Today’s Christmas Episode is only barely a Christmas Episode. There’s actually so little Christmas content that I almost eliminated it from contention. That said, there is a werewolf on a cruise ship and how am I going to pass that up? It’s time to dip into Kolchak: The Night Stalker.
Kolchak: The Night Stalker – “The Werewolf”
Original airdate: November 1, 1974
I have somehow now watched any Kolchak before now. It’s kind of a legendary series and weirdos who are 10-15 years older than me will tell you it’s one of the greatest shows of all time. It’s not. I really liked this episode and watched a couple more, and it’s quite good, but it’s also an occasionally inspired Monster of the Week show. Don’t tell me it’s up there with The Wire.
If you’re aware of Kolchak, it may be as an inspiration for The X-Files. The premise here is that Carl Kolchak is a reporter who tracks down mysteries, often supernatural, and usually ends up with a story that his paper won’t run. You can see his DNA all over X-Files, particularly in the character of Fox Mulder. Darren McGavin (who plays Kolchak) appeared in an episode of that show as “the father of the X-Files”, and one of the revival episodes featured a character in Kolchak’s usual outfit. The man wears a straw hat, and I think that was weird even in 1974.
This episode aired on November 1st, long before Christmas. That’s strange on a network show. The Christmas elements seem like such late in the game additions that you’d think this was doctored at the last minute to make it a holiday episode, but it’s not like this is the episode that aired closest to Christmas or anything. The lack of continuity and the self-contained nature of this particular episode mean it could have been slotted in to air in late December and the fact that it doesn’t means that NBC probably didn’t care.
The episode opens with Kolchak talking about a family killed by wolves even though there are no wolves in that part of the country. And then it’s a Christmas party for the INS (International News Service). This wire service seems to have six employees, one of whom is a older woman who writes riddles. Boss Tony Vincenzo is about to go on a cruise, but then there’s a call. The INS is being audited and he needs to be there. He gives his ticket to Kolchak and demands a lot of stories. He wants stories about singles cruises, maybe a piece on the Hanover, the ship that’s going to be decommissioned after this trip. No weird stuff, though.
A thing I really like is how often these co-workers scream at one another in this short scene. It’s very funny to me. And I should note that this is the end of the Christmas content, aside from a stray poinsettia and some lights later on.
Kolchak ends up sharing a cabin with a guy named Mel who is a Seventies Dude who wants to get laid. He’s this delightful example of an old archetype and his dudeness is funny, especially contrasted with a sweaty, antisocial weirdo like Kolchak. We also meet a man named Benhardt Stieglitz who refuses to share his cabin and has a bloody wound on his arm. Suspicious!
When Carl eventually makes his way to a get-together, Mel introduces him to Paula. Kolchak makes awkward conversation with the woman whose personality is “movie buff”, but leaves when an alarm blares. Specifically, the alarm for a lifeboat drill, which they wouldn’t do at night. He goes to investigate.
Oh, did I forget to mention why the alarm went off? A werewolf broke into the control room and killed three crew members and threw a passenger overboard. Yes. That happened. Now, without knowing the vibe of the show, I thought this was a man in a business suit wearing a werewolf mask. But that’s down to production values. It is a werewolf and you just buy into that.
Kolchak spends most of the episode trying to get access to restricted areas and being stymied by the crew. Later, there’s another werewolf attack and Kolchak manages to get some pictures. He’s knocked out and wakes up in the infirmary alongside Stieglitz, who is demanding sedatives. He also finds that the film was taken from his camera – we see that a crewman took it and somehow had it developed on the boat and presented werewolf pictures to the captain.
After another attack, Kolchak finds the infirmary has been vandalized and somebody stole a lot of drugs. He enlists Paula’s help to get into the control room and poke around and finally the Captain get tired of his nonsense and tells him that he’s going to have him locked up if he keeps this up. Kolchak tries to get him to change course to get away from the full moon. Stieglitz sedates himself with the stolen drugs and then chains himself up. With Paula’s help, Kolchak figures out all the things that can stop a werewolf. Which is mostly silver bullets, so he steals the silver buttons off the captain’s shirts and smelts them into shotgun shells with a couple of cast iron pots and an acetylene torch. He also locates the closest thing he can find to a priest (a divinity school dropout) to pray over the bullets “in Latin”.
And then it’s night. Stieglitz wolfs out and snaps his chains. He goes on a killspree and the crew’s bullets don’t even slow him down. One guy shoots him with a flare gun, which briefly sets his chest on fire and is pretty awesome. But none of this stops the werewolf. Kolchak shoots him a couple of times which slows him down just enough to throw him overboard.
After that, he informs us that the whole thing was covered up. He can’t even find out how many of the fifteen people attacked by the werewolf survived. The ship was scrapped, along with all the evidence, and the cruise line threatened to sue any paper that ran his werewolf story And that…. was our Christmas episode!
Best Line: “This has nothing to do with chimes ringing or splicing at all!” — Kolchak – guess which one of those means marriage and which means sex
Christmas Party – The whole thing opens with an office Christmas party.
Christmas Decorations – The office is minimally decorated and we see a poinsettia and a strand of lights in one scene on the ship.
A Christmas Miracle – The guy’s a dang werewolf! Go on, explain that with your precious science!
Celebrity Guests – The guest cast is full of old-time character actors, and the guy who played Mel was later the voice of Serpentor on G.I. Joe. But the big one is actually in the crew – this episode was written by Sopranos creator David Chase! There’s a bit early on where Mel keeps mistaking “Fourth Estate” for “Fifth Column”, which feels very Chase-y.
Holiday Cheer-O-Meter – There is almost no Christmas in this episode and you could take it out without affecting the story at all. BUT. I had a lot of fun watching this and I feel like, twenty years ago, this would have been part of my regular Christmas rotation. And thus, I feel nostalgia for a life I didn’t have. That seems good enough for a 7.