Thursday, August 02, 2018

Kolchak Blogging: "The Energy Eater" (December 13, 1974)

Kolchak (Darren McGavin) attends a new hospital opening on the Lakeshore, only to learn at the dedication that the facility has been plagued by power surges and outages, and even patient deaths.

Carl looks into the mystery and realizes there is some dark energy, or power working in the hospital, possibly due to the fact that it is built on a geothermal fault. Kolchak also learns that several Native American construction workers left the premises during the building of the hospital, apparently spooked by something. He visits the former foreman, Jim Elkhorn (William Smith), a Lothario who tells Kolchak about the legend of Matchemonedo, an ancient myth, and perhaps God.

Carl learns from the recounting of the legend that Matchemonedo cannot survive in the cold. And to exorcise the hospital, he applies cold to a crack in the hospital floor, repelling the legend and forcing back into hibernation.  In the end, the hospital is closed, to be rebuild near a cold lake.

"The Energy Eater," while forecasting some story elements of The Manitou (1978), is nonetheless one of the weakest episodes of Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-1975). 

The episode is poorly paced and deadly dull. Specifically, there are long spells in this segment wherein Kolchak is simply exploring/investigating the underbelly of the hospital, walking about alone. The great joy in this series typically involves the colorful character's "fly in the ointment" interaction with useless authority, or government and law enforcement officials. But in these suspense-less, slow moments, the series feels largely lobotomized, or toothless. Carl's appeal is that he is an every man -- and terrified of monsters, as we would be. He is a truth-seeker, seeing through PR, conspiracies, and double-talk.  If Kolchak isn't talking and pushing back against lies and bluster, there is little compelling reason to watch.

And it's a shame, because the episode, in theory, should work beautifully. Jim Elkhorn is a fun character, always on the make, looking for the next woman to bed...while forgetting Kolchak's first name. And Joyce Jillson plays an acerbic nurse who deadpans some funny lines of dialogue ("Of course people are dying...this is a hospital.")  These two individuals are fun quasi-allies for Kolchak, and the setting -- the most "modern medical facility in existence" -- should provide plenty of interest, and opportunity.

Perhaps it is the unseen, non-corporeal nature of the monster this week that scuttles the episode. The energy eater is an unseen force mostly, even though he "impresses" his creepy image on an x-ray.  But there is just no sense of presence, malevolence, personality or character for this monster-of-the-week, making him a dud. 

And the climax is poorly staged, basically consisting of just Darren McGavin in a hallway, alone, spraying a crack-in-the-floor with a fire extinguisher. The word underwhelming does not begin to describe the climax, or the nature of this week's threat.  It's all incredibly weak.  

Still, Miss Emily gets a nice scene at the INS, passionately arguing the importance of the senior citizen set.

Next week, one of the best Kolchak stories: "Horror in the Heights."

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