• Classic Horrors Club

TV Terror Guide 10-18-19: Kolchak the Night Stalker (Firefall)



Air Date: Nov. 8, 1974

Written by: Bill S. Ballinger

Directed by: Don Weis

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Monster of the Week: Doppelganger

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Kolchak is supposed to be writing an article about homeowner fraud.

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Kolchak suspects the supernatural when the only evidence at the scene of a murder is a charred spot in the shape of the victim.

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Kolchak’s theory is that a malicious spirit is trying to possess the body of someone it admires.

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He stops the threat by grave robbing the physical body of the malicious spirit and dragging it to the location of his its murder, an arcade. Then, when the spirit appears, he commands it to return to its body. Since the spirit is a firestarter, the arcade erupts in flames.

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Quote(s):

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Kolchak: Mrs. Sherman, do you remember me? I was with Sergeant Mayer. Mrs. Sherman: Well, he certainly takes a dim view of you. Kolchak: Well, he's a little dimwitted anyway.

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Tony: When you get back to the swindle and fraud stories, write about how you're employed here – which is one of the biggest swindles in memory.

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Maria: It's just terrible to be broke and superstitious at the same time.

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Kolchak: Grave robbing and body snatching are still a crime in Chicago so I had to do it myself.

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Postscript:

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Kolchak is booked on charges of arson, but looks forward to a good night's sleep in the slammer.

Comments:

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Firefall is the first episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker to create its own "monster of the week." Prior to it, we saw the familiar threats of Jack the Ripper, a zombie, an alien, a vampire, and a werewolf. With my disappointment in the last episode (The Werewolf), this unique approach was just what I needed to restore my faith in the series. (Remember, though, even a weak episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker is a good episode.)

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Writer Bill S. Ballinger takes dramatic license with the term "doppelganger" and applies it to a ghost that's also a "firestarter" (that's my term, applying a little Stephen King in a new way, as well.) During his funeral procession, a murdered arsonist named Frankie Marco attaches itself to an impatient driver that speeds in front of the hearse. It's incredibly coincidental that this driver is a famous conductor and that Frankie was a big fan of classical music.

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When the ghost appears, he looks like the conductor, Ryder Bond (Fred Beir), which causes confusion among the police, one group of witnesses that see him at crime scenes, and another group that sees him at rehearsals and concerts. With his firestarting abilities, his victims spontaneously combust, adding yet another mysterious element to the plot. It's almost tangential; however, Kolchak does research news stories about the phenomenon.

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In a pre-Charlie's Angels guest appearance, David Doyle (Bosley) is an expert on fire and flammability (I don't know what you call that.) He tells Kolchak it would take a "couple thousand" degrees to burn up a human body in 15-20 seconds. He supposes there's a military chemical that would do that. It's a fun scene, especially with the test burning of an artificial Christmas tree, but ultimately has very little to do with the actual culprit, a red herring, I guess.

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It's an unseen visit to the "university" that informs Kolchak of doppelgangers, as they're defined here. Even though the "experts" tell him about their theoretical existence, they also suggest that Kolchak visit a psychiatrist. That's when Kolchak says, "Book are OK, but there's nothing like a gypsy girl," and visits Maria (Madlyn Rhue.) To me the seemingly love/hate relationship with women from his past is one of the most endearing (and entertaining) qualities of the character.

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When Kolchak explains to Bond, the eventual final victim, his theory and plan to stop the doppelganger, Bond asks, "You're doing this all for a story?" Yes, but there are higher stakes, as well: Kolchak is on the spirit's hit list, so he's also trying to save his own skin. The two find solace on the pews of a church; that is, until the spirit peeks through the window and rap-tap-taps on it. Kolchak takes the most extreme methods yet to stop the threat.

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Again, the story works really well. When we're as unfamiliar with the monster as Kolchak is, it's a mystery for us to solve, as well. We can truly be surprised. Instead of saying, "Oh, this week it's a vampire" or "This week it's a werewolf," we are intrigued. What is it going to be this week… I don't think I know this one. Such uncertainty heightens the impact of the regular tropes of the series. The episodes seem funnier, wittier and scarier.


This weeks notable television guest appearances (October 18-25 Early AM, 2019):


Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Barbara Bel Geddes (19th), Steve Forrest (22nd), Denholm Elliott, Hazel Court, Fay Wray, Keenan Wynne (23rd), Jessica Tandy (24th), Hume Cronyn, Julie Adams (25th)

The Invaders: Andrew Prine, Dawn Wells (19th)

The Outer Limits: Robert Duvall (22nd, 23rd), Robert Webber (24th)

Star Trek: Eleanor Donahue (19th)

Thriller: John Carradine, Bruce Dern (21st)

The Twilight Zone: Robert Lansing, Mariette Hartley (21st), Richard Long (23rd), Shelley Fabares, Denver Pyle, Michael Conrad (24th)

Wonder Woman: Celeste Holm (19th)

Click here to see consolidated, real-time listings

for classic horror movies and television shows airing this week.

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