May 4, 2009

Justify My Netflix: Kolchak: The Night Stalker

(Like many Netflix customers, I too can get quite lax with the timely watching and returning of my movies, which of course defeats the entire purpose of having a flat-rate rental plan in the first place. To combat that, I am now writing standardized mini-reviews of each and every movie I end up watching through Netflix, both instantly and on DVD. Don't forget, all previous 'Justify My Netflix' reviews can be found on CCLaP's main movie page.)

Kolchak: The Night Stalker

Today's movie: Kolchak: The Night Stalker, 1974 (Amazon | IMDB | Netflix)

Why I added it to my queue: Because like a growing amount of 1970s television, this too is a cultishly loved but little-seen series now available for digitized "instant viewing" over at Netflix, the story of a curmudgeonly newspaper reporter who investigates the paranormal cases that police refuse to follow themselves. Because I've never actually seen any episodes of this show, despite it being referenced constantly within the world of genre projects which I follow (with it apparently being not only one of the main inspirations behind similar shows like The X-Files and The Dresden Files, but also a personal favorite of such Weird masters as Joss Whedon and JJ Abrams), and I thought it was high time I finally discover what all the hype is about.

The reality: So just like my recent experience with watching the Tom-Baker-era Doctor Who a few weeks ago, catching the first couple of episodes of Kolchak reminded me of what's so great about Netflix digitizing so many of these old TV shows and making them available for instant viewing: that it only takes watching a handful of episodes from these shows to get the nostalgia bug wiped clean from one's system, without having to bother with all those DVDs cluttering up your waiting list or God forbid spending a couple of hundred dollars to actually own them. Because to be sure, it's easy to see why genre nerds would go crazy over a show like this when it first came out, not only for its pedigree (revered horror author Richard Matheson wrote the pilot script) but simply because it looked and felt like nothing else on TV at the time. And indeed, the world in general has finally caught up with shows like this, with there for sure being no Buffy or Lost without this precedent having laid the groundwork; but the actual show itself now watched 35 years later is freaking terrible, the exact low-budget, badly-edited, laughably-bad-special-effects-laden disaster as you expect from any television show older than, say, Hill Street Blues. (And speaking of which, by the way, don't even get me started on my experience last weekend watching a couple of episodes of an old childhood favorite of mine, the Shaun-Cassidy-starring Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mystery Hour, which turned to be so awful that I'm not going to bother writing it up here.) Although I will undoubtedly continue sampling old TV shows through Netflix on lazy Sunday afternoons, since it legitimately is a fun if not cheesy walk down memory lane, I can't in good conscience recommend these shows to a general audience, with Kolchak being no exception. Unless you were a fan of the show's original run, I say proceed with extreme caution.

If I had watched it when it first came out: I would've prayed for a double-feature syndication deal with Dark Shadows.

Strangest piece of trivia: Although many are under the impression that Kolchak himself was a young, sexy reporter (mostly because of the disastrous 2005 remake), the original character was actually played by Darren McGavin (the dad from cult favorite A Christmas Story), and is portrayed as a Mike-Royko-type middle-aged has-been newspaper columnist, never seen in anything but rumpled suits and a beat-up porkpie hat.

Worth your time? Meh.

Filed by Jason Pettus at 11:32 AM, May 4, 2009. Filed under: Movies | Reviews |