The ‘Kolchak’-‘X-Files’ connection: Just how similar are these two shows?

Today, it's impossible to talk about "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" (1974-75, following TV movies in 1972 and 1973) without talking about "The X-Files" (1993-present). While this annoys some "Kolchak" fans, they have to admit that "The X-Files" has helped keep the "Kolchak" cult afloat – indeed, "The X-Files" is mentioned in the first sentence on the back of the "Kolchak" DVD collection.

Both "Kolchak" creator Jeff Rice and "X-Files" helmer Chris Carter are open about the connections. Writing the foreward to Ted Edwards' "X-Files Confidential: The Unauthorized X-Files Compendium" (1996), Rice writes: "I don't think anyone has done more to foster the idea of picking up where Kolchak left off ... than Carter," adding that it's "very gratifying."

Later, Edwards quotes Carter as saying, "I just wanted to do something as scary as I remember 'The Night Stalker' being when I was in my teens." On the other hand, Carter – who would later cast Darren McGavin as early FBI paranormal investigator Arthur Dales in two episodes -- adds: "Sometimes the 'Night Stalker' influence is overstated. ... I think I remember two scenes from the old show. One where Darren McGavin is confronted by a vampire and is able to drive a stake into his heart, and the other is in an alleyway."

After watching the "Kolchak" series, I think both stances are valid. In terms of tone, the two shows are nothing alike – "Kolchak" is corny and comedic, with occasional moments of horror, while "The X-Files" is exactly the opposite. They certainly share a genre – paranormal investigations – but they are at vastly different ends of that genre.

On the other hand – my, oh my -- there are some eerie similarities. Some parallels are merely cases where two paranormal anthology shows will eventually cover the same ground – for example, Mulder and Scully rapidly aging in "Dod Kalm" and various victims rapidly aging in "Kolchak's" "The Youth Killer." I'm also not going to get worked up over the use of voiceovers on both shows, or the use of Courier font in the opening credits. Or even the fact that both shows are inordinately interested in Native American lore.

But some examples are similar down to such small details that it's hard to imagine the "X-Files" scribes weren't cribbing from "Kolchak." Further bolstering that argument, most of the parallels are found in the early seasons of "The X-Files," suggesting the writers borrowed from "Kolchak" a bit before becoming steady on their own feet.

After watching the 22 "Kolchak" installments, it's clear that the truth is out there. Or, as Kolchak would say, "Now, here are the true facts ..." ("X-Files" episodes are listed first.)

"Deep Throat" (Season 1, Episode 2) vs. "They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be ..." (Episode 3) and "Mr. R.I.N.G." (12) – Mulder sees an alien spacecraft and has his memories wiped by government spooks. "How did I get here?" Mulder mumbles as Scully takes custody of him from the airbase officials. In "They Have Been," after he sees an alien spacecraft, Carl worries that his friends in Washington might be after him because of what he knows, but then the episode ends. However, at the end of "R.I.N.G.," where he investigates the government's haywire robot project, Kolchak's memory is hazy after being in the custody of military agents. "Memories fade fast enough without chemical help," Kolchak says into his tape recorder in the epilogue. "But if I don't tell this story now, I'm afraid I never will. Now ... what was that date?"

"Squeeze" (1, 3) vs. "The Night Stalker" (1972 movie) and "The Night Strangler" (1973 movie) – Eugene Victor Tooms, the first and arguably still the best "X-Files" Monster of the Week, emerges from hibernation every 30 years to eat five human livers. "Strangler's" Richard Malcolm kills six people every 21 years for the sake of extending his life. Also, the zoom-in on Tooms' eyes feels like an homage to the close-up of vampire Janos Skorzeny's eyes in "Stalker."

"Ice" (1, 8) vs. "Primal Scream" (13) – In both cases, ice cores from the Arctic contain ancient life that wreaks havoc. In "Ice," it's a worm-like creature that crawls in your ear and causes paranoia, much like "The Thing," which this episode pays homage to (or rips off, depending on your perspective). The creature that (inexplicably) grows from the ice cores in "Scream" is (inexplicably) an apeman (or a guy in an ape suit, depending on your perspective).

"Fire" (1, 12) vs. "Firefall" (6) – The pyrokenetic Cecil L'Ively causes people or objects to spontaneously combust, like the villain in "Firefall." While the concept of pyrokenesis goes back to the 19th century – as some charlatans claimed they could create fire from nothing -- it perhaps entered pop culture with "Firefall," although it did so more prominently with Stephen King's novel "Firestarter" in 1980. That book, of course, is the more commonly cited precursor to "Fire."

"Shapes" (1, 19) vs. "The Werewolf" (5) – Mulder and Scully investigate a werewolf case in Montana. Kolchak encounters a werewolf on a cruise ship, and the man reveals that he was bitten in Montana. Since werewolf lore originated in Europe, there's nothing unique to Montana that makes it an obvious place for a werewolf story. "The X-Files" might've been paying homage to "Kolchak," but more likely the setting is due to many "X-Files" episodes being set in the Northwest during the Vancouver years.

"Fresh Bones" (2, 15) vs. "The Zombie" (2) – A Haitian voodoo zombie gets revenge on those who mistreated and murdered him – the military in "Bones," the mob in "Zombie." Kolchak must dispatch the zombie using rituals, whereas Mulder is spared from a direct showdown with a zombie, although he does run afoul of the military man performing rituals.

"Fearful Symmetry" (2, 18) vs. "They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be ..." (3) – Invisible creatures are on rampages – animals in "Symmetry," aliens in "They Have Been." The animals in "Symmetry" are influenced by aliens, since the zoo is near a UFO hotspot. In "They Have Been," the aliens break into a zoo, causing animals to run loose. Both episodes feature pro-animal, anti-human zookeepers. (And both are good examples of those episodes within each series that perhaps leave a little too much to the imagination, rather than tying together the plot a bit more.)

What are your thoughts on these "X-Files"-"Kolchak" connections? Coincidence ... or conspiracy? Share your thoughts in the comment thread below.

Comments