Kolchak: The Energy Eater

Matchemonedo In spite of the not terribly descriptive title, this is an episode I’m fond of. It features one of those extremely low-budget invisible monsters–but it’s a interesting invisible monster, when the viewer does sort of see it.

The episode begins with Carl Kolchak writing, and narrating, from a hospital bed, about the  construction of Chicago’s new Lakefront Hospital. The dedication ceremony to open the place officially and show off the up-to-date medical equipment was a major press event, but once we go to flashback we see that Carl attends only grudgingly. This isn’t the kind of news story he’s interested in.

He rejects the standard press packet–and is very condescending to the young woman who offers it to him (“That’s very good. You remembered that all by yourself?”)–and gets sulky when he misses the opportunity to get a drink before the hospital administrators make their speeches.

Then the lights flicker; that rouses Carl’s curiosity. The building is brand new, so why is it having electrical problems already?

Unbeknownst to Carl (at that time, but since it features in his voice-over narrative, we can be sure that he learned all about it later), a man has just been electrocuted in the basement. There’s some sort of tremor that cracks the walls, and a high-voltage breaker panel behind him explodes in a shower of sparks.

As the tour of the facilities begins, Carl notices a nurse whispering to the administrators, telling them something that changes their tour plans. They’re going to skip the lower levels, where the labs and radiology are. Of course, this makes Carl want to have his own look at the basement levels. He follows the nurse onto an elevator to strike up a conversation.

Nurse Janice Eisen (Elaine Giftos) is something of a smart-mouth (“A well-performed autopsy is a joy forever.”) and she tells Carl she isn’t allowed to speak to the press without clearing it with the hospital’s Public Relations first. The elevator stops for a moment as they descend. Nurse Eisen says that they’re still working all the bugs out of the new systems.

When he gets downstairs, Carl can’t find anyone else who will tell him anything, but he can’t help noticing the huge cracks in the new walls. It’s also very hot, in spite of the vents pumping out cold air. After he experiences another tremor that causes even more cracks, he flees.

Lakefront HospitalSuspecting dangerous construction shortcuts, Carl steals the building blue-prints and contacts a friend of his who’s an architectural engineer. Two sneak back into the hospital basement to have a look at those cracked walls, now patched up. The friend says the cracks don’t look like settlement to him, but may be signs of foundation damage, may be poor-quality concrete or inferior steel. Maybe a geothermal leak, which would explain the remarkable heat. Carl takes some photos for the expose he’s hoping to write. While they’re down there, there’s a third tremor and the bulbs in all the temporary lights in the corridor explode.

The story Carl doesn’t care about, the event he was sent to cover, he gives to Miss Emily. Her article focuses on the new hospital’s lack of geriatric facilities, and their boss Tony Vincenzo catches on immediately.

The next day, Carl talks to Nurse Eisen in the pathology lab where she works and tells he’s heard about people dying in the hospital–not only the usual types of deaths. She ends up admitting that there have been some inexplicable deaths, all patients on various electrically operated medical devices. She also shows him the dead body of the electrocuted electrician. Sneaking into a doctors’ conference by pretending to be a doctor himself, Carl learns that the blood of this man has been turned to a dark sludge; all the plasma’s congealed.

Carl then tries to interview the boss for the construction crew that built the hospital. Two  men were killed while working on the building and there were reports of several “accidents”.  They left the job before it was completed for reasons unexplained… and Carl is looking for an explanation.

The construction crew are all Native Americans, members of the same unspecified tribe; their boss is their hereditary shaman or medicine man, as was his grandfather before him, even though they have Blue Cross insurance now. Jim Elkhorn holds an MBA and is a hip and swinging, handsome young man (played by William Smith, who isn’t actually Native American but was in a ton of things on TV), but he keeps in touch with the traditional ways of his people. He doesn’t tell Carl much the first time they meet, except that he pulled his crew off the hospital job over “tribal business,” and that “Matchemonedo” killed his men.

Victim in an orthopedic "wheel" bedMeanwhile, there’s another death at the hospital. A girl in an orthopedic “wheel” bed is fried. This scene terrified me when I saw it as a kid, for the girl’s paralyzed condition and the contraption she was stuck in even before it began to spark and she was unable to escape.

After this last death, even the hospital administrators are alarmed–but not enough to listen to Kolchak’s ravings about an energy-eating bear-god. But Nurse Eisen is sufficiently upset to agree to go along with an idea of Carl’s on how to get more information.

Since Carl has observed that Jim Elkhorn is a ladies’ man, he figures that Jim will be more willing to talk to the attractive young nurse than he would be to a rumpled middle-aged man. They head over to Jim’s bachelor pad, and this does indeed prove to be the case; their arrival puts a damper on whatever Jim and his blonde neighbor might’ve been planning for that evening after he fixed her toaster, but Jim doesn’t seem to mind. He’d rather talk to Janice Eisen, even about Matchemonedo.

Janice and Jim getting friendlyThis scene is one of my favorite parts of the episode. Carl rarely has other people who believe him and help him with his investigations into the supernatural, but here he’s got two of them.

Plus, Jim and Janice hit it off so well–you can see some completely different kind of sparks flying between them while they discuss what’s going on at the hospital.

“Matchemonedo” turns out to be the name of a Native American bear-god particular to the Lakeshore area of Chicago, long before there was a city on the shores of Lake Michigan. (But when Tony Vincenzo overhears the name later, Carl tells him that it’s an up-and-coming Cuban bantamweight boxer.) The people of Jim’s tribe used to drive herds of bison over to it once in awhile as a sacrifice, and the god would eat them (“Which is quite a trick if you don’t have a stomach,” quips Jim.)

Why has Matchemonedo been dormant up until now? Carl asks.

Jim thinks it’s because the lake’s shoreline has shifted and the land where the new hospital’s been built was under water until it was recently reclaimed.

Janice contributes information about the congealed plasma in the victims. “Plasma is practically pure protein, and protein is practically pure energy.”

“And there’s no purer form of energy than electricity!” Carl concludes triumphantly. That’s how Matchemonedo feeds on living things.

Janice and Jim make plans to meet for dinner at a great Chinese restaurant Jim knows about, but first all three of them head back to the hospital. Janice Eisen has to work for a few more hours, and Jim and Carl are going to go poke around the hospital sub-levels.

Carl wants Jim to do whatever his ancestors would’ve done to appease Matchemonedo, but when Jim sees a huge crack in the floor, he bluntly refuses. It would take a massive amount of power to cause that kind of damage, and the medicine man’s traditional dance isn’t going to do any good against a being that can do that. “It didn’t work for my grandfather, and it’s not going to work for me!”

But Carl does eventually coax him into giving it a try. Jim does a few steps with a bit of a chant, but that only seems to rile Matchemonedo.  There’s another tremor and, more this time–an explosion. The door has been blown off the pathology lab; damaged equipment and dead hospital staff lie everywhere. Carl takes a photo or two before he notices that a number of unexposed X-ray plates are also scattered over the floor. This gives him an idea: what if the electrical energy of the creature has left an imprint–a photograph of Matchemonedo?

Carl and Jim hastily gather up as many plates as they can, then scurry out of the room as other hospital personnel come in.

As they head out the door, the camera pans over to the other side of the room, where Janice Eisen lies dead. People die all the damn time on Kolchak, but this one really bothers me.  It’s not just that I liked her as a character, but that she’s tossed so dismissively out of the story halfway through. Not only do Jim and Carl not notice her while they’re in the lab, but there’s no indication throughout the rest of the episode that they ever find out what happened to her. Didn’t Jim wonder when she didn’t show up for their date?

Well, Jim’s got other things to do that evening. Carl takes his new friend back to the INS offices, where they develop the purloined X-ray plates and then try to put together the films on the floor of the empty press room like a giant puzzle, using some scotch tape and the window of Tony’s office. The images on the individual films show something large and curving that looks like it might be fangs or claws. But when the pieces are assembled, the picture is of another body part entirely: an enormous eye.

“So that’s Matchemonedo…”
MatchemonedoIt’s this image that made an impression on me as a child. We never get more than this glimpse of the invisible monster, but while we don’t see what the rest of it looks like, we know that it’s very big–and it’s looking right at us.

After this, Jim and Carl do some more research into Matchemonedo’s history. Legends of the creature go way back into prehistoric times. There are pictures of cave drawings in a book, and stories recorded by the first missionaries who ventured that far west and spoke to the Iroquois who lived in the area. Jim, who reads French fluently, translates the 1673 account of a Father Bouvet, and another 1714 report that mentions how the Iroquois drove cattle in Matchemonedo’s direction in July and August.

The bear-godThe summer months, observes Carl.

Jim replies that, yes, he knows which are the summer months. But Carl’s point is that so does Matchemonedo. That’s why they called it the bear-god, because it hibernates in the winter.

And that’s why it’s awake now–the chilly lake water had been keeping it dormant for centuries, but now that the land has been reclaimed, it’s warmed up and hungry for more energy, which the hospital has provided in abundance. The thing to do is make Matchemonedo cold again and send it back to sleep.

Carl and Jim take this idea to the hospital’s administrators and the architect who designed the place. They naturally scoff at first–but then Matchemonedo gets into the radiation therapy room in the basement and starts sucking up all the energy in the cobalt. Still invisible, but it grows so big it bursts out another door and part of the wall. The administrators are there to witness this, and start making plans to evacuate the hospital and pump the basement levels full of frozen CO2. They release public information that they’re doing this because of structural instability in the hospital’s foundations–release it to the major new services, which doesn’t include INS.

So even though Carl got the authorities to listen to him and do what he wanted this once, he’s been cheated of his news story. Not that he’s going to take that lying down.

On the night that the Big Freeze is implemented, he sneaks back into the now-empty hospital and heads down into the basement levels with two cameras loaded with expensive infra-red and ultra-violet film to try and get a photo of Matchemonedo.

Matchemonedo does make one last invisible appearance before the cold subdues it. Carl also blasts at it using a fire extinguisher, but that really seems ineffective when compared with the massive sub-zero blast that’s coming through the multitude of large hoses serpenting around the floor.

Kolchak-sicle While one sympathizes with his reporter’s desire to get a scoop, it’s very stupid of Carl to be wandering around hallways that are about to be filled with frozen gas. It’s only because he’s the star of the show that he doesn’t end up as a Kolchak-sicle.

Instead, he wakes up frostbitten in St. Vincent’s hospital on the other side of town, with a worried Tony Vincenzo at his bedside.

Tony tells him that the film in one camera was destroyed by the cold, the other survived and has been developed. Tony has no idea what the photo is supposed to be of, but Carl murmurs that he “remembers that.”

It’s that same huge eye of Matchemonedo.


Author: Kathryn L Ramage

Kathryn L. Ramage has a B.A. and M.A. in English lit and has been writing for as long as she can remember. She lives in Maryland with three calico cats named after the Brontë sisters. In addition to being the author of numerous short stories, reviews, essays, and period mystery novellas, she is also the author of a series of fantasy novels set in a dukedom called the Northlands on an alternate Earth whose history has diverged from ours somewhere during the medieval period.