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.