Starsky & Hutch: The Vampire – 1976 / Director: Bob Kelljan

Everyone knows that Starsky and Hutch was a fantastic show – superb 70s fashions, tyre-screeching car chases, David Soul‘s hairstyle, their shouty boss, Huggy Bear. All great stuff. What could possibly improve such a formula? A vampire? Yeah! A vampire played by John Saxon? Oh yeah! A vampire played by John Saxon with a slightly wobbly Bela Lugosi accent? Hell yeah! A vampire played by John Saxon with a slightly wobbly Bela Lugosi accent who’s killing nubile dancers? Fuck yeah! Very possibly taking inspiration from the Kolchak: the Night Stalker TV series (a sort of proto X Files featuring a reporter on the trail of supernatural shenanigans), the man behind such classics as Rape Squad and Scream, Blacula, Scream injects a little of his Count Yorga films into the funky world of bell-bottoms and afros.

Growing up in the 70s, I was, like every other schoolboy, a massive fan of the show. I was a touch too young at the time to watch The Sweeney, but Starsky & Hutch was on at tea time, so it was required viewing. Having said that, I really can’t remember this episode at all. Maybe it was broadcast a little later than usual because of the subject matter (or perhaps the sight of Saxon in a silk shirt would be too much for Britain’s women to handle), but it passed me by until years later. Saxon plays a vaguely European guy who’s a ballet teacher by day(!) and possibly a bloodsucker by night. With his ropey accent and theatrical limp, he looks like he’s thoroughly enjoying himself as he tears across lawns, fangs bared and cape billowing behind him in the best vampire fashion. Credit to Kelljan for shooting the episode pretty much like a horror film. The show was always a little darker than its reputation suggests, but this, along with the infamous episode The Fix (which features Hutch being forcibly hooked on heroin)  show the avenues that the series was capable of going down occasionally. Okay, the tension is broken a little when Huggy Bear tries to sell anti-vampire kits for a knock-down price but come on, it is Starsky and Hutch.

The episode does cover the usual bases of the show – there’s a dance scene featuring plenty of girls in very tight trousers, Captain Dobey good-naturedly bollocks his two maverick detectives, the Gran Torino screeches to a halt despite only going about ten miles per hour and so on, but Saxon raises the quality by a good margin. He emotes something fierce over his dead wife and gives his dance class fuck all with relish. Kelljan throws in at least one moment of sheer genius. As Saxon is overseeing his students, Kelljan rapidly cuts from Saxon, to a pretty dancer then to a portrait of Saxon‘s wife. As this is going on, Kelljan gradually brings the camera around Saxon‘s head until he faces us head on, sweaty and trembling. I might be going a bit too far, but it really is reminiscent of Henry Fonda’s first appearance in Once Upon a Time in the West.