Most television series that get a DVD release run at least a few seasons, their broadcast success being evidence of the level of interest in them. But there are exceptions, series that ran no more than a season or two but still justify themselves on DVD, either through their sheer quality -- The Honeymooners' "classic 39" filmed shows are a good example -- or when their subject matter creates a cult following. Kolchak: The Night Stalker, derived from the character (played by Darren McGavin) in two made-for-television features, The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler, fits into the latter category. McGavin plays a somewhat down-at-the-heels veteran reporter who has a penchant for stumbling onto news stories involving the bizarre and supernatural, including Jack the Ripper appearing in modern-day Chicago, a vampire-prostitute stalking Los Angeles, the occasional government or industry conspiracy and cover-up; and, in a burst of unexpected modern relevance, one instance of a politician who has literally sold his soul to the devil, with dire consequences for all around him. A premature venture into the same territory mined more successfully by Chris Carter in The X-Files, the series ran for one season on ABC in the mid-'70s, all-but-buried in a Friday-night time slot, but it's been extremely popular in syndicated and cable reruns for decades and was also successfully recut into a string of feature-length television programs. Universal has done a good enough job on this release, but nothing special -- there are no bonus features and each of the 20 episodes is divided up into four chapters marking the major commercial breaks in the program. The transfers (full screen, 1.33:1) do the show greater clarity than some reruns of it on television, with the fact that the episodes are full-length particularly appealing to those who only saw it cut for syndication or recut to feature programs. The sound is also clean and sharp. The three double-sided discs all open to multi-layer menus that are easy to use, and contain eight, eight, and four episodes, respectively, running slightly more than 50 minutes each, and the first disc opens with a promo reel for other Universal TV shows on DVD, which can be skipped. The best of the programs, and that's well more than half, still hold up for creepiness and their underlying notions and ideas. Comparisons with The X-Files are inevitable, although both the horror and the humor here are decidedly more extrovert, and the series was also known for its cold-bloodedness regarding the treatment of sympathetic characters who, up to this time in television, would almost always be expected to survive in the stories. Writers and directors included first-rate talent such as Jimmy Sangster ("Horror in the Heights") and Don Weis ("The Vampire"), and the series also sported a memorably creepy, cello-dominated main theme by Gil Melle.
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