For those too young to remember, or who didn’t eventually find it on DVD, “Kolchak: The Night Stalker” was a short-lived TV series that basically helped to coin the concept of “Monster of the Week”. That may just be a very genre specific way of calling a show “episodic,” but it was pretty ahead of its time for combining the real world with fantasy. The original TV movies and subsequent series followed investigative reporter Carl Kolchak as he tracked down seemingly terrestrial crimes that were always revealed to have a supernatural or paranormal hook, which nobody believed to be true, no matter how much effort Kolchak put into solving them. If that sounds suspiciously like “The X-Files,” that’s because Chris Carter basically stole the idea and made the lead an dogged FBI agent instead of a dogged reporter. It’s also worth noting that both shows would be nothing without those dogged leads, and I really, really don’t mean John Doggett.*
If David Duchovny was the highlight of his show (Gillian Anderson coming a staggeringly close second, of course) then Darren McGavin was the raison d’etre of his. Like so many shows that were great in the 70s, the original “Night Stalker” doesn’t really hold up due to modern standards, but McGavin’s performance absolutely does and makes all 20 episodes worth watching just to see a masterful embodiment of character. If you liked the actor as the dad in A Christmas Story and Billy Madison, you’d love him as Carl Kolchak, with the added bonus of having a layer of reserved cool that all great fictional reporters maintain. Actually, if you saw his two episodes on “The X-Files” you basically saw his Kolchak. A feature length movie about that guy would be entertaining as hell.
That’s just one of the reasons the attempted 2005 reboot starring Charlize Theron’s husband, Stuart Townsend, died upon its culturally insignificant impact. You can change the character’s motivations all you want as long as he’s still investigating vampires and aliens, but you can’t just drop in a pretty face where characterization existed previously and expect anyone to give a damn. And while Johnny Depp is certainly more than a pretty face, albeit one with a few more cracks than Tim Burton probably would like, he’s not exactly who I’d imagine as a latter-day Carl Kolchak, either. Oh, sure, he could play the role more akin to The Ninth Gate or Secret Window, neither of which are great movies but the main characters have a bit of that old McGavin charm in them. Considering that this big screen adaptation is being financed by Disney, I think it’s safe to say The Night Stalker is going to be turned into another Pirates of the Caribbean-esque tentpole. When that happens, you don’t get weird, interesting Johnny, you get Captain Jack. And that shit was old three Pirates ago.
Of course, there’s every chance this adaptation won’t happen, so there might be no reason to get bent out of shape over it. (As I’m sure you horde of Darren McGavin fans already are.) Edgar Wright has just signed on to direct, and while that is absolutely a feather in the movie’s cap, he’s got both Ant-Man for Marvel/Disney and the finale of his pseudo-trilogy with Simon Pegg, The World’s End, before this can happen. Supposedly. Both projects have been gestating for years, though he and Pegg did recently begin writing their script together; I would definitely root for that over anything else. And Depp has The Lone Ranger with Gore Verbinski, which is also aiming to be a (relatively) big budgeted blockbuster for Universal — because apparently Johnny Depp doesn’t make “small” pictures anymore. That’s a lot of schedule-clearing before the new Night Stalker becomes a reality. Perhaps too much.
Hopefully this will give everyone enough time to come to their senses and re-shape The Night Stalker movie as a modestly budgeted comedic horror-thriller starring David Duchovny as Kolchak, a type he may have been born to play. (And would be more interesting than a new X-Files movie.) Or maybe John Hamm, if he got punched in the face a few times before filming. If those fall-through, Edgar Wright could always just make this the Cornetto conclusion and get Simon Pegg to play the lead. Really, anything that amounts to more substance than a theme park ride would be fine. Sigh. This is why we can’t have nice things, isn’t it?
For those nostalgic for the original recipe, here’s the opening credits to “Kolchak: The Night Stalker.” Enjoy it while you can:
* No offense meant to Robert Patrick. He’s awesome. Seasons 8 and 9 of “The X-Files” are decidedly less than.
Rob Payne also writes the indie comic The Unstoppable Force, tweets on the Twitter @RobOfWar, and his ware can be purchased here (if you’re into that sort of thing). He’s also wished he were related to Darren McGavin, so he may or may not be biased.