The Night Strangler, and a few more movies

#199 [archive]

The Night Strangler (1973)
Streaming free

In the 1970s, there was a show on TV called Kolchak: The Night Stalker. It's huge in my memories of childhood television, so I'm surprised that IMDB tells me it ran only one season. This 'movie', The Night Strangler, was the second pilot, which sold the series. 

The marvelous Darren McGavin stars as Carl Kolchak, a big-city reporter who covers murders, and keeps finding a supernatural connection. His editor at the newspaper, the skeptic who keep telling Kolchak he's nuts, is played by the almost-as-marvelous Simon Oakland. They scream at each other a lot, making the show half The Front Page and half The X-Files, but at twice the volume.

Kolchak is reporting on the murders of several belly-dancers, and what he learns is supposed to shock and astound you — every 21 years, dating back to the 1880s, six women in the same neighborhood have been killed over the course of 18 days, all strangled, with their necks crushed.

Obviously this is another movie where women serve no purpose but to be killed. So's most of the horror genre. If you can get past that, it's a blast. Everything is ridiculous, on purpose, and the more ridiculous the better.

The newspaper's editor yells, "I can't print this!" and Kolchak yells, "You have to print it — it's news!"

Then even more ridiculous stuff happens, and Kolchak writes it, turns it in, and his editor yells, "I can't print this!" and Kolchak yells, "You have to print it — it's news!"

Set in Seattle but not filmed here, this is technically a horror movie, but with damned near zero scary moments. In truth it's a comedy — no jokes, but endless laughs as the arguing rolls along.

Everyone thinks Kolchak's a lunatic, except the audience, because we've been alongside him as he's collected the clues. To anyone who hasn't, he seems to be a man shouting hysterical nonsense about ancient killers needing blood and crushing necks. Thus The Night Strangler becomes a psychological study of how mental illnesses are perceived by others.

But who cares? All the yelling is funny. I love movies set at newspapers, love McGavin's sly, sarcastic style, and the actor Oakland is his perfect foil, so what's not to love? Was there ever a show with better arguing?

John Carradine, Wally Cox, Al Lewis, and Jo Ann Pflug get yelled at too, and even Margaret Hamilton (The Wizard of Oz) is here, but nobody yells at her.

If you're not sold yet, imagine me yelling, "It's directed by Dan Curtis, who produced TV's Dark Shadows in the 1960s, and scripted by Richard Matheson, who wrote Duel, and the novels The Incredible Shrinking Man, The Omega Man, and Somewhere in Time were based on, and Star Trek's "The Enemy Within." with good and evil Kirk, and bearded and clean-shaven Spock!"

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦

The Last Case of August T Harrison (2015) 

A retired private detective is asked by his son to investigate a matter that tends toward the paranormal. There will be moments to tickle the hair on your arms, but no exploding heads, no severed arms. How refreshing. 

It's a homemade horror movie that's not great but not bad, more original than most of its genre, but hampered by being a minor league, somewhat DIY effort. The sound and photography aren't polished to perfection, there's a low-key score with a few instruments instead of an orchestra, and it's more cost-effective to skip the special effects and instead zoom in on an actor whose face says "Wow!" Some of the actors are up to the challenge of reciting their lines believably, others are not.

None of it made me want to stand on my chair and applaud, but is a game effort, has some sparkle to it, I never yawned, and don't regret the time. And it has the best closing credits ever, for anyone who wants to know who's who — faces alongside the actors' names.

Verdict: YES.

♦ ♦ ♦ 

9 to 5 (1980)

I saw this at the UA150 Theater in Seattle, on my first date with a girl who became a long-time romance. It's a happy Milk Duds memory — enjoyed it then and enjoyed it again tonight, alone and with gray hair.

Three working women — Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton — team up to tame their sexist, egotistical, overbearing boss and make the office a better place. It's a light fantasy, solving genuine problems through impossibly farcical means, but it works as a Hollywood comedy.

Tomlin and Parton and Dabney Coleman as the world's shittiest boss are all splendid. Fonda's performance makes light of office work and seems dumber and dimmer than any office workers of my acquaintance. The music is quite bad, with orchestral loony-tunes music punctuating the punchlines.

Like a nice first date, 9 to 5 delivers what's expected, but certainly nothing more.

Verdict: YES.


• • • Coming attractions • • •

Invader (1991)

John Wick (2014)

Man with a Movie Camera (1929)

Nightmare Alley (1947)

Risky Business (1983)

Smothered (2002)

Special Bulletin (1983) 

Squirm (1976) 

Stephen Fry in America (2008)

The Time Traveler's Wife (2009)

You Can't Take It With You (1938)

... plus occasional schlock and surprises 

    • • • And then • • •

A Better Tomorrow (1996)

A Gnome Named Gnorm (1990)

A Night in Casablanca (1946) 

Alexander Nevsky (1938)

The Bat People (1974) 

The Beatles: Get Back (2021) 

Berkeley in the Sixties (1990)

Brainwaves (1983) 

The Card Counter (2021) 

Cellular (2004)  

The Celluloid Closet (1996)

The Dark Glow of the Mountains (1985)

Dark Star (1974)

The Day My Parents Became Cool (2009) 

The Decline of Western Civilization (1980) 

Downsizing (2017)

Frankenhooker (1990) 

The General (1926) 

Get Shorty (1995)

The Gorilla (1939)

The Green Girl (2014)

Hiroshima (1953)

Hugo (2011) 

The Importance of Being Earnest (1952)

The Internet's Own Boy (2014)

Kids in the Hall (debut episode; 1988)  

Kids in the Hall (reunion debut episode; 2022) 

The Killing of America (1981) 

The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)  

Line of Duty (debut episode; 2012)

Love Happy (1950)

The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)

The Man Who Thought Life (1969)

The Man with Nine Lives (1940)

The Manhattan Project (1996) 

Morgan: A Suitable Case for Treatment (1966)

Not Wanted (1949)

Nothing But a Man (1964) 

Phone Booth (2002)

PickAxe (1999)

Poison (1990)

Popeye (1980)

Reflections of Evil (2002)

Revelations (1993)

Ride in the Whirlwind (1966)

Romper Stomper (1992)

Room Service (1938) 

Same Kind of Different as Me (2017) 

Saved! (2004)

Scared to Death (1947) 

Secret Weapons (1985) 

The Shooting (1966)

The Soloist (2009) 

Sons of the Desert (1933)

Street of Crocodiles (1986)

Sunrise: A Song of Two Humans (1927)

Taken for a Ride (1996)

The Train (1964)

Truck Turner (1974)

Welcome to New Orleans (2006)

Who Farted? (2019) 

Who's That Girl? (1987) 

Wristcutters: A Love Story (2006)

There are so many good movies out there — old movies, odd or artsy, foreign or forgotten movies, or do-it-yourself movies made just for the joy of making them — that if you only watch whatever's on Netflix or playing at the twenty-plex, you're missing out.

To get beyond the ordinary, I recommend:

AlterCineverseCriterionCultCinema ClassicsDocsVilleDustFandorFilms for ActionHooplaIHaveNoTVIndieFlixInternet ArchiveKanopyKinoCultKino LorberKorean Classic FilmChristopher R MihmMosfilmMubiNational Film Board of CanadaNew Yorker Screening RoomDamon PackardMark PirroPizzaFlixPopcornFlixPublic Domain MoviesRareFilmmScarecrow VideoShudderThoughtMaybeTimeless Classic MoviesVoleFlixWatchDocumentaries • or your local library

Some people even access films through shady methods, though of course, that would be wrong.

— — —

 Illustration by Jeff Meyer. Reviews are spoiler-free, or at least spoiler-warned. Click any image to enlarge. Arguments & recommendations are welcome, but no talking once the lights dim, and only real butter on the popcorn, not that fake yellow stuff. 
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1 comment:

  1. You had me at bearded and clean-shaven Spock.


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