The Night Strangler (1973 USA)

nightstranglercsGet this straight, dear reader. No carnival or hooplah tactics will be tolerated in this review. This isn’t Funtown USA. I have standards here at highteadreams. I will mind my Ps and Qs with this post, Mr Crossbinder. I will hue precisely to the mark. Or I will be banished to Puyallup to live out the rest of my days as a daffodil. Failure to live up to this may result in yours truly going schizoid. He will be wearing robes and a crown soon! Fans of this Kolchak classic will recognize some of the preceding phrases as dialogue from The Night Strangler.

Richard Matheson’s dialogue is quite special, from the staccato delivery of Carl’s hardboiled narrative, with its wit and humour, to the constant play on words and phrases. Good stuff. And the casting is simply overwhelming. Kolchak enters the creepy old environs of underground Seattle and out of the shadows pops Al Lewis (Grandpa Munster)! Need advice on ghouls, warlocks, alchemists and the like? What better expert than Oz’ Wicked Witch of the West, Margaret Hamilton, as the so aptly named Professor Crabwell. And, in a carryover effect from the first movie, John Carradine’s Llewellyn Crossbinder operates as the most sinister and unsympathetic figure in the movie, just like Kent Smith did in The Night Stalker.

In comparison, even Richard Anderson’s Strangler emerges with a bit of sympathy at the end, a semi-tragic figure of sorts. Reporter Kolchak finds himself working for the Seattle newspaper thanks to Vincenzo, who puts him on his first assignment that involves the strangulation of a young woman one night. Then suddenly another one occurs, but the strange thing was that there was a puncture wound on their necks and loss of blood. Can it be happening again? Kolchak goes about trying to present his case to the narrow-minded police and while also trying to convince his bosses. But nobody seems to want the truth, which leads Kolchak digging himself into more trouble where the answers lie in the ruins of old Seattle, the fire-shattered ghost town under the city. This is where things get lonely… creepy…

night stranglerReally, it’s just a conventional retread of the first film, but with a change of scenery (which makes good use of atmosphere and sense of a real place) if a tad stronger in its cohesive story developments of the ironically rewarding formula, and McGavin is as lively as ever. Some of the best moments involve the sparring between Kolchak and Vincenzo. There’s much more here. “I came to Seattle for some piece and quiet. What do I get? You again. And another crazy story.” Kolchak researches, follows clues, speak to witnesses and harasses the police force in telling them how to do their jobs before some sort of conspiracy cover-up ends it all.

Things seem sombre and dark, although the ending isn’t downbeat like before, even opening things up for the television series to eventuate. Dan Curtis does a sturdy job in the director’s chair, illustrating touches of suspense, intrigue and atmosphere in a brisk manner. Nothing spectacular, but effective because of a clever screenplay and rich performances. Jo Ann Pflug is spirited and Scott Brady adds starch to his part as police captain. I can’t help finishing this off by noting that less than a year after this was aired Ted Bundy began killing young women in Seattle. Life was imitating art and Seattle had a new mystery on its hands…creepy!



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