A The Twilight Zone Community
CBS (ended 1964)
When I first started my long dark night of the soul and started reviewing The Invisible Man (1970s version), imagine my surprise when people thought I hated 70s genre TV, and/or couldn't judge it from my 21st century standpoint. It was surprising for two reasons. First, I said at the beginning of the pilot review that there were 70s genre shows that I liked. There weren't many of them, true, but there were some good ones. Maybe it's just that Invisible Man isn't that great a show. Read my reviews and judge for yourself.

Second of all, I've noted in the past that I'm a big fan of Kolchak: The Night Stalker. So to make sure that I wasn't just imagining things, I decided to watch and review an episode. I picked "The Zombie" because it's among the best of the 20-episode 1-season series. Unlike Invisible Man, Kolchak got worse as it went along. Not horribly worse, and no episode is a total loss. But the first half of the season is a lot stronger than the second half. There are a few other top episodes: "They Have Been...", "The Devil's Platform", and "The Spanish Moss Murders." And "The Zombie" is right up there with them.

Also, Kolchak is a show worth rewatching. I can't imagine going back and rewatching the "Go Directly to Jail" and "Pin Money" episodes of Invisible Man. Heck, I'd think coma patients would get up and walk out rather than watch them a second time. Kolchak is rewatchable. Maybe not every episode once a week for here until the end of eternity. But I usually go back and rewatch the entire series at least once a year. And if I catch a repeat somewhere like Syfy, I'll usually try and watch it.

Why is Kolchak so rewatchable? Part of it is that it has the interesting characters that Invisible Man lacks. Often even a minor character will get a moment or two, or some odd quirk. Maybe it's the writing. David Chase (The Sopranos) was a story consultant for the series, and wrote some of the best episodes, including "The Zombie". And it shows: the episode heavily features the Syndicate and you can see where Chase got his Sopranos stuff from.

It's sad, really: Invisible Man had a lot of the talent with Harve Bennett, Steve Bochco, James Pariott, and Leslie Stevens. But Kolchak had Chase primarily and came out much better.

Part of the rewatchability is Darren McGavin. McGavin may or may not have been an unofficial Executive Producer on the show, but clearly he brought determination and drive to the production. His Kolchak remains an endlessly entertaining character. There's a reason McGavin is the much-beloved Old Man in A Christmas Story, but McGavin always gives a good performance. Whether he's Mike Hammer, or the captain of the Enterprise (in Riverboat, not Star Trek), or David "The Outsider" Ross, or a washed-up actor in Tales from the Darkside, or an elderly vampire in The Hitchhiker, McGavin is always bringing something to the part.

McGavin's Carl Kolchak is a workingman schlub, basically. He's not very smart, he's not very talented, he's not very competent. He thinks he's a much better fast talker than he is, and if he succeeds it's usually because the people he's dealing with are dumber than he is. Carl will inevitably panic, drop the cross, miss with the holy water, or break the mirror at a key moment. But even if he runs, he inevitably turns back and takes on the monster. Like Fox Mulder, Kolchak is dedicated to getting the truth to people, even if they don’t care and he'll take a lot of lumps doing it.

That brings us to "The Zombie." Another reason the show is so good is because McGavin knew how to cast. Kolchak is filled with veteran actors, and "The Zombie" is no exception. One of the highlights of the episode is counting the Twilight Zone alumni. (Which is why I placed it in the TZ community.) You've got regular Simon Oakland, who appeared in "The Rip Van Winkle Caper" and "The Thirty Fathom Grave." You've got Charles Aidman from "Little Girl Lost" and "And When The Sky Was Opened." John Fieldler from "Night of the Meek" and "Cavender is Coming." J. Pat O'Malley from "The Fugitive" and three other episodes. And Scatman Crothers, yet to appear in the "Kick the Can" segment of Twilight Zone: The Movie.

And hey, there's the late Carol Ann Susi as Monique Marmelstein. She may not look familiar, but anybody who watches The Big Bang Theory will recognize her voice as Mrs. Wolowitz.

Howard. Howard!

Take the opening. Kolchak makes a snide remark about how the Syndicate is made up of ruthless men who fear nothing (not), and then gives us a brief bio on two of the minor league mobsters we see. We don't learn much about them: Albert Berg is an incompetent who married the boss' sister, the other is boxer Willie Pike who got run out of the ring for taking a dive and started up with the Syndicate. But that's still more than you ever learned about the main characters in The Invisible Man, much less minor-league security guards.

There's also a nice bit of self-deprecation, when Carl says, "I got into the office before the other idiots arrived." Then Monique shows up and we hear that she got her job through nepotism. Supposedly McGavin hired her because he wanted to avoid the TV trope of a hot blonde secretary. Carl and his boss Tony (Simon Oakland) immediately start bantering. Then they do one of those Joss Whedon-style cuts where a character says one thing, and then they cut to a new scene and we see something ironic happen based on the last bit of dialogue.

Carl and Monique show up at a farm where the police have surrounded two Syndicate men. And hey, there's Charles Aidman! Aidman doesn't have a lot to do this episode, but his character Winwood is unique in that he's the only crooked cop in 20 episodes of Kolchak. It's a relatively rare (secondary) villainous role for Aidman, and he plays it to the hilt.

The overall plot is that when the Syndicate kills a South Side black numbers runner, Francois Edmonds, Francois' grandmother resurrects him as a zombie. Francois is decimating the Syndicate men, snapping their spines and ignoring their bullets. Winwood is working for the Syndicate and has a motive besides just thinking Carl is a nosy jerk. He's busy trying to cover up his own involvement with the Syndicate and the fact that the zombie is gunning for him.

And hey, there's John Fieldler as Gordon "Gordy the Ghoul" Spangler. Like Ms. Susi, Fieldler would show up for a couple of more episodes of Kolchak and then disappear. Gordy runs the Chicago morgue and has a lottery based on the birth years of the corpses he looks over. Again, more characterization that you'll see with any character on Invisible Man.

There's also some more 90s-style dialogue exchanges here as Carl gets on the phone to Tony. Tony is worried that Monique's uncle is going to come down on him, while Carl and Gordy talk about a corpse with chicken blood in its ears.

And there's J. Pat O'Malley, who starts griping about having to put two bodies in the same plot because it's against union regs. Again, he doesn't do much, but he hams up what little part he has.

Even if we don’t see it, there's Carl describing his investigation into the South Side numbers racket. The voiceover saves a lot of time and screen effort, and gives the writers the chance to introduce characterization for bit players without having to waste screen time on it.

And there's Scatman Crothers, as a houngan voodoo shop owner. And in comes Antonio Fargas (Huggy Bear on Starsky & Hutch) as Sweetstick Weldon, a numbers operator. This is only the second episode of Kolchak, but we'll hear several times about how he's already made enemies of Sweetstick, Winwood, and later mob boss Sposato. Carl grovels a bit and then meets with another oddball contact: "The Monk."

And there's Joseph Sirola, a veteran actor who popped up in the early 60s and was still acting as of 2010. He's as interested in his granddaughter's ballet recital as he is in Syndicate business. Unfortunately, there's a bit of racism as he refers to Francois as a "coconut." Carl tries to record a meeting and mucks up, and Sposato is as fond of him as everyone else because Carl crashed his daughter's wedding. And there's Val Bisoglio, probably best known from Quincy M.E.. His character is named Victor Friese: hmmm. Although it's pronounce fre-A-see here.

So they're off to the cemetery to dig up Francois. J. Pat O'Malley's character wanders up and asks if they're scabs, which is a nice carryover from earlier and again gives his character a little more... character. The coffin is empty except for corn kernels and a dead chicken, and Sposato and Victor start arguing back and forth about who ordered the hit as Carl watches and smirks. Then in a fairly creepy sequence, Francois steps out of the shadows, smashes aside the mobsters, and breaks Victor's back before walking off.

Carl tracks down Mamalois Edmonds, played by Paulene Myers who had a thankless role as a troubled mother in The Invisible Man. Here she gets to ham it up as a seemingly dotty old lady who watches TV and does voodoo rituals in her spare time. Francois is her grandson and the idea of her resurrecting him as a zombie is mildly creepy.

Anyhoo, cue the last commercial break and Carl tracking down Sposato. Francois has snapped his back and Carl and Monique arrive. When they find the corpses, Carl tosses a shell-shocked Monique into a taxi and sends her back to her uncle in New York (she'll be back). He then spots Francois getting on public transportation (one of the smaller side jokes: nobody notices) and going to a "place of the dead": a hearse in an auto junkyard.

In a still creepy-sequence even by modern-day standards, Carl has to climb into the hearse with the corpse, fill the dormant zombie's mouth with salt, and slowly stitch the lips together. This is all intercut with Mamalois performing her voodoo ritual to send Francois after Kolchak. Francois wakes up and goes after Kolchak, who runs like a bunny. Francois is no traditional zombie: he charges like the defensive back actor Earl Faison was in real life (and just passed away a couple of weeks ago).

*If you're sensitive to racial issues, skip the next paragraph and image*

Fortunately, there's a backup way to kill a zombie: strangle it while burning white candles. Carl gets to lynch a black man, by using a suspended iron cable as a noose. He then pops the white candles on a hubcap and slides them beneath the dangling zombie, ending its existence once and for all.


Anyhoo, as is usually the case, Carl's camera is destroyed with the evidence and he ends up writing a story no one will ever read.

Overall, "The Zombie" is one of the great ones. Yeah, Kolchak may have been filmed on a shoestring budget. The Francois zombie makeup looks like a baggy body suit but at least they keep it in the shadows until the very end and even then you don't get a good look at it.

The main strength of the episode is the characterization. Everyone with a speaking role, and several characters without, have some little bit of business that makes it look like they're real people, not just actors playing a role. Everyone looks like they're having a blast, and the writing is sharp.

If you don't believe me, check out the episode below on Youtube.

But that's just my opinion, I may be wrong. What do you think?

Comments (6)
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Jun 28, 2016
One my favorite shows of all time. McGavin was the best as Kolchak. Couldn't get enough of all the crazy, monsters and humor each ep. Huggy Bear and Hong Kong Phooey in the same ep...gotta love it!
Jun 28, 2016
Kolchak is on netflix too.
I can appreciate your liking the show. My father is a big fan but unfortunately I got to see a few episodes of it and could only think, this has got to end. While you may be right about the acting, for me it was just too cheesy. I have found that most shows I liked when I was younger, even ones made before I was born do not hold the same quality for me anymore. I will always enjoy 80s comedies like Cheers and Night Court, earlier stuff like Hogan's Heroes but you can also notice it is a pattern of comedies. Even the episodes of Star Trek I liked as a kid do not hold that same appeal anymore for me. Tribbles being the exception (a funny episode so there is a pattern here).

Jun 28, 2016
It depends on which episodes you watch. The earlier episodes hold up pretty well. But if you watched something like "The Youth Killer" or "The Sentry," I can understand your feelings.

I wouldn't say any episode is a total waste. But there's a definite slide in quality once they knew they were going to get cancelled. And after the long hours that McGavin & Co. had put in started to catch up with them.
Jun 28, 2016
I wish I could recall the ones i saw exactly, it was like 3 different ones, trying to give it a try, I know one involved a werewolf and a ship. It just came off as cheesy to me. My father actually told me to watch some, because he really liked it, so I gave it a chance but just couldn't get into it. I would never claim it is the worst thing, I have seen much worst but it could not hold my interest.
Jun 28, 2016
"The Werewolf" is episode #5, but it's arguably the worst of the first half of the episodes. Bad werewolf costume, dated swinger references, said swingers wearing dated 70s outfits. Kolchak kind of exists in a timeless void since Kolchak himself is dressed like a 40s reporter. Most episodes, you could reset them in the modern day with little problem. "The Werewolf" isn't one of those.

It does have actors Henry Jones, Nita Talbot, and Eric Braeden. Unfortunately, it also has Dick Gautier and Bob Hastings, neither of which I'm too fond of.

It was one of the episodes that David Chase wrote, but one suspects it was an early script since Paul Playdon was the co-writer. Universal dropped Playdon as the official Series Producer after two episodes, and replaced him with Cy Chermak. I suspect Playdon did most of the writing, because it has the same tacky writing that brings down Episode #1, "The Ripper."
Jun 29, 2016
you definitely do your research. I couldn't tell you half this stuff about shows I love.
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