Friday, July 28, 2006

DVD Review

Okay, somewhat off the beaten path of archaeology, but there is some in here. I just got a copy of the DVDs for the old TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker. It was kind of a cult hit in 1974-75 and only lasted one season. The set itself doesn't have a lot of production quality to it -- there are no extras like a "making of" minidocumentary, no interviews, etc., and the disks themselves have no graphics at all, just off-the-shelf burned DVDs. The set also doesn't contain either of the pilot movies (The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler) which is a pity because both of those were excellent TV movies.

It's well-known that Chris Carter drew much inspiration for The X-Files from this series and its monster-of-the-week formula. Anyone who was around during the 70s and earlier will also reconigze a lot of actors from back then making guest appearances: Keenan Wynn, Scatman Crothers, Phill Silvers, etc. Some episodes were markedly better than others; when they concentrated on suspense and worked around a limited monster budget, it worked very well. Other times, not so good. One of the last episodes, about a giant lizard terrorizing an underground complex, was rather embarrasingly obvious as a man in a lizard suit.

A great deal of its appeal was McGavin, of course, who recently passed away. He was sort of an anti-hero -- no gun, no special abilities, no badge, no immense resources -- which made his exploits seem close to us normal folk. Would any of us sneak into an abandoned car and try to sew the lips of a zombie shut? Sheesh. He rushed sort of headlong into things and that was what made it click, along with McGavin's humorous portrayal.

Archaeologically, they worked some things into it. One of my first archy-memories is of the Demon in Lace episode which involved a succubus who was associated with a Mesopotamian (?) tablet, which Kolchak had to destroy to get rid of the demon. The ep creeped me out something awful. There was also one where modern-day Aztec cultists commit a series of sacrifices, and works the 52-year cycle of time used in that calendrical system.

The two pilot movies are sold separately. Interestingly, The Night Strangler is set in Seattle where I attended graduate school. This was the first time I'd ever heard of "Seattle" and was rather disappointed when I actually got here and found out that the really cool "Seattle Underground" wasn't a bunch of full-size buildings underground complete with working streetlights. Bummer. Still had the serial killers though.