X-Files vs. The Night Stalker - A Comparison Article
(originally appeared in the "...It Couldn't Happen Here" Fanzine)
X-Files and The Night Stalker - Twins at Birth?
by Steve Crow
X-Files creator Chris Carter has noted several times that one of his major
influences was watching Kolchak: The Night Stalker as a child. While
this is a highly public substantiation of the opinions of many closet Kolchak
fans, the real question is, just _how_ influenced Chris Carter was.
Before I continue, one note: the following is _not_ intended to suggest any
plagiarism on Chris Carter's part. There are only so many supernatural
themes out there. The fact that The Night Stalker found enough themes for
20 episodes without plot continuity (a central government conspiracy, cursed
antiques, etc.,) is a major undertaking.
Try it some time. Write down on paper twenty different supernatural ideas.
Don't do any sequels. Make each a totally independent idea. Now, look
back over your list and see how many of them have never been used by _any_
television series or movie. And if you can't find one, let me know - I'll
find it for you. :)
This highlights a good point: The Night Stalker as a series was probably
doomed to a single season anyway. There just aren't enough ideas out
there, much less enough to do varied stories within the show's chosen
format. Later episodes of The Night Stalker, such as The Sentry and The
Youth Killer, were dredging the bottom of the barrel.
The X-Files bypasses this problem both by having a central theme (the
government conspiracy), and by recycling certain plot ideas.
For instance, _how_ many genetic mutant stories have they done about
a guy with strange abilities who must feast on a particular part of
the human body?
Let's look down the list of Night Stalker episodes and see how many
seem a little familiar . . .
The Ripper: Speaking of genetic mutants . . . The exact nature of Jack
the Ripper's abilities in this episode is never explained. Let's see.
We have a strange, enigmatic killer with supernatural abilities, who commits
a series of serial murders, and it's implied that he eats parts of his
victims after killing them. Sound familiar? Try "Squeeze" and "Tooms." Or
"2Shy." Or "Teliko."
The Zombie: The resurrection of the dead for vengeance is explored in the
fourth season episode, "Kaddish." While that episode deals with Hebrew
mysticism, the one X-Files episode that deals specifically with Voodoo
religion is second season's "Fresh Bones."
They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be: This episode, with its elements
of government conspiracy and visitors from beyond, may very well have
been the plot outline for "Fallen Angel." In both episodes we have an alien
visitor stranded on Earth. It is invisible (although detectible in the
proper light ranges), and possesses vast strength. It seems to have a
rather vague physical form, but unleashes electromagnetic energy. Both
episodes touch on the UFO subculture, as well as the government's intent
to keep things hushed up. A UFOlogist has a close and fatal encounter
with the visitor (at least, until we find out Max Fenig is still alive
three seasons later in, "Max"). The aliens' black, gooey vomit
is superficially similar to the "black oil" of the series and movie, although
there is no real connection.
The Vampire: "3" is the primary X-Files episode to specifically address the
traditional vampire myth. Both episodes take place in Los Angeles,
and feature a female vampire. Both vampires rely on sexual attraction
to obtain their prey. And both feature a large fire in the final confrontation.
The Werewolf: "Shapes" is the X-Files' first and only foray into lycanthropy.
There are not many comparisons other than that common theme. "Shapes"
inexplicably identifies the werewolf as a "manitou." The diablero in
Bad Medicine is closer to what a manitou is (a spirit of a person, animal,
or item), based on Amerindian legend. The Energy Eater also touches on
certain Amerindian elements.
Firefall: This episode is Night Stalker's one real "ghost" story (ignoring
Chopper, which isn't much of anything). This isn't a concept that is
very popular in X-Files either, and such stories are in the earlier
seasons. Such episodes include "Shadows" and "Lazarus."
The Devil's Platform: A straight-forward tale of devil-worshipping. The
X-Files rarely takes this kind of blatant approach. "Die Hand de Verletzt"
and "Sanguinarium" both feature mystic/Satanic elements gaining worshippers,
then later using an outside element to bring down the unfaithful and the weak.
Bad Medicine and The Energy Eater: I've combined these two episodes for
comparison. Neither one bears a strong resemblance to any specific
X-Files episode. However, X-Files has several episodes with a strong
Amerindian/mystic bent: "Shapes," "Anasazi," and "The Blessing Way."
The Energy Eater, with its awakening of a hibernating primal force, also
bears some resemblance to the first season episode, "Darkness Falls."
The Energy Eater also features a scene that appears almost verbatim in
an X-Files episode. The scene where Kolchak and Jim Elkhorn assemble
a giant "photo" of Matchemonedo is _very_ similar to the picture that
Mulder glimpses in the laid out 1-0-1-0 drawings of Kevin Morris
The Spanish Moss Murders: A dream-research project gone awry, and
manifestations of the mind springing up. If Augustus Cole in "Sleepless"
had a dream about the Flukeman from "The Host," you might end up with
an X-Files episode very similar to this Kolchak episode. To make matters
more interesting, check out the fifth's season "Schizogeny," where someone
animates plant life to kill those they hate.
Horror in the Heights: Curiously, Hindu mysticism has not yet featured in any
X-Files episode through the fifth season. A supernatural menace taking on
the face of a trusted one is not a particular new idea. However, the
morphing effects used for the Bounty Hunter in "Colony" are better then the
simple camera cut we get here.
A bit of speculation, here: since Horror in the Heights is perhaps the most
widely-acclaimed Night Stalker episode, Chris Carter may, consciously or
subconsciously, be avoiding anything that might be compared to it. A
pity: the concept of a secret invasion of Earth by demon scouts could
make an interesting premise for a continuing series. Particularly since
in Hindu mythology, not all rakshasas were shape-shifters. There are
a variety of rakshasas, which could provide more varied plot lines.
Mr. R.I.N.G.: "Ghost in the Machine," anyone? "Or Kill Switch" if you prefer.
Oddly, the artificial intelligence in the Night Stalker episode is portrayed
far more sympathetically and interestingly than the A.I. in X-Files.
Mulder and Scully don't appear in a hurry to do anything except shut
it down ASAP. Kolchak displays more curiosity here. This is another
Night Stalker episode that features a strong government/conspiracy angle.
The memory-wiping drugs used on Kolchak are not dissimilar to the mind-wiping
experience that Mulder undergoes in "Deep Throat."
Primal Scream: Not one of The Night Stalker's finest hours, since the
science here is wretched. If these creatures' cells multipled and became
new creatures in warm climates, wouldn't they have overrun the Earth millions
of years ago? Still, there are similarities to several episodes. "The Jersey
Devil" features a similarly carnivorous man-ape predator. The idea of a
menace from the dawn of history awakening from its hibernation beneath the
Arctic can be found in "Ice." And the rapid, accelerated growth of cells
to form a new being can be seen in "Leonard Betts."
The Trevi Collection: Some resemblance to "Syzygy," and parts of "Die Hand de
Verletzt." Just like "Die Hand" kills off its characters in a variety
of ways, The Trevi Collection features death by mannequin, scalding water,
Chopper: Fortunately, X-Files has avoided any storyline resembling this episode.
The closest is the decapitation concept found in "Leonard Betts." We also
have a couple of episodes that deal with a ghost taking vengeance
("Shadows" and "Lazarus").
Demon in Lace: The woman plaguing Skinner in "Avatar" is described as a
succubus. The mythology in Demon in Lace is a mish-mash since it draws
more on the Middle Eastern concept of a succubus, rather than the Western
European version (which fed on sex, rather than terror). The succubus'
tie to an ancient tablet is a bit out of left-field, and added primarily
to give Kolchak a unique way of killing the monster of the week. The
concept of a supernatural manifestation tied to a relic also appears
in the third season's "Teso Dos Bichos."
Legacy of Terror: The mythology related in this episode is historically
accurate, and seems to have come from someone's doctoral dissertation.
This episode bears some resemblance to, "Teso Dos Bichos." Astral
conjunctions are also critical in "Syzygy." In fact, both shows'
endings, in which the astral conjunction passes at the critical moment
and the bad guys just . . . stop, are _very_ similar.
The Knightly Murders: Another "ghost" story, although as in Chopper, the
ghost is quite solid.
The Youth Killer: Rapid aging occurs in "Dod Kalm," although its origins
are extraterrestrial, rather than Hellenic. The legend of Helen of Troy
seems more suited to an episode of Hercules than X-Files, but that's another
column. We see the dating service aspect of Youth Killer in, "2Shy."
Unnatural aging is also a plot point (if in reverse) in the first season's
"Young at Heart."
The Sentry: If Night Stalker had any substantial audience back in the 70's,
it's unlikely the writers would have risked such a blatant rip-off of
Star Trek's "The Devil in the Dark." There is again a hint of the
government conspiracy angle that would reach full bloom in The X-Files.
And the mother instincts of the lizard are not dissimilar to the creature
of the same name in "The Jersey Devil."
So at the end of it all, what are we left with? There are similar threads
from practically episode of Night Stalker up to the present day's
X-Files. Still, X-Files has taken the ideas much further, and added
many new ones as well. No doubt in future seasons more similar elements
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