A two-part season opener for the Glen A. Larson TV reboot of the teen detectives franchise – which, despite the hard-sell in the title, is more significant for having Joe and Frank Hardy (Shaun Cassidy, Parker Stevenson) meet Nancy Drew (Pamela Sue Martin) for the first time than for their run-in with a vampire at Dracula’s Castle. In the first season, the sleuths from the Franklin W Dixon and Carolyn Keene book series stuck to their own self-contained episodes – more like the revolving detectives in 1970s Mystery Movie slots than the various Mavericks, who would run into each other occasionally in addition to having solo adventures.
The encounter between the Hardy brothers and Nancy – who has sidekick blonde Bess Marvin (Ruth Cox) so the spare Hardy has someone to smooch – is formulaic … they come into a case from different angles and have a tiresome misunderstanding at a German hotel, where Fritz Feld is a distraction as a porter who does an excruciating luggage-shifting act (reprised several times) along with the odd heil joke. Then, without showing much chemistry, they team up to track the Hardys’ father (Edmund Gilbert) to Transylvania, where he’s on the track of an international art thief who strikes wherever and whenever rock star Allison Troy (Paul Williams) has a gig – this turns out to be a red herring, but still leads to the culprit.
Troy is headlining at a Dracula festival in Poenari, and the Hardys hook up with a bare-chested busker (Bernie Taupin, in a rare acting role – in which he’s terrible) and form an impromptu band to go undercover at the fest. Williams performs ‘The Hell of It’, from Phantom of the Paradise, to a dungeon-full of jivers in monster masks (I spotted a Dick Smith Old Barnabas Collins among the usual Karloffian Frankenstein Monster, skullhead, werewolf and general spook costumes) and acts dead suspect.
Attacks are made on local dignitaries (Leon Askin, Carl Esmond) which leave them with tiny neat fangmarks – though, as befits the mildness of the series, no one actually dies. The vampire/art heister is seen throughout as a set of black pirate boots, a trailing cape, a frilly cuff and a ruby ring – and turns out to be the only other culpable guest star, Lorne Greene as Inspector Stavlin. The good cop/bad baddie is ticked off because he’s being forced into retirement, though as he’s being led off in handcuffs Joe Hardy happens to notice he casts no reflection … so he’s probably as real a vampire as John Saxon and John Carradine were in episodes of Starsky & Hutch (Vampire) and McCloud (McCloud Meets Dracula).
The musical numbers are a pleasant distraction from dire comic interludes – and coiffeured Cassidy good-naturedly puts up with jokes about how shit he must be to be desperate enough to pay a busker to let him join the band (by Part Two he’s duetting with headliner). The plot feels like a single episode stretched out to make a double, though we get some Scooby-Doo business prowling around the dungeon secret passages (the same iron maiden that turns up in every dungeon-set film and TV show from the 1960s to the 1980s is prominently placed).
Earnest Parker Stevenson is de facto lead man, but gives one weirdly terrible line reading early on ‘why did they call you ‘inspector’?’ as opposed to ‘why did they call you, Inspector?’) that throws him off his game. Pamela Sue Martin, who’d quit mid-season feeling her role was being downgraded, is a rather bad-tempered spoilsport when Nancy is thrust out of the spotlight and into the unfamiliar role of straight investigator shown up by the interfering nuisance. She also gets stuck with an embarrassing eek-a-big-fake-bat panic scene. Scripted by producer Larson; directed by Joseph Pevney (Man of a Thousand Faces).
Lorne Greene (Bonanza, Battlestar Galactica) might not be natural casting for Dracula – but he had played the role before, in a 1949 Canadian radio adaptation.