about this, of course they have to investigate.
What's The Frequency Kolchak? - One of The Beacon's readers is demented enough to think that Kolchak has been sending him secret messages through his writing in the paper. To put a stop to this, the man kidnaps Kolchak so Perri and Jain have to figure out what happened to him and how to get him back.
Again, with only ten episodes to work with the series just wasn't given the room to grow that it needed in order to fully develop but even with its lifespan cut so short the series still proved to be an entertaining and dark little collection of supernatural suspense stories. A few episodes are a little predictable but others are quite clever and while Stuart Townsend is no Darren McGavin, he doesn't do a bad job in the lead. Night Stalker isn't classic television, but it's a decent time killer with some spooky and creative ideas that could have been a lot more than it was allowed to be.
The series is presented in 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen and the picture quality is quite good. There is some grain evident throughout (mostly in the darker scenes) and some of the digital effects look a little on the low budget side but these are minor issues and don't distract from the series much at all. Print damage isn't an issue and although there are some shimmering effects in a couple of scenes, compression problems are kept to a minimum. With a lot of the series taking place at night and in darker locales and shadowy areas, thankfully Touchstone has seen fit to ensure that the black levels are stable throughout and that they don't break down or pixilate at all.
The English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound mix is predominantly wrangled towards the front speakers but the rears do kick up now and then during the action scenes. Dialogue is consistently clear in each and every episode and there aren't any audible problems with any forms of hiss or distortion. There could have been a bit more bass in the mix but other than that, this mix sounds quite. There are no subtitles or alternate language tracks provided but each of the episodes does contain English language closed captions for the hearing impaired.
The pilot episode comes complete with a commentary track supplied by the producers of the series who talk up the show and the ideas behind it as well as the performers. It's self congratulatory in spots but underneath all that there is some good information in here about how the series was put together, what worked about it and what didn't work. They seem appreciative of the efforts of all involved and rather proud of the finished product, which is nice to hear, and this gives us a good idea of where some of the ideas behind the series came from as well as how the show was cast and put together. The same team gets together to discuss The Sea as well, and here they talk about the demise of the series and what worked and didn't work about it.
A Conversation With Frank Spotnitz is an interview with the writer of the series who talks about how the original television show was a starting point and where he wanted to go with some of the themes and ideas that this series tackles and how he tried to run with some of that material. It's an interesting interview that sheds some light on a few of the details surrounding the series and its lead character. This featurette runs just under seven minutes.
Rounding out the extra features for this release are some deleted scenes and, in DVD-Rom format, a couple of scripts for the final episodes of the series which were never produced.
Night Stalker wasn't given the shot it deserved when it aired on prime time and as such, the show feels undeveloped with only ten episodes to its name. That being said, there are some good ideas in here, and some interesting story arcs even if it's a shame that they couldn't be fleshed out more than they were. The set of the complete series looks and sounds pretty good and the extras aren't half bad either, making this one a solid rental or a recommended purchase for established fans of the show..
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.