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The X-Files Before The X-Files: Remembering the Best of Kolchak: The Night Stalker

Looking for scary stories to watch in the dark? Dig into these classic episodes of Kolchak: The Night Stalker featuring vampires, aliens and flesh-eating spirits. 

By Tara Bennett
Crime reporter Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) holds a wooden cross in front of orange lights in Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

Before Chris Carter created The X-Files and FBI paranormal investigators Mulder and Scully, there was novelist Jeff Rice's Carl Kolchak. A Las Vegas newspaper reporter who investigated many a crime with supernatural or paranormal origins, Kolchak expended a lot of shoe leather to get to the truth of a story, no matter how weird it got. The character was first introduced to broader audiences in the TV movie, The Night Stalker (1972), which cast Darren McGavin as the reporter on the trail of a vampire in Vegas. Audiences loved the gritty, noir stories with a horror tinge, so a sequel soon followed in 1973, The Night Strangler. 

In 1974, Kolchak got his own TV series, Kolchak: The Night Stalker — which is streaming now on Peacock — and expands the depth and range of Carl's investigations. While the series only aired for one season, it featured the early writing work of some current television legends including David Chase (The Sopranos), Arthur Rowe (The Bionic Woman), Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale (Back to the Future), Steve Fisher (Lady in the Lake) and Michael Kozoll (Hill Street Blues).

One of the joys of any Kolchak story is that its standalone and you don't need to watch any of the TV movies or the series episodes to follow along with ease. It's the perfect time of year to jump into the series and find out why it's inspired so many genre shows that have come since. 

RELATED: The True Story of The Amityville Horror

Top 5 Kolchak: The Night Stalker episodes  

Crime reporter Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) wears a straw hat in Kolchak: The Night Stalker Season 1.

Episode 3: "They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be..."

An episode that captures the mundane and the profane all in one story. Carl's vexed by an assignment that's getting in the way of him watching Game 1 of the World Series. Looking for any TVs or radios broadcasting the game during his travels, he's also chasing down reports of a UFO that has landed and the occupants are sucking the bone marrow out of unsuspecting humans. It's a gruesome story made more interesting because the "alien" remains invisible for the entirety of the story. It's a great way to prompt human imaginations to go wild pondering exactly what something capable of that ghastly act might look like. 

Episode 4: "The Vampire"

The first Kolchak TV movie, The Night Stalker, had the reporter investigating the vampire Janos Skorzeny (Barry Atwater). This episode is a direct sequel to the TV movie but unfolds as its own mystery. Turns out one of Janos' victims made it out of the chaos and heads to Los Angeles to instigate her own killings. Carl follows her journey leading to one of the most iconic sequences of the series, with Kolchak staking her while a giant cross burns behind him. The episode features some great prosthetic makeup and a compelling vampire story overall. 

RELATED: 10 of the scariest movies of all time to keep you up all Halloween night

Episode 7: "The Devil's Platform"

Crime reporter Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) (center) sits in a pew of a church with Ryder Bond (Fred Beir) Sgt. Mayer (Phil Carey).

A Faustian bargain story, Tom Skerritt — Dallas from Alien — stars as a smarmy politician who makes a deal with the devil. He ascends the political ladder quickly and gets the power to transform into an invulnerable dog. What's the cost? Carl is on the case to find out. A smart reworking of the classic tale with many dry and witty Carl commentaries throughout. 

Episode 11: "Horror In The Heights" 

The rare episode that provides a tiny look into Kolchak's own personal life, we're introduced to Emily (Ruth McDevitt), an older woman that he trust implicitly. Her Jewish neighborhood is being ravaged by a Rakshasa, a flesh-eating Hindu demon that can shape shift to look like someone the victim trusts. Ah, you can see the pickle for poor Carl. There's impactful social commentary paired with a genuinely scary story. 

RELATED: Scariest Versions of Dracula Ever Put to Screen: From Nosferatu to Last Voyage of the Demeter

Episode 12: "Mr. R.I.N.G."

Dr. Leslie Dwyer (Corinne Camacho) (R) looks at a humanoid A.I. robot with hardware for a face in Kolchak: The Night Stalker Season 1.

Ahead of it's time on the topic of AI, this entire episode is an exploration of AI becoming sentient. A robot with a human face (Craig R. Baxley) tries to figure out its "moral compass" in real time, as it encounters plenty of people who don't understand it and want it turned off. Of course, its got a strong sense of self-preservation and retaliates by murdering anyone that tries to stop it. An interesting early look at this very modern conundrum with a most extreme outcome. 

Has your Kolchak curiosity been awakened? Watch all 20-episodes of The Night Stalker Season 1 on Peacock now. 

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