Thursday, June 07, 2018

Kolchak Blogging: "The Vampire" (October 4, 1974)

In “The Vampire,” an old friend of Kolchak’s (Darren McGavin), James “Swede” Brightowsky (Larry Storch) visits Chicago’s INS office and tells Carl about a series of vampire-like killings in Las Vegas.  This piques his interest, and when Kolchak is assigned to interview a Far Eastern transcendental guru in Los Angeles, he makes some side-trips to Las Vegas.

When Vincenzo (Simon Oakland) demands the story about the guru, Kolchak gets a former bush-league journalist-turned-real estate agent, Fay Krueger (Kathleen Nolan) to write it, while he investigates the vampire. In this case, the vampire is a woman, Catherine Rawlins (Suanne Charny), a former show-girl who is now using her job as a call-girl to claim victims.

Although the local police detective working the case, Lt. Mateo (William Daniels) grows enraged with Kolchak’s insistence that a vampire is responsible for the body count. But Carl tracks Catherine down to her baronial estate in the Hollywood hills and plans to drive a stake through her heart.

Relatively early in the series run, Kolchak returns to a rerun monster: the vampire. Here, the “night stalking” takes the journalist back to the very haunts where he killed another vampire, Janos Skorzeny (in the popular TV movie, The Night Stalker).   The story is not particularly memorable in terms of the details, but “The Vampire,” like many episodes of the series, features a lurid, sleazy quality that separates it from most of the homogenized programming of the series’ era.

Here, the vampire is a showgirl turned hooker turned vampire, which is a descent from dreams to nightmares, if I’ve ever witnessed one. In some way, it’s a commentary on Hollywood, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas. These are all places of enormous wealth, and also enormous vice. People like Catherine Rawlins go from pursuing a job in the entertainment industry to using their bodies to satisfy vices. Eventually, they become a bottom-feeding vampire, eking out a meager existence on the periphery, as a vampire.

As we have seen before, the supporting cast can make or break an episode. William Daniels -- the voice of KITT on Knight Rider (1983-1988) -- is Kolchak’s police detective foil this week, Mateo. Daniels is great at playing a slow-boil, and one can practically see the rage taking over his face, a step-at-a-time, as he contends with Kolchak’s wild theories. Kathleen Nolan is also great as Faye Krueger, a real estate agent who traveled west to pursue her dreams of wealth. In her previous life, she was a small-time journalist in North Carolina. Here, Kolchak teams up with Faye to write the article for Vincenzo that he doesn’t have time to write, but Faye sprinkles her news story with the architectural details one might expect of someone trying to sell houses.  Mateo and Faye add a lot of quirky humor to the story, and elevate “The Vampire” above its familiar monster of the week.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment in the casting is that Larry Storch only gets one scene as Kolchak’s slick friend, Swede, and doesn’t play a larger role in the overall adventure.  Storch, of course, would soon have his own supernatural investigations to handle on the Filmation Saturday morning series, The Ghost Busters (1975).

One weird note about “The Vampire:” the episode culminates with Kolchak burning a giant cross on the equivalent of the vampire’s lawn. That’s a loaded image, historically-speaking.  Though it makes a powerful visual, the story doesn’t really merit the use of such a racially-coded visual.

Next week: “The Werewolf.”

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