The Night Killers, screenplay
by Richard Matheson and William F. Nolan.
movie that might have been.
Through my mailbox today tumbled
a package with the book Richard Matheson's Kolchak Scripts,
edited and introduced by TV critic and Kolchak mavin Mark Dawidziak. Imagine
my surprise to discover that Matheson and Nolan
had scripted a third Kolchak TV movie for ABC in 1973-74, following on the heels of the tremendously
successful The Night Stalker (1972) and The Night Strangler (1973)! The screenplay came
close to getting filmed, but the project was canceled at the last minute. The
reasons offered range from enmity between director Dan Curtis
and Kolchak star Darren McGavin to irrelevance when the TV series Kolchak:
The Night Stalker was greenlighted instead.
For those who do not remember the movies and series right away, Carl Kolchak is a reporter
who by chance frequently finds himself following leads that suggest a supernatural element
in a news story. He doggedly follows a principle that "the truth is out there," and goes where
the evidence leads him. An honest man, he naturally finds little aid or comfort in the authorities,
who haven't the imagination to follow him, or have a vested interest in avoiding public panic.
Kolchak stories, therefore, follow a well-nigh inevitable course of conflict with both monsters
and authorities before Carl reveals the truth compellingly to all, the authorities then destroy all
of the evidence, and (in the movies, at any rate) Kolchak gets fired.
The script perpetuates and cherishes
what we have come to expect as Kolchak trademarks: quarrels with boss Tony Vincenzo,
disbelieving authorities, Llewellen Crossbinder (from The Night Strangler)
as newspaper owner, helpful newspaper morgue staffers, and a willing girl
accomplice for Kolchak. The scene this time is Hawaii; the basic plot that
of an attempted takeover of the state government by outside forces.
Details and discussion. Spoilers.
Aliens (from outer space) have landed
in a UFO on Oahu. They are surreptitiously ambushing important public figures
and replacing them with almost indistinguishible androids. Meanwhile, as the
conspiracy with the androids nears completion, Tony Vincenzo, now a relaxed
and mellow man from his time in the islands, calls Carl Kolchak in snowy New
York City. Llewellen Crossbinder, the publisher who had sacked Carl in The
Night Strangler and killed his story, nevertheless respects his abilities
and has hired him again, with a strict warning to behave. Carl's first story
is to write a puff piece commemorating the recently-deceased Lieutenant Governor,
who died in an explosion in the emergency room after being in a freak
When Carl tries to discover something
about the accident, he finds that all of the people in the emergency room when
the Lieutenant Governor was being treated were either killed outright by "an
exploding oxygen cylinder" or turned up mysteriously dead later. Likewise
everyone else Carl tries to contact for information. As always, the police chief
hates Carl, and won't have any of what he's selling, even though Carl comes
up with an unmistakeable pattern of murders.
Investigation finally brings Carl
to an atomic plant, where he discovers that robotic androids are being produced
to be substituted for the people who pull the strings in Hawaii. The androids
are atomic powered and when damaged go critical and explode--hence the emergency room explosion where the (as it turns out) Lieutenant
Governor's double was being treated. The climax of the story comes when Hawaii's
top officials chase Carl out of the plant.
As in The Night Strangler,
Carl has had his girl accomplice send for the police just in time. The android
bigwigs order the police to arrest Kolchak--that will be the end of him, because
he has already seen an android being manufactured with his features on it! Kolchak
grabs a submachine gun from one of his captors and sprays the nabobs with bullets--they explode in front of everyone, proving
The screenwriters have not only
maintained Kolchak trademarks from the first two movies; they have also hewn fairly closely to the formula developed
in The Night Strangler. Obvious patterns are the reuse of the Crossbinder
character and the employment of newspaper morgue attendant Hiram Liffy who caughs
up vital leads for Kolchak in deus-ex-machina fashion.
Liffy recalls one of the best characters in The Night Strangler, Mr.
Berry (John Berry in the novelization by Jeff Rice), who was played perfectly
by Wally Cox. Both scripts exploit the power of the dead past found in the
morgue to conjure up mystery and add depth to the investigative procedure:
That's where all the joy lies. And fascination. Let the others scurry about
foraging for tidbits of contemporary gossip. (pointing at books of clippings)
This is where the meat is found."
Mr. Berry was right. The third Kolchak
script may be dead (and all parties are agreed that the1974 Night Killers
plot of android replacements has since become an unfilmable cliche), but Dawidziak's
digging and pushing has at last brought this lost gem to light, and anyone who
looks back with fondness on Kolchak should try to get a copy of
The book itself contains the scripts
to all three Kolchak movies (with many photos and additional materials). Interestingly,
the used volume I bought contains original signatures of Matheson, Curtis, Nolan,
and Dawidziak. It was to have been one of a limited edition of 52 copies with
these signatures and Chris Carter's, but the latter evidently never showed
at the signing (for this book, at any rate), so my copy is not numbered. (Carter wrote an appendix to the book
because his show The X-files was so heavily indebted to Kolchak.)
Dawidziak, Mark. 1997. The Night
Stalker Companion. A 25th Anniversary Tribute.
----------, editor. 2003. Richard Matheson's Kolchak Scripts.
Rice, Jeff. 1973. The Night Stalker (novelization).
----------. 1974. The Night Strangler (novelization).