One of the familiar sights of October is fields of dry corn ready for cutting. Corn stalks are bundled and used as decorations. Deep red, blue and gold colored cobs of corn sit side by side at farm stands next to gourds and pumpkins. There is another kind of corn, however, and it pops up through the adventures of modern occult investigator Carl Kolchak.
The main character originated in an unpublished novel, The Kolchak Papers, written by Jeff Rice. In it, a Las Vegas newspaper reporter named Carl Kolchak tracks down and defeats a serial killer who turns out to be a vampire named Janos Skorzeny. Although the reporter uses the name “Carl”, the novel reveals that his birth name is “Karel”.
ABC approached Rice with an offer to option The Kolchak Papers, which was adapted eventually by famous horror and science fiction writer Richard Matheson into a television movie, The Night Stalker. It was produced by Dan Curtis of Dark Shadows fame. Darren McGavin played the role of Carl. A second television film, The Night Strangler, followed a year later.
After the success of the TV film and its sequel, the novel was published in 1973 by Pocket Books as a mass-market paperback original titled The Night Stalker, with a photo of Darren McGavin on the cover to tie it to the film. The second television film was also turned into a novel (written by Jeff Rice but based on a script by famous horror and science fiction writer Richard Matheson), published in 1974 by Pocket Books. Both novels were republished in 2007 by Moonstone in an omnibus edition called The Kolchak Papers. Moonstone Books continues to produce Kolchak comic books.
I began this with comments on corn for a reason. . Sporting a straw hat and seersucker jacket, Carl Kolchak, while a curious and dogged investigator, is no fearless, nerveless hero. Kolchak’s stories balanced horror and humor, as McGavin exuded his uniquely plucky if downtrodden persona and grows his own corn in Kolchak’s terror, sarcasm and frantically creative ways of foiling monsters. The series is very obviously a creation of the seventies, in costumes and customs., which I also often find corny. While the series scripts were far from the quality of Matheson’s, there were great guest appearances by actors like Richard Kiel long before he was the villain “Jaws” in the James Bond movies. And Simon Oakland did a great job as Kolchak’s harassed editor at the news bureau.
Still, on a dark night, when you are in a mood to escape, modern life being full of very real horrors, you can curl up on the sofa and have a good time following Carl’s adventures. Every sort of spookiness, spiced with humor and taken with your favorite crunchy snack is a wonderful prescription for a rainy October night. I take mine with a matching large bowl of popcorn and a running monologue of commentary a la Mystery Science Theater 3000. After all, Halloween is supposed to be about fun, too.