Thursday, October 02, 2008

Starsky and Hutch – the Vampire – review (TV Episode)

dvd set

Directed by: Bob Kelljan

First Aired: 1976

Contains spoilers 

Most reading this will know of Starsky and Hutch, older readers will remember the series and younger ones will, perhaps, more think of the, quite frankly, risible film remake. Cops Hutch (David Soul), the educated one, and Starsky (Paul Michael Glaser), the tough guy, became – along with their Gran Torino and funky snitch Huggy Bear (Antonio Fargas) – the epitome of 1970s cool. They also met a ‘vampire’ in this series 2 episode.

Now there is a distinct genre pedigree running through this episode, but not because three years later David Soul would go on to star as vampire hunter Ben Mears in Salem’s Lot. No, the distinctive pedigree I speak of stems from the fact that director Bob Kelljan also directed Count Yorga, Vampire, the Return of Count Yorga and Scream, Blacula, Scream - indeed you can positively see the Yorga element in one oft repeated shot that I’ll mention later.

portraits come into the storyAfter a mood shot of the moon we see, in a room above the Playhouse theatre, a man speaking to a portrait of Maria. He speaks of bringing her back from the dead and we see he has fangs. The man is later revealed to be Rene Nadasy and is played by John Saxon. Saxon had faced an intergalactic vampire in Queen of Blood and, in years to come would cameo in genre favourite From Dusk till Dawn and appear in portmanteau Trapped Ashes facing a vampiric witch. The inclusion of a portrait as plot point is often a gothic mainstay but in this was used quite differently.

the vampire lurks in the bushesA woman gets off a bus. A bolt of lightning rips the skies, which is amusing as through the majority of the shot the sky seems clear of any storm. She is watched from the bushes by the vampire and the shot of him stalking, as it were, was nicely done (though lightning lit, it would appear). Now this scene had several elements within it both good and bad, the lightning was amongst the bad as it was too clichéd.

excellent lightingAs the girl walks by a fountain it has an appearance of, perhaps, a fountain of blood. This looked really good, it was clearly a lighting effect and one would hope deliberate on Kelljan’s part. It would, in another episode, had just looked like red light reflected off a fountain but, given the subject of the episode and the melodramatic elements Kelljan had already added it was a classy piece of lighting work. This was, of course a good element that was about to be smashed.

bad run pose, cf Count YorgaThe vampire attacks and he runs at the girl, holding a cape out behind him. The run, and the way it was shot, was quite simply not good but it was pure Kelljan. Referring to my ‘the Return of Count Yorga’ review I mentioned “Yorga spends a lot of his time running at people with his arms outstretched and it just doesn’t seem dignified.” Well, okay, Nadasy is holding the cape out with his arms a little more, but the same principle applies. He does it several times in the episode and it looks plain undignified again. The cape has a silver lining, the same as Yorga’s cape, one wonders if it were the same prop!

Starsky and HutchHuggy Bear is looking after a bar, the Play Pen, and Starsky and Hutch are there on their night off looking to pick up some ladies. Their Captain, Dobey (Bernie Hamilton, who worked with Kelljan on Scream, Blacula, Scream), rings them and gets them to go down to the morgue. The girl, Honey, has been found. She was, we discover, strangled and then two sharp prongs were forced into her jugular post-mortem. She had saliva on her neck and is missing blood. It is the same MO as another murder a month earlier.

She was a dancer at a place called Slade’s Cave and the cops head there. Having talked to Slade (G. W. Bailey, who played Rizzo in M*A*S*H) they end up going to the playhouse theatre were they meet Nadasy, he is giving ballet lessons. What we notice is that it is daytime, he has a cane and walks with a limp (from an accident that ended his promising ballet career) and he has no fangs. There is a portrait of a ballet dancer, she has the same face as the earlier portrait and we discover she was his wife.

Hutch ridicules StarskyIt's time that we looked at lore and Starsky is clearly the superstitious one of the duo, researching vampires and leaning to the theory that they are looking for a real one. He tells Hutch that the last execution for vampirism was in England in 1949 (this is most likely in reference to John George Haigh, the acid bath murderer. In more sensationalistic tellings of his story there is a vampiric aspect added in but it was likely a calculated lie to escape execution by feigning madness) and that Dracula was based on a real person. Hutch is highly amused to discover that Starsky is wearing a garlic clove and, whilst it meant nothing when the episode aired, with hindsight it is amusing to see ‘Ben Mears’ so dismissive of vampires.

Huggy Bear with crossThere is a great comedy moment with Huggy Bear preparing vampire hunting kits for sale ($7.50 a kit, which now-a-days sounds like good value), including a mirror (if you can’t see him behind you, you’re in trouble!), a cross, a garlic garland and a hammer and stake. Later, in an episode coda gag, he comes up with a hoodoo cure for vampirism as he believes Starsky has been tainted with the curse of the undead.

Unfortunately, with regards our actual vampire, the lore is light. Clearly this is a man deluded. I mentioned the portrait of his wife and whilst this seems to be a ritual to bring her back there are unexplained moments. The use of the portrait is clever, when he selects another victim he watches her jugular (standard genre shot) but the portrait imposes over the shot – presumably she is selecting the victims (in his head). Slade, who is a Satanist, has a photo of Maria and apparently has led Nadasy to the ritual (and thus the delusion) but that is more supposition as it is not explicit in the dialogue.

look - a stake and malletNadasy was injured years before, hence the limp, and claims an alibi for the nights of the attack. The alibi is checked, or checking it is mentioned in passing should I say, but the results are never relayed to the audience and thus we do not know how he created the (obviously false) alibi (simply bad cop show scripting). Worse we do not know how he is able to dance and run given the injury (that they never verified to our knowledge) or whether the injury simply did not exist. He is chased at one point and seems to jump a 25 foot roof gap. Hutch is incredulous but suggests that he flew and yet we don’t ever know how he did this. The inference is that he drank the blood of his victims (we never find that he simply harvested it, which is the alternative possibility) and yet if, as a human, he drank as much blood, as it was hinted he had, then he would have been physically ill.

The Car!This is the episode’s problem. It has the characters, the car, the funk and the attitude. But the lore is badly handled and the exposition is terrible both as a vampire episode and a cop show episode. 4 out of 10 reflects that the style lifts the poor aspects as it makes the episode very watchable – so long as you don’t engage your brain.

The imdb page for the episode is here.


Anonymous said...

Nicely written review, except for one HUGE mistake - you've got the main characters backwards.
Ken Hutchinson aka "Hutch", played by David Soul, is the educated half of the duo; Dave Starsky, played by Paul Michael Glaser, is the tough guy from the streets of New York.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

sorry - error on my part and I am now correcting, many thanks... as you can tell I am much more vamp than cop show orientated