"Kolchak: The Night Stalker" Chopper (TV Episode 1975) Poster

(TV Series)

(1975)

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Stalking A Phantom Biker
a_l_i_e_n9 June 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Kolchak looks into the case of a headless ghost with a score to settle.

When the exhumed "residents" of a cemetery are removed from their plots, something is misplaced in transition that sets off a series of ghastly decapitation murders.

Kolchak sneaks into a psyche ward where the only witness to the first murder is confined. When he locates him, the man insists that the killer was headless, riding a motorcycle and wielding a sword.

With heads continuing to roll, Kolchak discovers that the victims are all former members of a notorious bike gang. Furthermore, each one had a hand in a prank gone bad that lead to a rival biker known as Harold "Swordman" Baker literally losing his head. One frightened former member tells Carl that one of their gang was murdered after taking Baker's head for a macabre trophy. However when the head was placed back with the body, the retribution ceased.

That night Kolchak visits the warehouse where the bodies from the cemetery had been moved to and discovers a can containing a severed skull. Suddenly the phantom motorcyclist comes roaring in and tries to take the reporter's head off, too. Carl throws the skull at the ghost, stopping it "dead". Baker's skeletal remains lay motionless atop the overturned bike with the skull now re-attached to the rest of the body.

With a story by Bob Gale and Oscar winning director Robert Zemeckis, "Chopper" hands down has the cleverest title of any episode in the series. Sounding like a great urban legend, the premise is a neat variation on "The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow" with a notorious biker riding back from the grave for revenge. Indeed, this episode does get off to an excellent start with the misplacement of the skull followed by a vintage motorcycle smashing through a garage door and roaring off into the night. When the startled homeowner who'd been awakened by all the racket comes outside, she is astonished to see her garage door is intact as if nothing had occurred.

In the next scene, "Sword-Man's" first victim is dispatched using a device that became one of the show's trademarks. The image of the blade about to slice off the victim's head is captured in freeze frame and then is very effectively accompanied by a metallic clanging like the sound of a sword hitting something solid. It's a very imaginatively shot murder and one of the best such scenes of the entire series.

Unfortunately, the episode fails to maintain the thrilling momentum with which it starts off. The pace becomes quite uneven and things really slow down when Kolchak meets some of the other spooked bikers at a funeral for one of their buddies. Though the scene is supposed to be funny it's really just tedious to watch and the grieving widow (played in an overstated fashion by Sharon Farrell) becomes downright grating.

There is a nice surprise appearance by Jim Backus as a motorcycle salesman, and, best of all, Larry Linville guest-stars as Kolchak's police nemesis. Bringing with him all his Frank Burns pique and mannerisms, Linville gives a great comedic performance as the sneering Capt. Jonas.

Perhaps this one might have worked better had the ghostly rider received a little more screen time- and if they'd been able to pull off the headless look a bit more convincingly. It doesn't take a trained anatomist to spot how "Sword-Man's" shoulders are built up to conceal the rider's head. Also, though the bike rider performs some impressive stunt work (and all while wearing the cumbersome-looking costume), the overall effect is hurt by the neck vertebra sticking out where a head would normally be. From the distance it's shot, the bones look more like a wire hangar protruding up out of his leather jacket, and after viewing it, one is left wondering if perhaps a bloody stump might not have been viscerally more effective.

Also, the "reconnection" scene at the end rather poorly wraps things up because the all-important shot of the head and body, now together again, is too brief and rather artlessly shot.

It's a shame really because "Chopper" gets off to such a roarin' start, but unfortunately it springs a leak in the third act and finishes it's journey running on fumes.
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7/10
Don't lose your head.
Scott LeBrun16 September 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Kolchak discovers that various unfortunate people are being decapitated by a Headless Horseman of sorts, except that the steed this vengeance crazed spirit rides is a vintage motorcycle. It all dates back to when the killer and its victims were all part of the same biker gang in the 1950s. Eventually Kolchak learns how to stop the rampage from continuing. At first glance, this seems like a pretty can't-miss premise for a Kolchak episode (it's based on a story by Robert Zemeckis & Bob Gale), but as it is this whole thing bogs down in exposition and opportunities for suspense and atmosphere are ultimately botched. A pity, as this could have been something memorably cool. The main reason it still gets fairly high marks is because of the generous assortment of truly funny moments. Granted, these aren't all intentional; the sight of the headless motorcycle rider brandishing a mean sword is a riot due to the special effects being so crude. Kolchak's often stressed out editor Vincenzo must this time watch as his employees chow down on regular food while he's forced to stick to an unappealing liquid diet. Some of the absolute liveliest moments occur as Kolchak aggravates yet another uptight lawman, in this case the furious Captain Jonas (an excellent Larry Linville). Of course, in addition to all of the major attention getting laughs, there are nice little moments here and there, such as Kolchak telling a uniformed officer to suck in his gut, just before exiting a scene. Here he's obliged to deal with a money hungry coroner named Neil; Steve Franken is good in the role but he's no Gordy the Ghoul. The roster of guest stars is all fun: Art Metrano is biker Henry "Studs" Spake, Sharon Farrell is biker mama Lila Morton, Frank Aletter a witness to one of the killings, Jesse White a security guard, and Jim Backus and Jay Robinson contribute standout performances as a motorcycle salesman and a history expert (who knows all about the French Revolution and therefore knows about decapitations). One sequence that's especially hysterical is when Kolchak visits Aletter in a psychiatric ward and the other patients start babbling away. Overall, this manages to be a pretty entertaining episode but it definitely could have been even better. Seven out of 10.
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7/10
Heads will roll
Woodyanders9 February 2010
Warning: Spoilers
A headless motorcyclist comes back from the dead to commit a series of decapitation murders. It's up to Carl Kolchak (the always winning and vibrant Drren McGavin) to figure out a way to stop the lethal phantom killer. Director Bruce Kessler, working from a clever script by David Chase and Steve Fisher, relates the fun story at a snappy pace, stages the attack scenes with considerable aplomb, and creates a nice amount of creepy atmosphere at the nifty climax. Unfortunately, the headless motorcyclist looks very cheesy and unconvincing, thus severely diminishing the suspense of this particular show. Moreover, Sharon Farrell overacts terribly as grieving histrionic widow Lila Morton. Luckily, this episode is redeemed by the series' trademark sharp sarcastic wit and a few thrilling and impressive motorcycle stunts. The guest cast helps out a lot: Larry Linville is deliciously hateful as stern, no-nonsense Captain Jonas, a bearded Art Metrano does well in a straight dramatic part as tough lead biker Henry "Studs" Spate, and Simon Oakland huffs and puffs with tremendous rip-snorting vigor as Kolchak's perpetually cranky and long-suffering editor Tony Vincenzo. Popping up in funny bits are Steve Franken as wisecracking smartaleck coroner Neil, Jim Backus as hearty motorcycle salesman Herb Bresson, and Jay Robinson as snooty Professor Eli Strig. Ronald W. Browne's cinematography makes neat use of snazzy freeze frames. Jerry Fielding's groovy and lively score is likewise up to par. Although not one of the show's finest hours, this flawed, but still enjoyable outing is still worth seeing for fans of the program.
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5/10
You can't reason with a headless man
bkoganbing3 September 2017
Our intrepid wire service reporter Carl Kolchak always gets the interesting and bizarre stories. In this one the plot must have been taken from the Walt Disney classic cartoon feature Ichabod Crane where Bing Crosby sang about not being able to reason with a headless man.

A headless biker known back in the Fifties as the Swordman is back with nothing above the neck and wielding that sword to decapitate some of his old biker crowd. They either participated in or witnessed his decapitation and he's taking a few heads of his own.

Darren McGavin along the way meets such interesting folks as Jim Backus the motorcycle dealer, historian Jay Robinson, and Larry Linville as Frank Burns giving up medicine and joining the police force and Jesse White a most insecure security guard.

The old biker gang is represented by Art Metrano and Sharon Farrell. It's always the colorful folks McGavin meets along the way in his investigations that made Kolchak: The Night Stalker the cult classic it has become.
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6/10
The Headless Rider
AaronCapenBanner10 November 2014
Carl Kolchak must find out who is killing former members of a 1950's motorcycle gang who are being decapitated. It turns out to be a murderous(and headless) motorcycle riding ghost out to avenge its death and reclaim its head, all the while wielding its own avenging sword chopping off the heads of his victims. How can Carl use knowledge from the French Revolution to stop this rampage, and put the ghost to its final rest? Weaker episode is just entertaining enough to be passable, but is marred by too much footage of the headless rider, who must have been eight-foot tall by the look of him! (That costume really needed a rethink before being put on air...)
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