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Night Stalker: The Complete Series DVD Review

Night Stalker: The Complete Series

May 31, 2006

Director: Daniel Sackheim, Rob Bowman, Tony Wharmby,
Starring: Stuart Townsend, Gabrielle Union, Eric Jungmann, Cotter Smith, John Pyper-Ferguson,

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DVD Review

Night Stalker was one of many sci-fi/horror themed television shows that tried to capitalize on the popularity of Lost. Perhaps it was a case of too many shows competing with each other as Night Stalker was cancelled after only six episodes aired. X-Files producer Frank Spotnitz was the driving force behind the show which attempted to re-imagine the also short-lived cult T.V. show from the 1970s, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, about a veteran newspaper reporter who investigates supernatural stories.

Carl Kolchak (Townsend) is a driven investigative journalist who has recently joined the Los Angeles Beacon which doesn’t sit well with one of its regular staff writers, Perri Reed (Union) who resents this stranger invading her territory. After all, she’s the senior crime reporter. Of course, their editor (Smith) puts them together on various stories much to their mutual chagrin. However, the stories they investigate all seem to have elements of the supernatural to them with Kolchak as the believer and Reed as the skeptic.

Spotnitz tries to recreate the same formula that made The X-Files so popular with Kolchak and Reed as the obvious Mulder and Scully substitutes. The problem with doing this is the lack of chemistry between Townsend and Union. Both are fine actors in their own right but fail to click as a team. The attempts at building some kind of sexual tension between them are awkward and just don’t work.

Another problem with the show is that Spotnitz and company deviated too far from the original thus alienating its fan base. The most insulting gesture was digitally inserting a shot of Darren McGavin as Kolchak into a scene in the Pilot episode that was meant as an homage to the original show but came across as awkward and out of place. Not to mention, people unfamiliar with the original had no idea who this was and so the reference was lost on them. This example typifies where the show went wrong and why it failed to capture a decent-sized audience.

Night Stalker also did not have enough elements of the horror genre because it also wanted to be a crime show. It’s almost as if Spotnitz and co. couldn’t decide what they wanted to do, unlike fellow genre show Supernatural which steeped itself heavily in the horror genre. Interestingly enough, it was the only one of the new crop of sci-fi/horror shows to survive along with Lost.

The show does work in terms of atmosphere and wisely adopts a less is more attitude towards showing the actual supernatural things that Kolchak and Reed encounter. For example, in the Pilot episode some kind of creature is stalking people and we only catch glimpses early on with the focus instead on the victims and their frightened faces. We see and hear them being dragged off by something and this hooks us in because we want to know and see more.

Visually, Spotnitz seems to be influenced by a previous show he worked on, the also short-lived Robbery Homicide Division which was executive produced by Michael Mann and used digital cameras extensively. Spotnitz adopts the same look especially during the night scenes. Also, Kolchak lives in a stylish, spacious house that wouldn’t look out of place in one of Mann’s films, like say Heat (1995).

One story that the show continues to revisit throughout its limited run is Kolchak’s investigation of his wife’s murder. The FBI thinks he did it but due to “insufficient evidence” they were unable to convict him. Kolchak believes that she was killed by something of supernatural origin. Perhaps it is tied to a strange mark or tattoo on his wrist? The murder of his wife is an intriguing mystery and one that might have been explored in more detail had the show survived. It’s a shame that we will never know or that the show didn’t have more time to try and find its way instead of being yet another one of those what-could-have-been type shows that was unable to fix its flaws.

Special Features:

Most importantly, four episodes that never originally aired on television are included on the second disc.

The first disc features an audio commentary on the Pilot episode by executive producer Frank Spotnitz, director Daniel Sackheim and producer Michelle MacLaren. They talk about the casting of Kolchak and Reed and how they saw hundreds of actors before settling on Townsend and Union. This episode apparently was a tough one to shoot as they had very little time and then the network wanted several changes which resulted in re-shoots. This is a chatty track with Spotnitz dominating as he talks about working within the constraints of network T.V.

The second disc features three deleted scenes from three different episodes.

“A Conversation with Frank Spotnitz” has the show’s executive producer talking about his love of the original Night Stalker show and how he envisioned remaking it. He wanted to make a scary, story-driven show but with moments of humour coming from the friction between Kolchak and Reed. Spotnitz also touches upon the look of the show and how it was influenced by working with Mann on Robbery Homicide Division.

Finally, there is an audio commentary on “The Sea” by Spotnitz, executive producer Sackheim and producer John Peter Kousakis. This was the second part of an episode that was aired but this one was not. They talk about how it fleshed out Kolchak’s character and developed his relationship with Reed. As in the previous track, Spotnitz reveals some secrets of the mythology of the show.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 70%

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