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Thursday, October 07, 2021

31 DYAS OF HORROR 2021 - Day 7: KOLCHACK: THE NIGHT STALKER "The Zombie" (1974)

When Chicago-area mob figures meet mysterious, gruesome demises in which their spines are broken by an assailant possessed of inhuman strength, intrepid Independent News Service reporter Karl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) follows the clues in search of what is sure to be an explosive story. What he finds leads him down a path upon which he must deal with pissed-off cops, on-edge factions from the Italian mob and the Haitian underworld, and an evil with its roots steeped in the blackest of Haitian voodoo.

KOLCHAK: THE NIGHT STALKER ran for one season (1974-1975), but its shadow looms large over the hearts and minds of us aging monster kids who never missed an episode. Yeah, it was ludicrous that Kolchak's investigations invariably found him involved with some kind of supernatural threat that had imposed itself upon the rational, modern-day world, but the stories and performances were compelling, especially if one was a kid starved for new horror when one did not necessarily have access to what was available at the cinemas. And the monsters, Oh! the monsters! The series provided a weekly cornucopia of monsters, both classical and downright fucking weird, so it reinforced what us budding monster kids already knew about vampires and werewolves and such, while also educating us on new horrifying creatures from within our own society and from cultures in foreign lands. The series' second episode, "The Zombie," was my first exposure to the reanimated deceased, and more specifically my introduction to the lore of Haitian voodoo (as depicted in horror, anyway; the real deal is quite complex). 

I was nine years old and very much into horror and monsters and such, so I was glued to KOLCHAK from the first episode, and I was not at all prepared for the events depicted in "The Zombie." Though airing in primetime, the show wielded that signature '70's grit so often found in cop and detective shows of that era, so watching KOLCHAK was like getting a milder version of the kind of thrills to be had in grindhouse exploitation and shock efforts. In other words, though suitable for the family audience, one had to be sure that one's kids were ready for the darkest thrills available on network TV at the time. I sure as hell was ready, even if I did sometimes find myself watching the show from the safety afforded beneath the living room's coffee table.

The episode was engrossing enough, but the image of a hulking black undead killer lifting grown men over its head and basically breaking them in half was a kick in the head, but the bit that absolutely everyone who saw it at the time never, and I do mean never, forgot was when a terrified Kolchak, who is marked for death by the zombie's voodoo priestess mother, tracks the revenant to its resting place — at nighttime, in a hearse in an auto wrecking yard; talk about stacking the deck for atmosphere —  and endeavors to stop it by filling its mouth with salt and sewing it shut. Problem is, Kolchak must achieve this without rousing the rotting abomination from its dormancy...

The zombie: Shot full of lead and he still ain't dead.

The intensity of that scene, especially when viewed by a 9-year-old, was pure nightmare fuel. Needless to say, I came back week after week. 😀

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