Richard Matheson's Kolchak Scripts

Gauntlet Press has scored a major coup, bringing together all three of Richard Matheson's scripts for the Kolchak TV movies: The Night Stalker, The Night Strangler, and the unfilmed The Night Killers. The latter is written by William Nolan along with Matheson. Long-time Kolchak archiver and writer Mark Dawidiziak edits and provides the introduction to each of the three scripts as well as the follow-up mater ial at the end.

The galley copy I received for review is 240 standard-white pages, with a glossy black cover (jacket and text design by Bill Walker). On the front is a gray-scale montage/collage of Kolchak, vampire Janos Skorzeny, and some generic supernatural elements on the front. I can't tell who the artist is from his signature ("Rico Conig"??) and there doesn't seem to be an internal credit. On the back is a color photo of Darren McGavin wielding a cross - one of several such publicity shots used for the original Night Stalker movie (and one that appears in Appendix A of the book in black & white).

The book itself is divided primarily into three sections for the three movie scripts. Each one is preceeded by an introduction by Mark Dawidziak. Mr. Dawidziak reuses much of his material from his two previous Kolchak books, The Night Stalker Companion (20th and 25th Anniversary editions), and those owning these books might find the information a little repetitive. (Note: the 25th Anniversary edition is still available from Pomegranate Press - don't believe, sellers trying to unload it for high prices on eBay, etc.). Dawidziak covers the background of the four elements that came together for the first Night Stalker movie - original Kolchak creator Jeff Rice, producer Dan Curtis, actor Darren McGavin, and of course author Richard Matheson, adapting Rice's work to the screen. Matheson's work is explored in more detail than in the author's previous works.

Next is the script itself, presented "as-is" without additions (even the book's page numbering is omitted). Of the three scripts this is probably the least likely to be of interest to Kolchak fans since the Night Stalker story exists in several mediums - movie, novelization, and comic book. It's still interesting to note some of the changes that occurred between Matheson's script and what made it to screen. Skorzeny gets a line of dialogue, for instance ((a hideous whisper) "You are going to die, page 65 of the script). Interestingly, in the final movie the conclusion is more effective - in Matheson's script Kolchak only relates how he was informed of the murder charge to be filed against him if he didn't leave town, while in the movie we see the Las Vegas confronting him.

After the script there is a small section of photos and artwork, some of which have been around for a while and others such as Ed Silas Smith's unpublished drawing of Skorzeny drowning a police officer in a pool.

Then we have the second Night Strangler script, accompanied again by Dawidziak's somewhat shorter introduction as he picks up on the events that led from the first movie's high TV ratings to the creation of the second movie with Matheson penning the original concept. The script itself is the original work and includes all of the scenes missing from the shorter version as well as those deleted entirely such as Carl's meeting with Stacks, who had reported on an early string of Malcolm's Seattle killings. Unfortunately the "restored" scenes themselves don't really add a lot - Stack's bit (Scene 67, pg. 33/66) really doesn't contribute anything significant and one might have hoped Stacks as a "old Kolchak" might have been a bit more interesting. The bits establishing the tramp as a hypochondriac are also kind of interesting but other then making his death slightly more poignant, don't do much either.

It is interesting to see the nuances that Matheson indicates (Kolchak being "genuinely surprised" Schubert knows the word "vituperation" always cracks me up) and for anyone interested in scriptwriting, reading his work here when he created the teleplay originally from scratch is educational.

The photos at the end of this section are a bit more varied - there is a picture and a set of negatives showing deleted character Janis Watkins (Kate Murtagh). There's a two-page artwork spread by Sterling Clark of Carl entering the Seattle Underground, and what I assume is the cover of a cassette/CD featuring the work of musician Robert Cobert, including his Night Stalker/Strangler music.

The third section is the most extensive and deals with the third unproduced Kolchak TV movie, "The Night Killers." Dawidziak provides a lot more detail on the process that led to the creation of this script and the purported reasons why it went unproduced. He also details the career of writer William Nolan, who Matheson brought in to complete the initial teleplay before he worked on the second draft.

The script itself, never before commonly available, is an interesting twist with the idea of aliens (never seen) using robots to replace top government officials in Hawaii. It bears some basic resemblence to the movie Futureworld, written and produced two years later (and which Nolan and Matheson had no connection to). There are also some similarities, oddly, to Halloween 3: Season of the Witch, written by Tommy Lee Wallace (who was just starting work with John Carpenter on the movie Dark Star around that time, so no likely connection there, either).

For those unfamiliar with The Night Killers' concept, Tony Vincenzo is still working with Lucius Crossbinder, who has taken over his nephew's newspaper operations in Hawaii. Since he needs a decent reporter, Tony manages to (somewhat inexplicably) call up Carl in New York and fly him out to the islands to work on a UFO story. However, Carl quickly becomes involved with a series of mysterious deaths stemming from the lieutenant governor in a car crash and the subsequent explosion in an emergency room where he is at. Someone begins eliminating any potential witnesses and with the aid of a female real estate agent, Carl eventually discovers a conspiracy that spans Hawaii's government and military.

It's curious to speculate how much Nolan was familiar with the previous two movies - the author himself isn't quoted on the matter but the third movie borrows several elements from the previous Night Strangler. Lucius Crossbinder seems a curious choice for a returning character. Had they approached John Carradine at some point and knew of his availability?. It seems odd that they'd select his character as opposed to creating a new one for at least two drafts if they weren't sure on this point. It's not really explained why Crossbinder rehires Vincenzo (for more pay!) or lets Tony rehire Carl, given what happened in Seattle. There is also a quiet newspaper "morgue" chronicler, Mr. Liffy, whom one could imagine Wally Cox playing. We don't find out if these are elements Nolan himself or Matheson added in his second draft.

The story itself pretty closely follows the standard "Kolchak" pattern, right down a real estate agent (not dissimilar to Faye Krueger later in the TV episode "The Vampire.") helping Carl. It's also not dissimilar to those later movies cited above where the intrepid hero doesn't know who to trust, and even the audience isn't sure who is who. It's hard to judge without seeing the finished product, but Nolan does pull off enough twists and turns to keep the reader/viewer guessing - as he noted, in 1974 the whole robot-duplicate thing was fairly unique and it's interesting to see how many movies in more recent years use the stuff seen here that by 2004 are genre cliches.

It's hard to imagine this movie being produced, if for no other reason that there are several action sequences and presumably the filming would have had to take place in Hawaii - I have a hard time imagining ABC would have sprung for the bill in '74 for a TV movie. Still, it's a unique setting even if many of the elements are similar to the first two movies, and it would have been interesting to watch them pull it off.

Afterward there are three Appendices. The first part of Appendix A first covers "Life After Kolchak" and relates what happened in the careers of Curtis, Matheson, et al, as well as providing a brief episode guide to the TV series. The second part of Appendix A featuring more photos, including pictures of Richard Matheson and the awards he won for his script work. Appendix B looks at Matheson's work in TV movies, and Appendix C is entirely new material by Dawidziak as he interviews Matheson about his stories involving vampires and his career in general.

So the question is, is Gauntlet's Script Book worth it to the hardcore Kolchak and/or Matheson fan willing to shell out $150+ dollars? I'd say yes, although with the warning that I don't know what the final (hardbound, I believe) copy will look like. In the front they warn that changes may be made before the final book is printed, although I can't imagine that they would change much of the actual script and introductory content. Also, the $750 autographed lettered edition (52 copies only) will feature autographs by Matheson, Nolan, Dawdiziak, and Dan Curtis, as well as artwork and photos not found in the Numbered $150 ($125 if ordered through Gauntlet) edition. If interested in purchasing, go to Gauntlet Press.

Note: Gauntlet Press provided the following explanation concerning the price of the book:

"To answer the question about rights to "The Night Killers" and a possible novelization, the rights are owned by Dan Curtis who renews his option whenever it runs out. Whether he will eventually produce a film has not been determined. Besides Curtis, there is also the question of rights to the Kolchak character. They are owned by Jeff Rice. At the moment he has no desire to write a novel. If someone else wanted to write a novel based on the script they would have to get permission (and pay) Jeff Rice AND Dan Curtis. These rights issues were quite difficult for Gauntlet Press when we decided to pursue the Kolchak Scripts. Besides Rice and Curtis there was also ABC-TV to deal with, as well as Richard Matheson. It would be redundant to repeat all the costs that went into the book, but ABC allowed us to publish just 500 of the numbered edition. The payment for rights (to so many people) was more expensive than any other book we've published. Printing an oversized 8 1/2 x 11 books was also expensive. Layout, design, etc. the list goes on and on. For those fans who want it for $125 (that is the Gauntlet website price and includes the free chapbook "Kolchak Scripts Extra!), it is not an exorbitant amount and the value will only increase when the book sells out." -- Barry Hoffman, Publisher, Gauntlet Press

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