• Classic Horrors Club

TV Terror Guide: Kolchak the Night Stalker (Chopper)


Air Date: Jan. 31, 1975

Written by: Steve Fisher and David Chase

Story by: Robert Zemeckis & Bob Gale

Directed by: Bruce Kessler

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Monster of the Week: Headless motorcycle rider

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Kolchak suspects the supernatural when he realizes the person riding the motorcycle would have to have had superhuman strength to swing a sword, no matter now fast it was going.

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Kolchak’s theory is that a biker decapitated 19 years earlier in a booby trap gone wrong, has returned for revenge.

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He stops the threat by throwing the rider's skull at him as he races toward him.

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Quotes:

There's an old simple axiom about the dead: Don't disturb them, not for any reason at all. Well, I decided to ignore that, and, so, I was almost beheaded by a phantom sword.
And you're supposed to be the brightest and the youngest captain on the force, huh? Well, you're not even fit to be captain of the Rockettes!
And you're telling me that I should go into a barn of bones, and-and find someone's skull, and then play pin-the-head-on-the-stump? (Captain Jonas)

Postscript:

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Vincenzo won't even look at Kolchak's pictures, much less publish his story. The cyclist is at rest and Captain Jonas is demoted to traffic duty.

Comments:

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At the same time a headless motorcycle rider is racing around town, Chicago’s conveniently hosting a guillotine exhibit! This allows Kolchak an opportunity to learn all about the unearthly events that occurred as a result of beheadings during the French Revolution. No motorcycles back then, but headless specters were seen walking the streets of Paris.

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The prissy curator of the exhibit also suggests a method for putting such specters to rest: reuniting the bodies and heads so they can be buried together. So that’s why everyone’s hunting for a head-sized canister in a warehouse when the cemetery to which it belongs is relocated because a corporation bought the land… and that’s why the headless motorcycle rider wants to kill anyone who gets near it.

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This episode is not one of the best and it’s not one of the worst. It’s just… fun, especially when the rider goes all Evel Knievel and jumps the police car that shows up to pursue it. The monster-of-the-week itself is not terribly threatening, but give it a sword and point it in your direction at top speed… I’d recommend jumping out of the way.

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Larry Linville plays Captain Jonas, another cop from Kolchak’s past that has now been promoted. It’s not a recurring role, but sure makes you long to hear the story of how the two first met and what adventure turned them into such sparring partners. Then again, Kolchak does the same thing with almost every other authority figure that he encounters.

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Jim Backus also appears in a cameo, one scene in which he plays a motorcycle dealer. It’s a joy whenever he’s a guest star on any TV show. Here, you can imagine that Thurston Howell III made his fortune by selling motorcycles; or, went into motorcycle sales when he was finally rescued from that damned island. The camera lingers to give him one last humorous moment.

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Chopper is based on a story by Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale (Back to the Future.) You have to imagine that’s where some of the fun originates, especially since the regular writers, Rudolph Borchert and David Chase, were responsible for some of my least favorite episodes of the series. I’d love to know more about their involvement, especially since three years later, it was nothing but the big screen for them.

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In the one episode he directed, Bruce Kessler employs an interesting style when depicting the murders. The picture is frozen as soon as the rider gets close enough to chop off a victim’s head, but we see reaction shots of witnesses that do a terrific job of showing us how horrible the beheadings must be. You know you’re not going to see the gore on a mid-70s TV show, but the effect nevertheless provides chills.

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