• Classic Horrors Club

TV Terror Guide: Kolchak the Night Stalker (Mr. R.I.N.G.)


Air Date: Jan. 10, 1975

Written by: L. Ford Neale & John Huff

Directed by: Gene Levitt

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Monster of the Week: Robot

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Kolchak is supposed to be writing the obituary for a dead scientist.

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Kolchak suspects something is rotten when he learns the dead scientist worked for a secret government facility.

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Kolchak’s theory is that a robot developed a mind of its own and killed its creator to ensure its survival.

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He stops the threat by asking the robot a philosophical question that it can’t answer.

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Quotes:

What do you want me to do, embalm him?
You a reporter? No, the county assessor.
I’m not exactly Jimmy Olsen, cub reporter.
There’s a mysterious scoop of something on your tax dollar pie.
They get nervous around loudmouths. I'll just whisper.

Postscript:

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Kolchak believes he was taken somewhere and drugged so that he didn’t remember anything about the government experiment.

Comments:

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I didn’t expect to like Mr. R.I.N.G. as much as I did. I mean, a 1970s television robot that’s obviously a man in a padded suit with a hoodie that holds a faceplate made to look like a circuitry board… Surprisingly, it really works. In fact, when said robot breaks into a mortuary to steal a makeup kit, then proceeds to create a human face on a mask he stole, the result is creepier than some other Night Stalker monsters.

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This episode breaks all the rules or tropes of the series. The threat isn’t supernatural. In fact, the obvious threat isn’t really the threat. Instead, it’s the government. When I hear that Kolchak: the Night Stalker was an influence on The X-Files, I always think it’s because of the monsters. Here, though, I recognize the government conspiracy angle, even though it has nothing to do with aliens.

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It’s also a particularly strong episode for dialogue, making up for episodes where I could barely identify even one funny quote. And the relationships among the supporting cast really shine. When Kolchak is suspicious of Updyke’s good mood, Miss Emily tells him it’s because he’s in trouble. Then, after he talks with Vincenzo, she asks if he was fired (knowing full well he wasn’t.)

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Believe it or not, I even fell victim to a jump scare! When Kolchak finds Dr. Leslie Dwyer (Corinne Camacho) lying on a couch, he fears she’s another murder victim. However, when he reaches down to check her pulse, she’s suddenly startled awake. It caught me by surprise in the comfort of my own living room. Let’s credit Gene Levitt, who directed only this one episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker.

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In another departure from formula, Kolchak isn’t trying to kill the “monster.” He doesn’t necessarily try to protect it, but he does have a civil conversation with it and discourage the police from angering it. (It’s the police who ultimately “kill” it.) Effectively stumping R.I.N.G. with a philosophical question demonstrates how intelligent Kolchak is. I never doubt it, but that’s not usually the first word I use to describe him.

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Finally, we have a guest appearance (in only a couple of scenes) by the lovely Julie Adams. She plays Mrs. Walker, the wife of the dead scientist, with sadness and humor. She’s like a grown up version of Kay Lawrence who took to the bottle after her encounter with the Creature from the Black Lagoon. I loved it when she told Kolchak, drink in hand, that she had sobered up.

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Mr. R.I.N.G. was smartly written by L. Ford Neale and John Huff, who also wrote Bad Medicine, an episode I rated an eight. They also wrote an episode I haven’t watched yet, The Sentry. If it’s as good as these two, we might have a couple nominees for best Kolchak: The Night Stalker writers. We’ll see. In the meantime, I’d be happy to watch this one again.

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