Night Stalkers and Remakes

There’s a thing about remakes: they always seem to lose some of the soul of the original. Maybe people should leave well enough alone. The modern Hawaii 5-O might be slightly amusing–if you’re really into bickering and “bromance”–mediocre cop show, but it is terrible as a remake. Not a single actor in the modern version can hold a candle to the intensity and charisma of Jack Lord or the charm of any of his costars (and turning Kono into a girl seriously?). Since the entertainment industry can’t come up with new things, however, they keep picking old shows and cranking out new, crappy versions of them. One of the worst of these that I’ve seen is Night Stalker.

Night Stalker (2005) was a remake of a short lived but excellent show from 1974 called Kolchak: The Night Stalker. This was a continuation of two made-for-TV movies, The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler. K:TNS is a charming, cheesy, and surprising frightening show.

It is somewhat interesting to see how a show that influenced The X-Files then gets influenced in turn. Night Stalker, instead of following the monster of the week formula of its original, tries to introduce a “myth arc” a la X-Files. Well, in X-Files the aliens story arc was the part I liked the least. And the writers of Night Stalker did a far worse job applying the idea of long running story arcs to Kolchak.

New Kolchak’s wife was murder and some weird things are going on and… um, that’s it. Admittedly they didn’t have a lot of episodes to work with because it got cancelled so quickly, but still if you’re going to have a myth arc give the viewers more than the idea that there is one, more than just something weird is going on but right now we have no clues except that something weird is going on.

Because of some issue with the rights (or so I have read) the cast of characters from the Independent News Service wasn’t available for the new show. So no Miss Emily, no Updike. And none of the police or other side characters. Just Tony Vincenzo. Whom they fail to use in any decent way. Instead they decided to add an intrepid girl reporter. Ignoring the fact that intrepid girl reporters have been done to death, this intrepid girl reporter, Perri Reed, didn’t work because they decided to give the show to her instead of Kolchak.

Kolchak is relegated to the sidelines acting kind of crazy and Reed runs about playing a version of Agent Scully. Scully worked because she and Mulder got pretty much equal screen time. They play off each other. Kolchak doesn’t do much and he hasn’t got a character anyway.

Darren McGavin as Kolchak

“I promised I’d show up with a haircut, a new hat, and pressed suit… but I lie a lot.”

In the original, Kolchak was what made the show work. (And Darren McGavin’s excellent acting was what made Kolchak work.) He will do anything for a story. Lie, cheat, impersonate police commissioners. The show obviously follows him investigating supernatural phenomena that pops up around Chicago but also makes it clear that he’s a reporter who covers crime and local events, has to fill in for Miss Emily on the agony columns if needs be, and fights with Updike over who gets the stories which sound juiciest.  While he doggedly pursues the supernatural when he runs into it, it often interferes with his reporting on other stories.  In the remake, Reed expresses surprise that Kolchak would bother to work on anything as mundane as a missing persons case.

K:TNS is a funny show. Kolchak cannonballs around irritating and rubbing everyone the wrong way, fighting with Vincenzo, backstabbing Updike at every possible opportunity, and driving police captains to the verge of mental breakdowns. Even despite 1970’s special effects, however, the show can be quite intense. Kolchak might do things you’d have to be insanely brave to do–like crawling into the back of a hearse in a junkyard in the middle of the night to sew a zombie’s mouth shut–but he’s often terrified while doing it.

The remake isn’t funny. It doesn’t have any well developed characters or great interaction between them. In fact the thing I remember most about it is that it was nasty. Not just that it was gruesome and gory, but simply unpleasant. It had to be dark and gritty. They went and removed everything that made the original good, but even if we were to ignore the original and look it as its own thing, Night Stalker is just a mediocre X-Files wannabe that misses what made the X-Files fun too.

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