Kolchak Blogging: "The Werewolf" (November 1, 1974)

In “The Werewolf,” Kolchak (Darren McGavin) is asked, at the last second, to replace Vincenzo (Simon Oakland) on an assignment aboard a cruise ship, the Hanover.  The Hanover is an old ship about to undertake its final voyage, and it is now housing a swinging singles cruise.

Kolchak boards the ship and befriends some swinging singles, including the movie-loving Paula Griffin (Nita Talbot).  As he gathers stories about the ship and its passengers, a new threat emerges. A NATO officer named Bernhardt Stieglitz (Eric Braeden) is grappling with lycanthropy.  As the full moon rises, he transforms into a murderous werewolf, just as he did in Montana, when he murdered an unsuspecting family.

With werewolf murders proliferating on the Hanover, Kolchak consults Paula about the only way to kill a werewolf. He soon realizes he must melt the buttons on the captain’s (Henry Jones) dress uniform to fashion silver bullets. 

Once the bullets are fashion, Kolchak must stalk the decks of the Hanover to find his supernatural quarry.

“The Werewolf” is a fun episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-1975), though by this point the episode formula has “hardened” so that there are few surprises. Similarly, the monster costume for the titular werewolf is terrible, and does not bear close scrutiny.

The format or formula for stories on this series is well-established at this point. Kolchak ends up in some setting while reporting a story where he discovers that a supernatural or paranormal monster is involved, but runs smack up against the stonewalling forces of authority, who attempt to cover-up the truth, and keep it hidden from the public. Kolchak clashes with these forces of the Establishment, and then must take matters into his own hands, eliminating the monster himself. Throw in some witty repartee and sparring between Kolchak and Vincenzo, and you’ve got a recipe that repeats throughout the program.

The “swinging singles” context gives “The Werewolf” a sense of fun, as Kolchak must room with a ‘70s swinger played by Dick Gautier who persistently refers to him as part of the “fifth column,” rather than “the fourth estate.” Paula is also a fun character, and proves a worthy and resourceful ally for Kolchak. But like Faye in last week’s episode, she doesn’t recur in the series, despite the fact that there is strong chemistry between Paula and Kolchak.

Our stone-walling figure of the week is Henry Jones’ ship’s captain, who uses Maritime Laws to foil and block Kolchak at every turn. The episode’s best moment involves Kolchak’s decision to make silver bullets from the captain’s dress uniform, an act which doesn’t endear him to the officer.

Intriguingly, Stieglitz is a tragic character. He suffers from claustrophobia, dizziness, and nightmares. He is a sick man, not an intentional murderer, and yet the episode treats him with literally no sympathy, or empathy. So far, we have met homicidal murderers (“The Ripper,”) aliens who kill to return home (“They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be”) and blood-suckers (“The Vampire.”)  The werewolf here seems to be the most innocent, or at least not directly culpable of this rogue’s gallery.

The confrontations between the ship’s crew and the werewolf in the episode are laughable by today’s standards. There are a lot of acrobatics as people get thrown around, but not much in terms of scratches, bruises or bites. It’s very “G” rated, and very cartoonish.  

And the monster looks terribly fake.  

Also, there are some focus problems in the photography this week, with Carl being out of focus in the foreground of a shot for several seconds. The poor quality of the make-up and camera-work contribute to the idea that this is a series flying-by-the-seat-of-its-pants.

Next week: “Firefall.”


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