Wednesday, February 9

The Hidden Horrors of the Seattle Underground

Last week, I managed to find a copy of the out-of-print DVD The Night Stalker/The Night Strangler, two early-70s TV movies starring Darrin McGavin as intrepid investigative reporter Carl Kolchak.  These were both ABC Movie(s) of the Week, and the first one was the highest-rated TV movie of its time (hence the sequel). Stalker has Kolchak on the trail of a vampire in Las Vegas, but the second one is more interesting to me, because he's after a sort of undead being that lives in the Seattle Underground and is killing young women in Pioneer Square!  It's pretty rare to get to see a horror movie set in the city where you live (though in Seattle we have another good one -- The Ring).

Here are some of the local details and mistakes I liked best about it:
  • The first victim of the strangler is waiting at "St. James" street at 3 am for a bus to her home in the "Shoreline Park" neighborhood, after she finishes her gig at a strip club in Pioneer Square.  In reality, it would be James street (or 3rd Ave, really) and the Shoreline neighborhood.  Also, good luck catching a bus at 3 am in Seattle.  And I'm not sure why she would live so far from her job--why not get a place that isn't 12 miles away?
  • Another dancer at the club, (played by Jo Ann Pflug), is a student at the UW (a scene is filmed in the Red Square!), and lives on a houseboat, like every fictional person who lives in Seattle.  She takes a motorboat to get to her classes--I guess walking or ride a bike along the Burke-Gilman trail is too mundane.
  • There's a scene a bar where all the Seattle journalists are alleged to hang out.  This is a fictional device, but it was fun to speculate what this could be--the bar at Vito's, or Victor's 610, or (more dive-ily) Bernard's on Seneca, a place that seems to reek of 1972.
  • The founder of the Seattle Underground tour, Bill Speidel, makes an appearance in a scene filmed in a Pioneer Square bar call the Blue Banjo, which was a real place (I had to google it during the movie to find out).  Later it was called Doc Maynard's (and now seems to be closed, except as a starting point for the Underground tour).
  • There seems to be some filming in the real Seattle Underground....
  • ...But the final scene takes place in an entirely fictional and huge fantasy version of the Undergound, with tall buildings and a working wrought-iron elevator.  I learned from Wikipedia that it's the interior of the Bradbury Building in Los Angeles.  It's kind of steam-punk (if you will), and it's the way you wish the Underground would be, if you've ever taken the tour.
I highly recommend The Night Strangler to anyone who likes goofy horror movies and has lived in Seattle.  Good luck finding it!


  1. Don't forget McQ! for its portrayal of shabby ol' Seattle... those were the days, before all the grunge and the latte and the interwebs. Also, for journalist hangouts, my go-to would be the 13 Coins.

    Thanks, Guy, for bringing this item to the public's attention; I'd love to see it one day. Does Kolchak by any chance have a buddy/partner named Skuchek? Because that would be neat.

  2. Oh yeah, the 13 Coins--right next to The Seattle Times. Correct-a-mundo!

    "You gotta learn to play by the rules, Skuchek!"

  3. Damn it, Skuchek! Damn it all to hell.