Friday, October 03, 2008

Diagnosis Murder – the Bela Lugosi Blues – review (TV Episode)


Directed by: Lee Philips

Originally aired: 1995

Contains spoilers

Okay, my friend Vannevar told me about this one and said I had to see it. Now Vannevar is a connoisseur of, shall we say, cheesy TV. To me, and it is not the first time I have said this on the blog, Diagnosis Murder is the lowest common denominator in daytime TV. However it has a vampire in it and so… But wait, then Vannevar informed me that the vampire in it was a real vampire, not someone pretending or thinking they were a vampire. Now the show might not be that grounded in reality… Dick Van Dyke, who plays Dr Mark Sloan, was to me a little too old to be a hospital chief of staff, surely at 70 he’d have retired? Then again who would have thunk that Chachi from Happy Days would have grown up and changed his name to Jack Stewart (Scott Baio) and become a doctor… hmmm… but real vampire….

I dutifully kept me eye out for this and then it aired on the Hallmark Channel. So here we go… I am going to completely spoil it as we need to investigate this real vampire, and all I can say, before we get going, is, “The things I watch for the sake of vampires!”

the melodramatic openingThe show starts off with a moon shot and then we see a woman, Moriah Thomas (Julie Carmen), crossing a park area; it is misty and the whole thing is very melodramatic. She is followed by a man. She seems panicked as she reaches a fence and he fumbles at a box. He can’t open the catch and backs away, falling down a ditch. She smiles and approaches. Cut back to moon as we hear the man scream. Now this is going to be the case all the way through this – we never see an attack.

Steve Sloan (Barry Van Dyke), cop and son of Mark, sees his dad about the body that the police have just found. It appears the victim was killed by blunt force trauma to head and neck but there is no cranial haemorrhaging and the body has been drained of blood. The box was found, empty with an indent in the inner lining. It’s a mystery alright.

Scott Baio as Chachi... I mean Jack... nah it's ChachiChachi (oh come on, what else can I call him) has been put forward as Bachelor of the Year, by the hospital, as a publicity stunt. He goes to the house of Ivan Brock (William Coverse-Roberts). Now I wondered what was going on with the accent here, Brock sounded awfully like Nick Cage in Vampire’s Kiss but I suspect that was coincidental. Chachi seems to be getting on awfully well with the magazine editor, who happens to be Moriah. Then another contestant, singer Vic Danton (Andrew Williams) cuts in and gets invited to her bedroom.

bodies drained of bloodThe next day Steve has another corpse, identical to the first, but this is Danton. Mark checks the bodies in the morgue and notices that the blunt force wounds hide two little punctures either side of the jugular – surely not enough for a bleed out. He and Steve go to Brock’s and bluff/bully their way into the house. Moriah is sleeping but Mark seems curious about a painting. They reach a locked storeroom, Brock claims he has no key (luckily Steve has lock picks, what a good cop). Inside is a coffin, a Halloween prop Brock claims, before it can be opened Brock falls and they help him out of the room.

dancing with the vampireThe reason Mark was interested in the artwork was because it was clear something else had hung there. Checking magazine photos he discovers it was a mirror. Colleague Amanda (Victoria Rowell) realises where Mark’s theory is going… can he be serious… vampire! Obviously someone who thinks they are one. Mark goes to the next eligible bachelor party and, after Moriah has been shown a picture of the guy from the beginning, dances with her. He mentions vampires and she laughs… ha ha.

Dick Van Dyke as MarkThe next day another bachelor, Terry Broadhurst (Tim Dunigan), is found dead. Just so happens that Brock held his contract as a sportsman and has a $20M life insurance on him – Brock becomes Steve’s prime suspect but Mark isn’t so sure. He manages to get a solo nosey around the house. The coffin seems to have gone until he finds it in Moriah’s bedroom – it is empty. However, with Chachi due to go on a date with her (does Joanie know?) Mark is worried.

He gets to the house when Chachi has nipped up to the bedroom and is able to confront Moriah. We get most of our lore around here. Moriah has already said to Chachi that “sometimes I get so lonely I feel like opening the drapes and staring at the sun until I melt.” Melodrama or killed by sunlight – the show doesn’t say. She tells Mark she is four centuries old and her passport expired in 1938 (indeed she is killing the bachelors to obfuscate the murder of Terry on Brock’s behalf, in order to get a passport from him).

Moriah floatsShe claims that she sleeps in a bed (the coffin is for travel purposes) but then says she is strong. To prove it she lifts Mark and throws him right across the room. She then floats towards him. Right, super strong and floats… vampire… okay but my suspension of disbelief has floated right out of the window at this point. Not because she is a vampire but because there is no way Dick Van Dyke was going to survive being thrown across the room, at his age, without (at the very least) losing one hip… come on.

Two grown men to stake one woman... it'll never hold in courtShe tells Mark that she is another species at this point and then lobs him again (there goes the other hip), when Chachi comes in and belts her with some errant furniture. She throws him too. She aims for Chachi, going for the kill, when he turns, bringing said wooden bit up... and we have an accidental staking. Now it should be noted that it is through the stomach, not the heart, but isn’t it so very often the case! Now staking will kill whether you are human or a vampire, to be fair, and we do not see a kill nor do we see fangs… but the strength and floating was enough evidence for me.

I'm dying, let me confessAs she dies she confesses (again) that she killed the men on Brock’s behalf and then disbelief becomes a muddy quagmire where sense is lost forever. Seemingly the courts will accept the testimony of the two men who killed a woman (allegedly in self defence) in respect of her deathbed confession. They will not be bothered that two men, one young – though the other was old, felt it necessary to defend themselves against said woman (who wasn't even a prime police suspect) with extreme prejudice. Her deathbed confession, which can only be collaborated by her killers, will be enough to put another man away for life!

oh, it was a stake boxOf course, there is the fact that she was a vampire and super strong but… they aren’t going to tell the courts that. Even when the labs reconstruct the indent in the box from the beginning into a stake – that is just deemed as a joke. Bad… bad… bad.

No this wasn’t good programming, but it was a vampire. 2 out of 10, and it gets that because the entire thing had some degree of kitsch and the episode title was actually very good.

The imdb page for the episode is here.


everlost said...

i actually remember seeing the opening scene for this...thought, wahey, vampiress doing her thing! then quickly realised with mounting horror, it was in fact diagnosis murder...didnt have the stamina to sit through and watch it all...taliesin, you have a constitution of iron sir!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Imagine my wife's horror when she realised I'd tied the TV and DVD recorder up with it, as it was on when I was at work!!!!

cheers everlost

George Gissing said...

I just watched this the other week and am still getting my head round how they got away with it. We missed a lot of US TV in the UK and are only slowly catching up with some of the 70s/80s twaddle... Jumping the Shark. Nuking the Fridge & now Diagnosis Murdering the Vampire?! I've truly seen it all.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

I'm also in the UK George and I think, with this one, they hid it in the afternoon slots. There is also a Murder she Wrote vampire episode, btw.

Thanks for stopping by and commenting, its always appreciated