THE NIGHT STALKER “The Zombie.” ABC, 20 September 1974 (Season 1, Episode 2). 60m. Darren McGavin (Carl Kolchak), Simon Oakland (Tony Vincenzo). Created by Jeff Rice. Teleplay: Zekial Marko and David Chase. Director: Alex Grasshoff.

    There’s a lot of fun to be had in “The Zombie.” The second episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, “The Zombie” combines chills and frights with off-beat humor and further establishes the template for the series as a whole.

    Here, intrepid reporter/supernatural investigator Carl Kolchak (Darren McGavin) uncovers an occult connection to an ongoing mob war. As it turns out, one of the men recently killed by the Chicago mob was a Haitian man whose aunt dabbled in voodoo. So, it comes as no surprise to Kolchak that the culprit behind the revenge killings of mob members was not a living and breathing human after all; it was – you guessed it – a zombie. The very man long thought dead.

    Aired at a time when blaxploitation was all the rage, the episode showcases the rivalry and partnership between Chicago’s Italian and Black gangs. Portraying one of the Black gang members is no other than Antonio Fargas, who would later become widely known to television audiences as restaurant owner and informant Huggy Bear on Starsky & Hutch. Also look for character actor and comedian J. Pat O’Malley, who I remember from a particularly poignant episode of Three’s Company, as an undertaker whose main concern seems to be whether his union will approve of what’s transpiring all around him.

    There’s an amusingly effective subplot involving Kolchak and his editor Tony Vincenzo (Simon Oakland). Turns out Vincenzo wants Kolchak to show a head honcho’s niece from New York the ropes of journalism. Little does she know that it will involve seeing the mangled corpses of mob enforcers lying in the street. You can stream the full episode here.