An investigative reporter tries to track down a real-life
vampire who is murdering women on the streets of Las Vegas.
The Night Stalker (1972)
Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey
Written by Richard Matheson
Starring Darren McGavin, Carol Lynley, Simon Oakland,
Ralph Meeker, Claude Akins, Kent Smith, Barry Atwater
The Night Stalker was a 1972 TV movie that served as a pilot of sorts for the cult horror series Kolchak: The Night Stalker that ran for only one season. It stars Darren McGavin as reporter Carl Kolchak who follows up leads on strange phenomena, and in this debut film, he hunts down a vampire who is killing women in Las Vegas. It's not a very exciting film, and most of it is a bit incredulous. Kolchak isn't a cop, yet he's allowed to visit active crime scenes alongside the police. It's very dated, and isn't the slightest bit scary.
Kolchak is our hero, and he's kind of a mess. He's a reporter who's been fired a dozen times, and he stumbles onto the Las Vegas serial killer story, but through minimal research, becomes convinced that the perp is a real-life vampire. Of course, he's right, but that's not the point. The vampire, played by Barry Atwater, is so ridiculous and one-dimensional. I wanted him to be scary, but he's just campy. One thing I did enjoy about the film was McGavin's performance as Kolchak. He really sells the character's drive to get his reputation back on track, and his fear when he encounters the vampire in his nest.
The Night Stalker may have cult status now, and it did lead to a mildly celebrated short-lived series, but it doesn't hold up. It's better served as a relic of the past, at a time when horror television was just starting to get less censored and become just the slightest bit more mainstream. Darren McGavin does a serviceable job, but the writing (by horror legend Richard Matheson nonetheless) just didn't work as well as it should've.