Friday, February 24, 2012

johnny depp wants to stalk the night

I'm not actually talking about Johnny Depp's upcoming role in Dark Shadows, although I am equal parts nervous and excited about seeing him try on Barnabas Collins's cape. But the latest buzz is that he will appear as Carl Kolchak in a remake or a re-imagining of the classic series Kolchak: The Night Stalker. Again, this could be great or anger-making. I simply adored the show when I was younger. The monster-of-the-week could be anything from a witch to a vampire to a ghost to a werewolf to a Native American evil spirit.

Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak

Of course this speculation just makes me want to dig out my Kolchak: The Night Stalker DVDs and have a mini-marathon. But where to start? The one about Jack the Ripper or aliens or zombies? What was so much fun about the show was that its creatures were from many mythic backgrounds. Joseph Campbell would have approved of the range of monsters that Kolchak found himself up against:
  • A Native American shaman spirit  - "Bad Medicine"
  • A monster made of moss, Creole Père Malfait - "The Spanish Moss Murders"
  • Another Native American spirit, this time a bear, Matchemonedo - "The Energy Eater"
  • A Hindu Rakshasa "Horror In The Heights"
Kolchak with a friend
  • An evil succubus from ancient Mesopotamia - "Demon In Lace"
  • An Aztec mummy - "Legacy of Terror"
  • A resurrected knight -  "The Knightly Murders"
  • An evil Helen of Troy, in search of immortality - "The Youth Killer"
The monsters, like the vast array of demons in Buffy the Vampire Slayer or unexplained creatures in The X Files may have been what delighted the kiddies and got them tuning in, but what made the series great was Darrin McGavin as Kolchak. His crusty, ascerbic delivery. His absolute disregard for authority. His cool convertible and camera which he always carried with him and never managed to get convincing evidence of his latest narrow escape from death. I don't suggest that Depp try to copy his persona — he wouldn't anyway, but would a new Night Stalker work without McGavin? This is not the first attempt to update Kolchak. In 2005 a darker themed series, Night Stalker, starring Stuart Townsend appeared on ABC. But it was missing the humor of the original series and had a short run.

Kolchak in his 1966 Ford Mustang Convertible
I've always enjoyes Depp as an actor, but in recent years it seems that he can only play already iconic characters — John Dillinger, Captain Jack Sparrow, Willy Wonka, The Mad Hatter, Barnabas, soon Tonto in the upcoming The Lone Ranger, and possibly now Kolchak. As much as many maligned his movie with Angelina Jolie, The Tourist, I actually liked it, especially because Depp was playing for most of the film, an ordinary guy in extraordinary circumstances. Has he drifted so far from reality that he can't play real people anymore? Carl Kolchak has a big personality, but he is still a real person. He may be a crack investigative reporter but his real-world status is low on the pay scale. As long as Depp doesn't make his Kolchak try to compete in the weirdness department with his supernatural foes, a new Night Stalker could be interesting. It's probably a good sign that Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World ) and not Depp's frequent eccentric character enabler Tim Burton is set to direct.
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