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Night Stalker (Television)

There are words that send even the most jaded horror fanatic into spasms of terror. Show them a drooling beast hiding in the closet, a werewolf crashing through a window, or a vampire under the bed; and they won’t even flinch. Mention, however, the words remake, updated, and re-envision; and many will run screaming for the hills — or at least to their favorite video store — for solace. The latest offender proves that Hollywood is lacking in not only imagination but good judgment as well. ABC’s re-envisioning of the classic Night Stalker series leaves far too much to be desired.

While the basic premise is a vague echo of the 1974 original series, in which a gonzo reporter investigates weirdness in Chicago, the similarities end there. This version of Carl Kolchak does not even resemble Darren McGavin’s portrayal. Showing that the one thing network executives are attuned to is how to cast eye-candy, Stuart Townsend (of Queen of the Damned and League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) plays Kolchak as a dark, brooding reporter with a past and a constant smirk on his face. Supporting Townsend is The Honeymooners’ (yet another remake) Gabrielle Union as his boss, Perri Reed, and Eric Jungmann (Not Another Teen Movie) as Jain McManus, the “Jimmy Olson” of the crew.

While the first episode started off promising with a gruesome murder by an unseen creature, the show fell apart soon after. The plot seemed too contrived with the writers seeming to have a hard time deciding on exactly what monster it was the intrepid reporter was facing. The clues seemed to come out of left-field, leaving far too many questions unanswered and audience members scratching their heads. No explanation was ever given for any of the illogical jumps made, and there was no real resolution, save that Kolchak and his boss came to the stereotypical uneasy truce.

The characters in this program could have been lifted from Melrose Place as easily as they could have any cookie-cutter horror movie. First, there’s Kolchak with his smoldering good looks and questionable past, his hint of sadness and brooding angst. Then there’s Reed, the stereotypical “I’m a powerful woman” character that every television program today seems required to have, but is seldom seen successfully done. In the context of this program she does not come off as powerful, but whiny and full of indignation. McManus alone seems comfortable in his role of sidekick and comic relief.

On the plus side the production is beautifully shot, bringing to mind the earliest episodes of X-Files with their dark mystique. However, even this is marred by a lack of guts, both figuratively and literally, in that the production team seems to shy away from the effects of the brutality and from the characters. It seems, again, as if they couldn’t decide on what monster to face, so they just didn’t show any and gave it as many random abilities as possible.

Fans of the original Kolchak: The Night Stalker will find only a passing resemblance to their beloved series and will most likely be more gratified to seek out the original on DVD. If this series lasts more than half a season, then maybe Darren McGavin should write a news story about it for that will be the biggest mystery of all.

Night Stalker (2005)
ABC Television
Created by Jeffrey Grant Rice
Starring Stuart Townsend, Gabrielle Union, Eric Jungmann, Cotter Smith

Somebody! Please! Remove my digitally inserted visage from this show, STAT!

1 ½ out of 5

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Jon Condit