X-Files vs. The Night Stalker - A Comparison Article

(originally appeared in the "...It Couldn't Happen Here" Fanzine)

X-Files and The Night Stalker - Twins at Birth?

by Steve Crow

X-Files creator Chris Carter has noted several times that one of his major influences was watching Kolchak: The Night Stalker as a child. While this is a highly public substantiation of the opinions of many closet Kolchak fans, the real question is, just _how_ influenced Chris Carter was.

Before I continue, one note: the following is _not_ intended to suggest any plagiarism on Chris Carter's part. There are only so many supernatural themes out there. The fact that The Night Stalker found enough themes for 20 episodes without plot continuity (a central government conspiracy, cursed antiques, etc.,) is a major undertaking.

Try it some time. Write down on paper twenty different supernatural ideas. Don't do any sequels. Make each a totally independent idea. Now, look back over your list and see how many of them have never been used by _any_ television series or movie. And if you can't find one, let me know - I'll find it for you. :)

This highlights a good point: The Night Stalker as a series was probably doomed to a single season anyway. There just aren't enough ideas out there, much less enough to do varied stories within the show's chosen format. Later episodes of The Night Stalker, such as The Sentry and The Youth Killer, were dredging the bottom of the barrel.

The X-Files bypasses this problem both by having a central theme (the government conspiracy), and by recycling certain plot ideas. For instance, _how_ many genetic mutant stories have they done about a guy with strange abilities who must feast on a particular part of the human body?

Let's look down the list of Night Stalker episodes and see how many seem a little familiar . . .

The Ripper: Speaking of genetic mutants . . . The exact nature of Jack the Ripper's abilities in this episode is never explained. Let's see. We have a strange, enigmatic killer with supernatural abilities, who commits a series of serial murders, and it's implied that he eats parts of his victims after killing them. Sound familiar? Try "Squeeze" and "Tooms." Or "2Shy." Or "Teliko."

The Zombie: The resurrection of the dead for vengeance is explored in the fourth season episode, "Kaddish." While that episode deals with Hebrew mysticism, the one X-Files episode that deals specifically with Voodoo religion is second season's "Fresh Bones."

They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be: This episode, with its elements of government conspiracy and visitors from beyond, may very well have been the plot outline for "Fallen Angel." In both episodes we have an alien visitor stranded on Earth. It is invisible (although detectible in the proper light ranges), and possesses vast strength. It seems to have a rather vague physical form, but unleashes electromagnetic energy. Both episodes touch on the UFO subculture, as well as the government's intent to keep things hushed up. A UFOlogist has a close and fatal encounter with the visitor (at least, until we find out Max Fenig is still alive three seasons later in, "Max"). The aliens' black, gooey vomit is superficially similar to the "black oil" of the series and movie, although there is no real connection.

The Vampire: "3" is the primary X-Files episode to specifically address the traditional vampire myth. Both episodes take place in Los Angeles, and feature a female vampire. Both vampires rely on sexual attraction to obtain their prey. And both feature a large fire in the final confrontation.

The Werewolf: "Shapes" is the X-Files' first and only foray into lycanthropy. There are not many comparisons other than that common theme. "Shapes" inexplicably identifies the werewolf as a "manitou." The diablero in Bad Medicine is closer to what a manitou is (a spirit of a person, animal, or item), based on Amerindian legend. The Energy Eater also touches on certain Amerindian elements.

Firefall: This episode is Night Stalker's one real "ghost" story (ignoring Chopper, which isn't much of anything). This isn't a concept that is very popular in X-Files either, and such stories are in the earlier seasons. Such episodes include "Shadows" and "Lazarus."

The Devil's Platform: A straight-forward tale of devil-worshipping. The X-Files rarely takes this kind of blatant approach. "Die Hand de Verletzt" and "Sanguinarium" both feature mystic/Satanic elements gaining worshippers, then later using an outside element to bring down the unfaithful and the weak.

Bad Medicine and The Energy Eater: I've combined these two episodes for comparison. Neither one bears a strong resemblance to any specific X-Files episode. However, X-Files has several episodes with a strong Amerindian/mystic bent: "Shapes," "Anasazi," and "The Blessing Way."

The Energy Eater, with its awakening of a hibernating primal force, also bears some resemblance to the first season episode, "Darkness Falls."

The Energy Eater also features a scene that appears almost verbatim in an X-Files episode. The scene where Kolchak and Jim Elkhorn assemble a giant "photo" of Matchemonedo is _very_ similar to the picture that Mulder glimpses in the laid out 1-0-1-0 drawings of Kevin Morris in "Conduit."

The Spanish Moss Murders: A dream-research project gone awry, and manifestations of the mind springing up. If Augustus Cole in "Sleepless" had a dream about the Flukeman from "The Host," you might end up with an X-Files episode very similar to this Kolchak episode. To make matters more interesting, check out the fifth's season "Schizogeny," where someone animates plant life to kill those they hate.

Horror in the Heights: Curiously, Hindu mysticism has not yet featured in any X-Files episode through the fifth season. A supernatural menace taking on the face of a trusted one is not a particular new idea. However, the morphing effects used for the Bounty Hunter in "Colony" are better then the simple camera cut we get here.

A bit of speculation, here: since Horror in the Heights is perhaps the most widely-acclaimed Night Stalker episode, Chris Carter may, consciously or subconsciously, be avoiding anything that might be compared to it. A pity: the concept of a secret invasion of Earth by demon scouts could make an interesting premise for a continuing series. Particularly since in Hindu mythology, not all rakshasas were shape-shifters. There are a variety of rakshasas, which could provide more varied plot lines.

Mr. R.I.N.G.: "Ghost in the Machine," anyone? "Or Kill Switch" if you prefer. Oddly, the artificial intelligence in the Night Stalker episode is portrayed far more sympathetically and interestingly than the A.I. in X-Files. Mulder and Scully don't appear in a hurry to do anything except shut it down ASAP. Kolchak displays more curiosity here. This is another Night Stalker episode that features a strong government/conspiracy angle. The memory-wiping drugs used on Kolchak are not dissimilar to the mind-wiping experience that Mulder undergoes in "Deep Throat."

Primal Scream: Not one of The Night Stalker's finest hours, since the science here is wretched. If these creatures' cells multipled and became new creatures in warm climates, wouldn't they have overrun the Earth millions of years ago? Still, there are similarities to several episodes. "The Jersey Devil" features a similarly carnivorous man-ape predator. The idea of a menace from the dawn of history awakening from its hibernation beneath the Arctic can be found in "Ice." And the rapid, accelerated growth of cells to form a new being can be seen in "Leonard Betts."

The Trevi Collection: Some resemblance to "Syzygy," and parts of "Die Hand de Verletzt." Just like "Die Hand" kills off its characters in a variety of ways, The Trevi Collection features death by mannequin, scalding water, and cat.

Chopper: Fortunately, X-Files has avoided any storyline resembling this episode. The closest is the decapitation concept found in "Leonard Betts." We also have a couple of episodes that deal with a ghost taking vengeance ("Shadows" and "Lazarus").

Demon in Lace: The woman plaguing Skinner in "Avatar" is described as a succubus. The mythology in Demon in Lace is a mish-mash since it draws more on the Middle Eastern concept of a succubus, rather than the Western European version (which fed on sex, rather than terror). The succubus' tie to an ancient tablet is a bit out of left-field, and added primarily to give Kolchak a unique way of killing the monster of the week. The concept of a supernatural manifestation tied to a relic also appears in the third season's "Teso Dos Bichos."

Legacy of Terror: The mythology related in this episode is historically accurate, and seems to have come from someone's doctoral dissertation. This episode bears some resemblance to, "Teso Dos Bichos." Astral conjunctions are also critical in "Syzygy." In fact, both shows' endings, in which the astral conjunction passes at the critical moment and the bad guys just . . . stop, are _very_ similar.

The Knightly Murders: Another "ghost" story, although as in Chopper, the ghost is quite solid.

The Youth Killer: Rapid aging occurs in "Dod Kalm," although its origins are extraterrestrial, rather than Hellenic. The legend of Helen of Troy seems more suited to an episode of Hercules than X-Files, but that's another column. We see the dating service aspect of Youth Killer in, "2Shy." Unnatural aging is also a plot point (if in reverse) in the first season's "Young at Heart."

The Sentry: If Night Stalker had any substantial audience back in the 70's, it's unlikely the writers would have risked such a blatant rip-off of Star Trek's "The Devil in the Dark." There is again a hint of the government conspiracy angle that would reach full bloom in The X-Files. And the mother instincts of the lizard are not dissimilar to the creature of the same name in "The Jersey Devil."

So at the end of it all, what are we left with? There are similar threads from practically episode of Night Stalker up to the present day's X-Files. Still, X-Files has taken the ideas much further, and added many new ones as well. No doubt in future seasons more similar elements will occur.

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