• Classic Horrors Club

TV Terror Guide: Kolchak the Night Stalker (Primal Scream)


Air Date: Jan. 17, 1975

Written by: Bill Ballinger & David Chase

Directed by: Robert Scheerer

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Monster of the Week: Ape man

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Kolchak suspects the supernatural when the “messy death” of a scientist includes a missing arm.

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Kolchak’s theory is that frozen cells from the Arctic, millions of years old, thawed and reproduced, evolving into an ape man.

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Quotes:

Well, it looks like a freezer, but it’s so hot and damp and humid in here, you could steam littleneck clams.
It stinks, too. It smells of mildew. Phew! (Kolchak) Maybe it’s your undershirt. (Capt. Molnar) Could be your jokes. (Kolchak)
Let them have the cabbage. We here at I.N.S. will feast on journalistic filet mignon.
I called to make an appointment and you put me on hold. By the time you came back on to tell me to call back, my hair had grown down over the receiver.

Postscript:

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The police and their “high-priced scientific help” tranquilize the creature and take it away, Kolchak assumes to be tested, studied, and probed. (They also confiscate his camera.)

Comments:

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A highlight of this episode is its supporting cast, beginning with John Marley as Captain Maurice Molnar, who has a particularly funny repartee with Kolchak (see Quotes above.) Horror aficionados will recognize him from movies like Dead of Night (1974) and It Lives Again (1978), but he was also in the little known, low budget film, The Godfather (1972.)

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Blink and you’ll miss him, but this was the first credit for actor Creed Bratton (The Office) as “Man Entering Laboratory.” I must have blinked, because I did indeed miss him. I’ll watch more closely when I catch the episode of Quincy M.E. in which he appeared as “Boy – at table.”

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Some familiar sitcom faces appear as guest stars, including Jamie Farr (M*A*S*H), Pat Harrington (One Day at a Time), and Barbara Rhoades (Soap.) Farr is a standout as Jack Burton, a biology professor with a chip on his shoulder because his colleagues are historically called to consult on cases while he's overlooked.

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From the regular supporting cast, Jack Grinnage has a good episode as Updyke foolishly tries to compete with Kolchak with a practical joke regarding a parking spot. He should know better than to mess with the master, though. Kolchak usually ends up with the upper hand… and the better parking spot.

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Kolchak’s measures to get to the bottom of a story seem to become more extreme in Primal Scream. He breaks into the captain’s office to steal photos and later wraps himself in a blanket and rolls down the halls of a hospital in a wheelchair to gain access to a witness.

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Similar to Mr. R.I.N.G., Kolchak doesn’t end up stalking the monster in order to kill it; he just wants a good picture. It’s the police who apprehend it. Writers Bill S. Ballinger & David Chase and director Robert Scheerer miss a great opportunity for a jump scare while Kolchak creeps through an underground tunnel looking for the ape man. The set up is there, but the punch line is not executed.

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The ape man is not the best costume or make-up in the series (so far), but neither is it the worst. (That honor belongs to the werewolf in episode five.) It didn’t distract me from the story, though… I mean, a primitive ape man is mostly man, so a real person appearing through the cracks is not a complete travesty.

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With a few tweaks, Primal Scream may have been a better episode, but it’s not horrible. We’re on the downhill side of the series’s 20-episode run and it’s all very familiar… like a comfortable suit that you wear and makes you feel good… a blue seersucker suit, perhaps.

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