Thursday, January 28, 2010

CULT TV FLASHBACK #99: The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Meet Dracula

Don your bell-bottoms, cue the stock-footage thunderstorms, and turn up the library archive sound-effects of wolves baying at the full moon. It's time to ride our blogging TV time machine back to that great year 1977. Our destination: The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, a Glen A. Larson production that ran for three years on ABC (1977-1979).

This once-popular detective TV series (styled after the popular, long-lived, mystery books by Edward Stratemeyer) starred teen heartthrob Shaun Cassidy ("Da Doo Ron Ron...") as Joe Hardy and Parker Stevenson (later the husband of Kirstie Alley...) as his cleverer brother, Frank.

On the Nancy Drew side of the equation, lovely Pamela Sue Martin portrayed the dedicated part-time sleuth. At least that was the case for the first two seasons of The Hardy Boy/Nancy Drew Mysteries. Then she permanently exited the series, breaking the hearts of pre-adolescent boys across the nation. Concurrent with her departure, Pamela Sue Martin shed her "good girl" image forever by posing nude in Playboy.

Little known fact: I still own that particular issue...

But for this 99th cult tv flashback, I want to direct your attention to the two-part, second season opener of The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries, the charmingly-titled "The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Meet Dracula," which aired on September 11th and September 18th, 1977.

In most of my reviews, I prefer not to use descriptors such as cheesy or camp -- because in time, all programming turns to cheese or camp -- but this series is indeed a very cheesy. It's also rather charming...and innocent. In other words: perfect stuff for kids. Even better: it's perfect stuff for kids with a burgeoning interest in the horror genre.

So, in this particular tale, hapless Hardy Senior -- Fenton Hardy (Ed Gilbert) -- disappears at Count Dracula's castle in Transylvania (on June 4th, 1977...). Weeks later, Joe and Frank go in search of Paris. Then, they run into the lovely Nancy Drew in Munich, and learn more about their father's unusual disappearance. Fenton and Nancy were "comparing notes" on a mystery involving international art thefts. Many of the world's most valuable paintings have disappeared, and Fenton was on the case.

The three amateur detectives concur that all roads lead to Transylvania, where a Dracula Festival is being held at Vlad The Impaler's historic castle. Shooting a rock concert there for ABC is the rock sensation Allison Troy...really the incomparable Paul Williams (who appeared EVERYWHERE in the 1970s, including in Battle for the Planet of the Apes...).

And here (in Part I), Williams performs a great song from one of my favorite movies of all time (and one by Brian De Palma, no less...), 1974's Phantom of the Paradise.

Anyway, the Hardy Boys go undercover as members of a band called "Circus"....which is just a transparent excuse for Shaun Cassidy to sing "That's Rock'N'Roll" ("Come on Everybody, get down, get with it, come on everybody get down, get with it...")

While Joe sings his heart out for costumed revelers, Frank and Nancy Drew separately investigate the creepy caverns underneath the castle; a locale they have been warned about repeatedly. Before long, Frank ends up locked in a dungeon with the apparent victim of a vampire attack.

Soon vampire bats are attacking a night-gowned Nancy Drew in her hotel bedroom (!) and the Transylvania town elders start panicking. Before long, they are on the receiving end of vampire neck bites. Inspector Stavlin, played by Lorne Greene -- a traditional sort-of-guy -- hints that Dracula may be perturbed that his castle is being used for such crass commercialism (meaning Allison Troy's concert, not this two-part Glen Larson episode...).

But deep in the caverns -- behind the ancient Dracula family crest -- a secret chamber awaits. And there, Frank, Joe and Nancy finally learn the truth about vampires, and international art thieves too.

Directed by Joseph Pevney and written by Glen A. Larson and Michael Sloane, "The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew Meet Dracula" is a show I vividly remember from my childhood. I guess I was seven years old when I watched it originally, and, well, what can I say? it had a lasting impression on me.

For instance, I've always recalled the Dracula-"stalking" scenes that dominate this two-part episode. We just see Dracula's stylish boots as the count hunts his prey in the dark caverns. Of course, the villain was filmed in this manner so we couldn't discover Dracula's real identity. But there was always something unsettling (to my young mind, anyway....) about the way those shiny boots came out of the darkness and followed everybody through the catacombs.

And, of course, how can you not love Paul Williams? The performer gets to camp it up here as an egotistical rock star. I love that he sings "The Hell of It" in this episode, because it features nihilistic song lyrics that aren't exactly as kid-friendly as the rest of this landmark Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew endeavor. Anyway, I've embedded the Paul Williams Hardy Boys performance below this review, so you too can share in the joy.

All right, so it''s all too easy to make fun of 1970s costumes and lingo, right... turkey? And vampire bats on visible strings? Han Solo hair cuts? Lorne Greene -- Ben Cartwright -- as the Prince of Darkness, Dracula?

But all snark aside, from 1976-1979, I loved this series. I mean, I loved it. I never missed an episode. The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries had fun stories, featured engaging performances and depicted some great tales about The Bermuda Triangle, King Tut, the Phantom of Hollywood and other weird 1970s era obsessions. I often write about TV series as "time capsules" for their era, and -- my god -- what a time capsule this show is. It's just a whole lot of goofy, 1977-style fun.

And now, before I sign off, may I present Paul Williams on The Hardy Boys...?


  1. God, you have the same pop junkpile in your brain that I do. But the clip of that song from "Phantom of the Paradise" is priceless--only in the '70s could Paul Williams have ever been considered a rock star. In fact it's the one thing I remember about that ep. I even remember thinking that those were incredibly cynical lyrics for Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew! (It still seems hilariously out of place.)

    Interesting that the "spooky" chords in the middle of that song were also the opening chords for the "Buffy" theme song. And Whedon is on record as a "Phantom" fan.

  2. Of course Paul Williams is a Rock Star. Felix Unger's daughter was going to drop out & follow him on the road.

  3. As a huge fan of Phantom of the Paradise and all the joys attached to it, I fully approve of that Youtube clip.


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