In the days before Potter mania took the world by the throat, my generation had their own regular book adventures to indulge in. Two young men and a girl spawned an entire legacy of detective stories that sometimes ventured into the paranormal.
Between them, the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew inspired a generation of children and young adults as they battled criminal elements. Created in 1929 by Edward Stratemeyer, Frank and Joe have gone through many revisions over the years, evolving with the times. The books have been written by several people but are all published under the name of Franklin W Dixon. A major revision to eradicate racial stereotypes saw their popularity explode and in the seventies Glen A Larson decided the time was right to bring the characters to the small screen.
However, only a couple of episodes united the sleuthing trio. And like the book Night of the Werewolf, the tv show pitted the trio against the original vampire himself and thus began the battle with Dracula. Having already pitted the Six Million Dollar Man against Bigfoot, Glen A Larson wanted to kick off the second series of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew mysteries in style with a blockbuster team up. Given aliens and robot Sasquatch were outside the Hardys’ realm, it had to be the Prince of Darkness himself, Dracula, they and Nancy went up against. And if Glen Larson was good at one thing it was creating a television event.
Originally broadcast on September 11, 1977, this saw Pamela Sue Martin as Nancy - who would later find international fame as the original Fallon in Dynast – the big rival to Dallas, it saw Nancy travelling to Europe to meet Fenton Hardy, Frank and Joe’s father. They are working on a case together but, unbeknowst to her, Frank and Joe have been called to identify a body, a body that may be their missing father. It turns out not to be and they join forces to solve a series of art thefts and find Fenton.
Parker Stevenson played Frank and Shaun Cassidy was Joe and they worked well as the brothers. Stevenson would later find fame on Baywatch, while Shaun was the brother of seventies heartthrob David Cassidy, part of the all singing and dancing Partridge Family and would later go on to write the acclaimed supernatural series American Gothic. The series ran to three series but Dracula remains one of the best remembered. Larson’s background included Six Million Dollar Man, Bionic Woman, Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica and he knew what audiences wanted to see.
From the get go, the team up let you know this was a scary story as Fenton Hardy is driven to a deserted castle on a Transylvanian mountain in the middle of a lightning storm with wolves howling in the background. Taking him there is a local who warns of the living dead and the legacy that the castle of Dracula still houses the evil that terrifies the locals. It’s very cliched as the local clears off and leaves the elder Hardy alone with a torch which he promptly drops into a pit housing a skeleton. A bat flies at him as the lightning rips the sky. The atmosphere is added to as a mysterious black booted figure wearing a blood red ruby ring strikes him down which brings the Hardy Boys to the scenario.
In a couple of days a rock music festival will be held there called the Dracula Festival which is populated by all manners of monster costumes; even Frankenstein gets a look in. With Frank and Joe teaming up with a band which utilizes Cassidy’s real life singing talents in the show, it isn’t long before bodies start appearing with puncture wounds in their necks. It seems the legend of Dracula is true and he is back with a vengeance.
In certain aspects the episodes are Scooby Doo in parts with secret passages and pale hands reaching from the dark to grab its victims but this isn’t a criticism, it’s a compliment. it works really well in that aspect and you never know who Dracula is until the end so kudos to the director for the misdirection.
In one scene Nancy is asleep in bed, the street outside is filled with fog and Dracula’s shadow fills the frame. He approaches Nancy’s window, pushing it open. The next thing she is attacked by a vampire bat. Atmosphere and tension is abundant here. Steven Moffat said recently of Doctor Who’s episode A Town Called Mercy, that if you’re going to do a cowboy story then you have to put in every image audiences associate with the Wild West which is exactly what Larson and his co-writer do here.
Name any vampire or horror iconic image or idea and it’s here trying to thwart the Hardy Boys and Nancy. Aiding them along the way is Inspector Stavlin who claims that he was helping Fenton to investigate a series of art thefts; thefts that occur when the headlining act of the rock festival appears at gigs. Played by then singing sensation Paul Williams who, to be fair, didn’t really look like a singer, Allison Troy was the stereotypical rock star with ideas above his station who treated the world like dirt.
Although the relationship between Nancy and the boys is strained at first, when the body count starts to rise they team up to discover who is behind the thefts and what connection the newly risen Dracula has to it all. The three leads work well together in a story, although cliched with German salutes and clicking of heels and terrible European accents, Larson manages to weld an entertaining tale which uses the vampire legend to the full. The misdirection of the cloaked figure stalking catacombs is the quintessential image of Dracula and at times, when the leads are being stalked by the figure, you can believe that Dracula really has risen to reclaim his castle.
But it turns out that Stavlin is in fact behind the art thefts and left Fenton Hardy for dead but he turns up in a coma in the care of monks which is actually a clue to the identity of Dracula, one so subtle you miss it on first viewing. Earlier in the episode Stavlin tells how the body of Vlad the Impaler was guarded by monks before being returned to his tomb in the castle. Larson knew how to weave a story. He even puts in a mob scene with flaming torches just like that famous Frankenstein scene where they storm the lab before burning it to the ground. Stavlin is using the Dracula legend to keep nosy parkers away to keep his secret. Stavlin was played by living legend Lorne Greene, better known as Adama in Battlestar Galactica and the patriarch in long running Western series Bonanza and he handles the role of the evil Stavlin well. His rich booming voice is always a pleasure to listen to and he is physically imposing enough to be Dracula, looking resplendent in his cape and black boots.
What is wonderful about this story is that he looks like he could snap any of our heroes in half at any time. Cassidy plays Joe like a slightly goofy character without making him look stupid. He has an innocence about him that belays a sharp analytical mind when it comes to solving crimes along with the more straight-laced portrayal of Frank as Stevenson played him. What Larson did so well with all the characters in his shows was make them distinguishable personalities in their own right eg you knew who Buck Rogers was, who Adama and Apollo were and how Steve Austin would react because of the reality he brought to his writing which the actors picked up on and raced with. And this is extremely evident in this episode as the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew are characters you want to go with and fear for as they battle the Count on his own turf.
It is little wonder that many of his shows remain the best loved and remembered in the world. You can see the epic battle for yourself on YouTube. Check it out and relive your childhood once again.