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  • Classic Horrors Club

TV Terror Guide: Kolchak the Night Stalker (The Spanish Moss Murders)


Air Date: Dec. 6, 1974

Written by: Alvin R. Friedman and David Chase

Story by: Alvin R. Friedman

Directed by: Gordon Hessler

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Monster of the Week: Pere Malfait

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Kolchak is supposed to be going to the dentist.

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Kolchak suspects the supernatural when green “stuff” (or, later, “glop”) is found on the body of a chef that died from chest contusions.

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Kolchak’s theory is that the man lying unconscious for a narcolepsy experiment has brought to life a Cajun boogeyman by dreaming.

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He stops the threat by staking him with a stick made of bayou gum wood.

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Postscript:

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All evidence was washed away.

Comments:

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Richard Kiel returns as the creature in an episode you might call, Kolchak Meets Swamp Thing, playing a Cajun boogeyman brought to life by an unconscious man’s dreams. He’s got size going for him, but his costume does him no favors. Luckily, it’s seen only in the shadows and the extent of his threat is vividly described in the words of the script rather than by the imagery of the episode.

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The Spanish Moss Murders is unique (so far) for its portrayal of the “police captain of the week.” Played by the great Keenan Wynn, his obligatory past relationship with Kolchak is developed into a full-fledged (and funny) plot point. Kolchak knows him from a time he was called “Mad Dog” because of his temper. But Cpt. Siska is now attempting to live a 1970’s I’m OK – You’re OK lifestyle.

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All it takes is a reunion with Kolchak to quickly send Siska spiraling. He’s just so darned persistent. I mean, if the green stuff on a dead chef’s body is merely salad, why did the police take samples? Kolchak questions all the conclusions of the cases, especially when a suspect is arrested that is physically incapable of crushing a man’s chest.

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The Spanish Moss Murders does a better job than most episodes (so far) of including us in Kolchak’s investigation so that we understand how he reaches his own outrageous conclusions. Here, though, it’s almost at the sacrifice of participation from the supporting cast. While appearing in two scenes, the presence of Vincenzo, Updyke, and Miss Emily is not as heavily felt as usual.

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The formula for the third act stalking and killing of the monster is tweaked when a utility truck parks on top of a manhole cover, trapping Kolchak in the sewer with the monster. The location of the final showdown adds to the creep factor. Not only is he fighting a swamp thing, but he’s also doing it in sewer water that’s knee-, sometimes waist-, deep. Oh… and there are rats in the sewer.

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It’s also unique that the creature is specifically stalking Kolchak because he could destroy its existence. Our main character defensively fighting for his life instead of simply offensively hunting it increases the suspense. There’s less humor in The Spanish Moss Murders than most episodes (so far) and fewer notable quotes, but the series continues to fire on the cylinders it’s using.

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Finally, it’s important to note that Gordon Hessler, known for big screen genre fare like The Oblong Box, Scream & Scream Again, and The Golden Voyage of Sinbad, directed the episode. I can’t help but wonder if part of the formula for Kolchak: The Night Stalker included bringing in a horror movie director every week, the series might have sustained its quality and lasted more than 20 episodes.

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