The Night Stalker is a 1972 made-for-TV horror film produced by Dan Curtis (of Dark Shadows fame), directed by John Llewelyn Mosley, and written by Richard Matheson, who adapted the unpublished novel The Kolchak Papers by Jeff Rice.
A mysterious Serial Killer (Barry Atwater) stalks Las Vegas at night, murdering prostitutes and draining them of their blood. When cynical and outspoken investigative reporter Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) is pulled from vacation by his boss Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland) to delve into the murders, he begins to suspect that the culprit is actually a vampire, or at least believes himself to be one. With the authorities refusing to listen to him—even as the killer manages to mysteriously avoid them and demonstrates Super-Strength—Kolchak must convince them of the killer's true nature, stop the menace, and get a good story out of it in the process.
Originally broadcast on ABC on January 11, 1972, the film received the highest ratings of a television film at the time, and was followed by a 1973 sequel, The Night Strangler, and a 1974–75 weekly series, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, which, while only lasting one season, became a beloved Cult Classic for its genuinely disturbing content and quirky dark humor.
- Adaptational Nice Guy: D.A. Tom Paine, Sheriff Warren A. Butcher, and Chief Ed Masterson are all horrible people, but they were even worse in the original novel, where they were highly corrupt, explicitly bigoted, ambitious, and flat out killed some of the witnesses after they revealed the truth.
- And I Must Scream: The unfortunate victim Skorzeny keeps strapped to a bed and gagged to use as a human blood bank, constantly feeding on her and draining her blood, but not killing her like his other victims. He clearly takes pleasure in doing this to her, too.
- Ax-Crazy: Janos Skorzeny, the eponymous Night Stalker, acts like a feral animal with several acts of sadism, and he murders pretty much anyone who has the misfortune of getting in his way, figuratively and literally.
- Characterization Marches On: Kolchak is far less snarky, hammy, and jokey than in the second film and the series, being depicted as a more serious character. A lot of this has to do with the darker mood of this film than the rest of the franchise.
- Classical Movie Vampire: Skorzeny dresses like one, but he's anything but, behaving like a feral animal who never talks onscreen.
- Deadpan Snarker: Kolchak, albeit to a lesser extent than in the later installments.
- Destination Defenestration: During his assault on the hospital, Skorzeny throws an unfortunate orderly trying to subdue him out a window. The orderly's corpse is seen laying on the street when the police and Kolchak arrive.
- Downer Ending: Kolchak manages to kill Skorzeny, but Masterson and Butcher print a false story so they won't have to admit to the public there was a real vampire and they smugly use trumped up murder charges to blackmail Kolchak into leaving Vegas, pressuring Jenks to go along with it. When Kolchak asks to if he can tell his girlfriend Gail, who he had just proposed too, Butcher smugly reveals he had forced her to leave earlier. Now jobless and broke, Kolchak desperately tried to find her but gives up, and writes a book about the events, which The Night Strangler reveals was never accepted to be published (though the novelization reveals he did get the book published, but he had to flee from goons sent by the authorities back in Las Vegas to silence him, menacing he didn't get any of the profits). And an episode of the series reveals that, although most of his victims were cremated, one was overlooked and was able to kill several more people.
- Early-Installment Weirdness: The film has a far more grim and cynical tone than the series that followed it, and lacked much of the franchise's trademark humor. Vincenzo also has far less screentime, serving as a minor character.
- Friend on the Force: FBI Agent Bernie Jenks, who is the only authority figure within the franchise to actually help Kolchak, and even helps him kill Skorzeny. Subverted in the end, as Masterson and Butcher force him into going along with forcing Kolchak out of Las Vegas.
- Heroic BSoD: Kolchak, after the Downer Ending.
- Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Kolchak's girlfriend Gail Foster.
- Jerkass: Sheriff Warren A. Butcher, an aggressive hothead who constantly insults Kolchak even when he's trying to help, and takes great glee in running him out of town and separating him from Gail permanently.
- Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Kolchak, who in spite of his abrasiveness and outspokenness being played more seriously, still tries to work in tandem with the authorities to stop Skorzeny, puts himself in danger by remaining in Skorzeny's house to rescue the blood bank victim, and he is nothing but kind to Gail, who he worries about and tries to help quit being a prostitute because he's afraid she will become one of Skorzeny's victims.
- Karma Houdini: Masterson and Butcher.
- Lighter and Softer: Than The Kolchak Papers. It lacks most of the novel's gore and it's darkest moments, like the implication that Skorzeny had repeatedly raped two of his victims, and the Las Vegas authorities killing several of the witnesses. However, it also takes out most of the novel's humor, and makes the Downer Ending into a complete Gut Punch.
- Mysterious Past: Much of Skorzeny's past is a mystery, particularly how he became a vampire.
- No Good Deed Goes Unpunished: Kolchak's reward for killing Skorzeny and rescuing the victim he was using as a human blood bank is to be run out of town and left broke.
- Noun Verber: The Night Stalker.
- One-Man Army: Skorzeny is at his full power at night, and is able to murder five orderlies barehanded during his attack on the hospital, and he singlehandedly fends off several highly trained cops and severely injured and kills several of them.
- Pragmatic Adaptation: It's generally a faithful adaptation of The Kolchak Papers, but it changes and swaps character names, merges characters, and jettisons ones that are unnecessary to the plot.
- Smug Snake: Chief Masterson. He turns it up when he blackmails Kolchakout of Las Vegas.
- Suit with Vested Interests: Masterson and Butcher try to cover up and downplay the murders as much as possible to make sure that the tourist industry is not jeopardized and, at least in Masterson's case, making himself and the police force look good.
- Ungrateful Bastard: After Kolchak kills Skorzeny, Masterson and Butcher renege on their deal, run him out of town with false murder charges, print a false story, and force Jenks into going along with it, taking great glee in doing so.