The music of Kolchak: The Night Stalker shares roots with Star Trek and Trilogy of Terror

Next time you watch an episode, you'll know just why the tunes give you the chills!

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From the first frame in the opening sequence of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, the music sets the tone. First, our protagonist whistles us a tune, a homespun melody that grounds us in Carl Kolchak's world. Quickly, though, the playful music swells into a nearly-overwhelming orchestral score, contrasting the simpler sounds with blood-pressuring raising crescendos.

The title music is indicative of what's to come. Carl Kolchak is seemingly a simple-enough man, however, his exploits are anything but. What could be a simple series about a regular newspaper reporter turns into a monster-of-the-week horror show. It's a testament to the cast and crew that this tone is so expertly balanced.

Chief among the creatives who influenced the series' direction is the show's various composers. Initially, for the made-for-TV ABC movies featuring Kolchak, those duties were handled by Bob Cobert. Cobert was, himself, no stranger to television shows that go bump in the night; that's his work soundtracking the vintage vampire soap opera Dark Shadows. You might also recognize his work in Trilogy of Terror, another terrifying made-for-TV flick.

The theme for the television series, though, was composed by Gil Mellé. That's Mellé's melody that Kolchak whispers in the opening moments. Shows like Ironside and The Night Gallery were all the better for their Mellé scores. If you're unfamiliar with his compositional work, maybe you'll recognize his visual art: Mellé was also the artist behind classic album covers for Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and Sonny Rollins.

However, Mellé left the series after only four episodes, citing the more "lighthearted" tone as the show developed. The score for each episode that remained in the series was created primarily by Jerry Fielding. By that time, Fielding had a prosperous career in the world of film scores. He'd soundtracked Sam Peckinpah's Straw Dogs and The Wild Bunch. On TV, he scored the second and third seasons of Star Trek and contributed to Mission Impossible (though that show's most famous tune was composed instead by Lalo Schifrin). 

Fielding scored all but two episodes of the rest of Kolchak. The remaining two episodes were scored by Greig McRitchie and Luchi De Jesus, respectively. 

Though the series was short-lived, producing just twenty episodes, its influence over the genre is undeniable and it is specifically cited as a precursor to other sci-fi/horror shows like The X-Files.

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2 Comments

donniedeporte 13 months ago
Not the opening theme, but often jeard cello and orchestral music when Kolchak was walking around the city. Same composer?
mackjaz donniedeporte 12 months ago
I don't know... it definitely has that same feel. I love what are almost certainly ad-libbed jazzy band jams that play in the background. You'd never hear that from any of today's TV.
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