Kolchak: The Night Stalker 1.17 ‘Legacy of Terror’ Review

“Legacy of Terror” combines some mangled-up Aztec cosmology with some interesting side commentary on the status of feminism in the mid-70s and the discrimination against Latin@s. The episode itself,...

“Legacy of Terror” combines some mangled-up Aztec cosmology with some interesting side commentary on the status of feminism in the mid-70s and the discrimination against Latin@s. The episode itself, in terms of its pacing, is exceptionally slow, something that even the worst offerings of KNS didn’t suffer from. “Legacy of Terror” does have the distinction of featuring Erik Estrada in one of his first prominent roles, and also sees the return of Ramon Bieri (“Captain Baker” in “Bad Medicine”) as the LEO, but this time, for some reason, he’s “Captain Webster.”

The episode begins, as it often does, with some gruesome deaths. First, a linebacker is killed, then a highly decorated Green Beret (Craig Baxley). Both were strong men. Both had their hearts ripped out.

Highly improbable as it may sound, before he learned about the second killing, Kolchak was actually on his way to meet and schmooze with some prospective well-known subscribers at a convention. For some reason, Vincenzo, who insisted that Kolchak come, was counting on Kolchak to show up on time, with a new hat and freshly-pressed suit, no less. Of course, Vincenzo has Updyke, trusty pipe in hand (it makes him look sophisticated, you know) to keep him company.

The moment Kolchak arrives, late as usual, he hears about the Green Beret’s murder on his police radio and speeds off to investigate. Once at the crime scene, he has to sneak around to access it, since he would be recognized by Webster. After some typically Kolchakian antics where he lowers his tape recorder to listen in on the detectives who are examining the body—he is caught, natch—Kolchak returns to the convention hotel, whereupon he meets Tillie Jones (Pippa Scott: Auntie Mame, The Virginian, Automotive), head of P.R. for the hotel, Major Taylor (Scott Douglas), and Captain Madge Timmons (Udana Power:  Soap, Life Goes On), a pilot who might be the first woman to be allowed in combat.

Kolchak is certainly not thrilled to meet any of them, especially on the heels of a hot story. This sequence provides an interesting comment on how the advancement of women’s rights was perceived.  Timmons is enthusiastic to discuss opportunities, but she isn’t given a chance to finish her statements by either the Major, who is skeptical, or Vincenzo, who is pleased (in that obsequious way)  with what Timmons has to say—he desperately wants Kolchak to do a feature on Timmons. Finally, an annoyed Ms. Jones points out that the men aren’t letting Timmons speak. Basically, the men don’t take feminism serious at all.

In the meantime, Pepe Torres (Erik Estrada: CHiPS, Sealab 2021, Sangre Negra), a totally sleazy and sloshed VP of the hotel, wanders through the lobby with a bevy of women and flirts none-too-subtly with Timmons. Kolchak, unsurprisingly, does not hesitate to make a hasty exit

Unfortunately, Timmons is also offed like the other two victims—heart cut out and body left on a staircase. Kolchak, ever vigilant, arrives at the crime scene almost immediately. He is busy taking pictures of the body, when one of the killers, dressed in feathered garb, leaps out of the bushes and knocks him out—but not before leaving some valuable evidence in the palm of Kolchak’s hands.

Undaunted, Kolchak returns yet again to the hotel in an attempt to get into Timmons’ room, but in his efforts to get away from the cops, which involves the theft of a busboy’s uniform and an opportunity on Vincenzo’s part to deny that he knows Kolchak, our intrepid reporter ends up locked in a basement storage room.

In the storage room, Kolchak finds a picture of a man in “Aztec” garb, and a sarcophagus full of mummy. He screams for help and is found by the cops, who haul her into Ms. Jones’ office. Jones dismisses Officer Lyons (who Kolchak ran away from) and Webster, and Kolchak gets to ask her about Torres. Jones is completely frustrated by his presence because Torres is completely incompetent and lazy, and yet gets paid a lot more money. Kolchak seems to play her frustration for laughs, but there is a covert (maybe) comment about inequality in the workplace (or not).

When Kolchak finally meets Torres, he finds a happily content playboy/flute-payer. Getting nowhere with the man, Kolchak does his once-per-episode B&E into the basement storage unit only to find it empty.

During his investigation, Kolchak visits a very defensive taxidermist (Sorell Booke: All in the Family, The Dukes of Hazzard), who identifies the feathers as from a parrot native to southern Mexico, and clues Kolchak in about mummification. He also visits the Mexican Consulate, where the Commercial Attaché (Ernesto Macias), is of no help with Aztec mummies—except to refer him to Professor Rodriguez (Victor Campos: Scarface). While Kolchak was running around, Officer Lyons becomes the fourth sacrificial victim—having been lured to his death by one of Torres’ female companions. In the middle of all the running around, Kolchak returns to the office to get Vincenzo to sign his voucher from the taxidermist, and also regales his editor about how the hotel chain has a history of heart sacrifice murders. The owner, George Andrews (Carlos Romero: Adam-12, Falcon Crest), was originally from southern Mexico. The plot thickens.

From Rodriguez, Kolchak learns the story of the “evil” Aztec god Tezcatlipoca (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tezcatlipoca), who is the rival of the “good” god Quetzelcoatl (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quetzalcoatl). The evil god’s cult leader Nanauzin waits to help bring about the end of the world, and needs to waken every 52 years to take in the blood of five sacrifices (the other four are supposed to be warriors) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanahuatzin), the fifth of which must be willing (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aztec_calendar). However, according to Rodriguez, Nanauzin can only act for a limited time before he goes dormant.

Kolchak puts everything together because the willing sacrifice is allowed to wallow in riches and women for a year—and learns to play the flute. He realizes that Torres is the last victim and scrambles to figure out where the sacrifice will happen—by stealing information from Vincenzo’s  personal phone directory.

Kolchak rushes to a sports arena (it has the steep staircase needed for the sacrifice) to stop the sacrifice. When Kolchak reaches Torres, the young man tells Kolchak that he wanted to be the victim because otherwise, he would have been “wasted by the cops before I was 25” or would have ended up as a bag boy living with his mother. Andrews apparently promised Torres that his mother would have all the money she would need. Torres despaired that his background and ethnicity would prevent him from having any kind of meaningful life.

Torres finally has second thoughts, and just as Andrews raises the sacrificial knife, he runs off. Kolchak also manages to get away from the guards, but MUMMY! The mummy rises and shambles after Kolchak—with a sword even! Fortunately for our hero, the appointed time arrives and the mummy goes dormant. Kolchak’s voice over ends with a warning for anyone who might be around in 2027—the next Aztec “millennium”—to watch out for the mummy, with an offhand message that Pepe is working in a grocery store in Downstate Illinois.

The Aztec cosmology in this episode is, well, pretty much wrong. Yeah, there is a 52 year cycle in the Aztec universe—the current “calendar round” cycle, which combines the solar and ceremonial calendars, does indeed end in 2027—but there are no vengeful mummies involved. Also, Tezcatlipoca is not an “evil” god, rather, he is a creator and a destroyer who works in conflict and in concert with Quetzalcoatl. The story of the willing sacrifice is found in the literature of the Aztecs, but it has nothing to do with the figure of Nanahuatzin, who is actually a benevolent god who sacrifices himself and becomes a sun deity. At least they have Latin@s playing the parts of the priests and the sacrifice.

“Legacy of Terror,” then, is very similar to the other two episodes, “Bad Medicine” and “The Energy Eater,” which posits a mish-mash of traditional indigenous stories and made-up , mashed-up additions. While not as egregious in the whitewashing department as “Bad Medicine,” the episode too often trades in simplistic stereotypes.

Next Week: Kolchak vs. a Ghostly Knight

  Gnome – Senior Contributing Writer

Gnome is a male-assigned genderqueer academic, educator, musician, and vinyl junkie who is absolutely thrilled to have the chance to write about music. When not learnin’ em good, Gnome is making the occasionally valiant attempt to finish a dissertation.