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The Influence of Television Horror on Cinematic End Times: The Case of Kolchak – Horror Movie – Horror Homeroom


The interaction between movie and television Horror is a complex one. The Horror genre has long straddled the two media types (for which there is no collective name, surprisingly) for many years. Dark Shadows (ABC, 1966–1971) began as a television daily created by Dan Curtis, but then, near the end of the series, two independently standing cinematic stories emerged in House of Dark Shadows (Curtis, 1970) and Night of Dark Shadows (Curtis, 1971). The flow moves in the other direction as well. A couple of contemporary television movies, The Night Stalker (John Llewellyn Moxey, 1972) and The Night Strangler (Dan Curtis, 1973) led to the weekly television series, also on ABC, Kolchak: The Night Stalker (Jeff Rice, 1973–1974).  Both movies were produced by Curtis. Although Kolchak lasted for only one season, it had tremendous influence.

Often cited as the major inspiration behind Chris Carter’s The X-Files (Fox, 1993–2002), Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) was an obvious inspiration for Fox Mulder (David Duchovny). In fact, McGavin appeared in two episodes of The X-Files as Arthur Dales, who started the eponymous files. (The episodes were “Travelers” in season five and “Agua Mala” in season six.) The X-Files, which ran for nine seasons and gained two more over time, also led to two movies: The X-Files: Fight the Future (Rob Bowman, 1998), and The X-Files: I Want to Believe (Carter, 2008). Another influence on the X-FilesTwin Peaks (David Lynch, 1990–1991), was a two-season program on ABC that gave birth to one movie, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me (Lynch, 1992). There’s almost an organic connection between these shows and movies, as if Horror on television was meant for bigger things.

Kolchak is widely recognized for having an outsized influence on future media. It is doubtful that, without Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone (CBS, 1959–1964, which led to a much later movie in 1983) or Kolchak, that The X-Files would ever have been conceived. These “monster of the week” series (Dark Shadows is the outlier here in becoming a “monster of the day” with Barnabas Collins [Jonathan Frid] as a regular) demonstrated the appetite viewers had for the strange. Supernatural monsters almost provided some reassurance as the “rational” seventies through the aughts played out. But did Kolchak also influence a blockbuster completely outside its own franchise? One that one mainstream cinematic success, no less?

Robert Palmer – Satanist

“The Devil’s Platform,” episode seven of Kolchak, aired on November 15, 1974. In it, Kolchak comes to suspect Robert W. Palmer (Tom Skerritt), a candidate for the Illinois state senate, of being a Satanist. Of course, he’s right. Palmer, who came from nowhere to dominate the campaign, has an obscure background, but is now quite wealthy. Those who oppose him, moreover, die in mysterious ways. Kolchak discovers that a large black-and-brown dog of a breed he can’t determine, shows up in places where Palmer disappears. Doesn’t that dog, in the context of power politics and the occult, look familiar?

The demonic dog of “The Devil’s Platform”

Palmer, it turns out, made a deal with Satan, and he plans to go all the way to the White House. He’s able to transform into this dog to survive accidents that would’ve killed a human being, and also to attack anyone who learns of his dark past. Kolchak defeats him with some stolen holy water. Others have noticed the connections between Rosemary’s Baby (Roman Polanski, 1968), The Exorcist (William Friedkin, 1973), and this episode of Kolchak. But Horror-classic/” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>what of the third person of this “unholy trinity”—The Omen (Richard Donner, 1976)?

The backstory for The Omen began in 1973 when producer Harvey Bernhard had the idea of a movie about the Antichrist after a conversation with his friend Robert Munger. He hired David Seltzer to write the screenplay, which took him a year—i.e., 1974.  Although this is cutting it quite close, in November 1974 Kolchak’s big dog appeared. A dog that bears a striking resemblance to Damien’s guardian—the dog that inspires his nanny’s suicide and that protects the boy thereafter. Now, the idea of a politician using Satan to take over the world had been around since Hal Lindsey’s extremely influential book, The Late, Great Planet Earth, published in 1970. Munger had read the book and suggested to Bernhard that the Antichrist might currently (then) be walking the earth.  This political connection made by Lindsey is even explicitly narrated in the movie.

The Omen’s demonic dog

It is quite possible that Kolchak had nothing to do with the Rottweiler used in The Omen, but in some of the shots of the dog in “The Devil’s Platform” used a Rottweiler. Had those casting the dog in The Omen seen Kolchak?  There’s no way to determine this definitively, of course, but the coincidence is striking, even if merely by chance. Nothing in Hal Lindsey’s scheme suggests a dog familiar. In the context of political Satanism, this was first seen in Kolchak.

The Omen went on to found its own franchise, including two attempts at television series. A 1995 NBC pilot titled The Omen failed to get picked up by the network, but A&E’s Damien was given a green light in 2016. Like Kolchak, it was cancelled after one season.

Of course, other Horror-related series have crossed over between movies and television: Buffy the Vampire Slayer comes immediately to mind, as do The Exorcist and Creepshow. The number of coincidences taking place in the mid-seventies as The Omen was brewing, however, gives one pause.  The crossover between cinema and television was especially thin then. Is this all barking up the wrong tree? Perhaps. But Kolchak’s “Good dog? Nice doggy” to the exorcised canid may just be revealing an unrecognized Horror television-movie crossover that cuts across franchises into the cinematic end times.

Steve A. Wiggins is an independent scholar who has taught at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, Carroll College, and Rutgers and Montclair State Universities. He is the author of a book about possession movies, Nightmares with the Bible (Lexington, 2020) and the recently published Devil’s Advocates series book at Liverpool University Press on The Wicker Man. Check out his website. Steve has also written for Horror Homeroom on “What To Do When the Exorcist is Absent,” “The Golem as the Perfect Monster,” sex and death in The Lighthouse and The Witch, “Reclaiming Jewish Monsters in The Offering,” and “Exorcising the Pope’s Exorcist.”

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