Oh, Johnny (Depp), what are you doing now?
A television series from my youth is coming to the big screen soon: Kolchak the Night Stalker. It is slated to star Johnny Depp.
I am … taken aback.
First, let me express my adoration of Johnny Depp. As a young mother – before I had any way to timeshift a favorite program – I did my damnedest to be in front of the TV on Sunday nights to watch 21 Jump Street. In the years since, I have seen twenty-four of his forty-two films. I own seven DVDs of his work, and four more are on my movies-I must-someday-own list. You know how some married couples have that ridiculous “free pass” agreement? Yeah. It’s like that.
It’s the quirky, I suppose. And the persona of rebellious independence. And, of course, the impossible good looks. Most endearing, however, is that he regularly stars in decent horror / thriller / fantasy films. Don’t get me wrong, I loved Benny and Joon and Chocolat. He won my heart, though, with his performances in these:
- A Nightmare on Elm Street
- Edward Scissorhands (Don’t tell me that’s not horror.)
- Ed Wood
- The Ninth Gate
- The Astronaut’s Wife
- Sleepy Hollow
- From Hell
- Secret Window
- Sweeny Todd
That said, I have to confess that I’m refusing to go watch his latest excursion into my genre, Dark Shadows. I’ve seen the trailers, and I am not happy. I suppose I should withhold my judgement until I actually see the thing, but I didn’t want a comedy; I wanted something that maintained the eerie flavor of the soap opera.
When the giant, promotional cut-outs of Barnabas Collins first went up in theater lobbies, I was excited. I am too young to have seen much of the series, and have always regretted that I had missed out. I was eager to get a feel for what it must have been like. I read that Johnny Depp was an aficionado of the original show, so I expected the movie to be an homage, not a parody – and especially not a broad parody. I’m sure I’ll get over it. When I relent – and I will relent eventually – I imagine I’ll enjoy it for what it is: a silly take on a show to which I have no particular attachment.
Kolchak the Night Stalker, on the other hand? That’s a show I grew up on, and I’m going to be irritated as hell if they screw it up. There were wonderful flashes of humor in the series, but the meat of it was the way the pragmatic, rumpled, old-school reporter dealt with the monster hunting. The charm of a character like Kolchak (or Columbo … or Barnabus, for that matter) lies in his sincerity. To the audience, he might be a caricature or an archetype, but he sees himself as authentic. There should be no sense of nudge-nudge, wink-wink. These characters are supposed to have a tragic edge.
Having seen the over-the-top, cartoonish depiction of the ’70s, as it appears in the Dark Shadows trailer, I worry about how the same decade will be depicted in Kolchak. I don’t want to see pop-art and high-fashion. The original show (like most of the programs from that era) had a gritty tone, and a mostly neutral palette of grays and tans. Yes, the ties were wide. Yes, he wore a straw hat. But his clothes, his tools, his office – they all felt lived in and real, not like costumes or set pieces.
I worry, too, about how paranormal events and creatures will be presented. In its day, Kolchak used state of the art special effects, when they were necessary. There would be no cleverness in retaining that dated, accidentally-cheesy tone, nor of turning the story into an excuse to showcase today’s most elaborate CGI.
I guess I just don’t want the new movie to turn the old television show into a joke. I don’t want Kolchak to be … well, to be figuratively defanged, the way Barnabus was in Dark Shadows.