Episode 27: The Vampire

A grieving dance instructor and cultist is killing off young women for their blood, making it look like the work of a vampire.

Rene Nadasy: John Saxon, Slade: GW Bailey, Linda Offenbecker: Suzanne Somers, Guybo: Phil Leeds, Supergnat: Frank Corsentino, Suzette: Paula Sills, Jane: Lindsay Bloom, Bobette: Colleen Camp. Written By: Michael Grais & Mark Victor, Directed By: Bob Kelljan.

QUESTIONS AND NOTES:

With the current cultural obsession with vampires, this episode is particularly fun to watch. As Bram Stoker gives way to Stephanie Meyer, modern-day vampires have devolved from folkloric aristocrats to brooding teenagers, and you could say Rene Nadasy falls somewhere in between – a tortured, sexually-tormented loner who probably gives his students the creeps.

One can’t help but admire the really bad retro painting of Nadasy’s wife. It looks as if it’s been painted on velvet, too.

Again, the sound of thunder (this on a hazy, moonlit night) is used as a shortcut to emotional tension. This soundtrack device is seen repeatedly throughout the series.

Nadasy artificially affixes fake fangs to himself, which begs the question: what does he think to himself as he’s putting them on? There are three possibilities I can come up with. He might genuinely believe he’s a “real” vampire and sees this action as a minor detail, a necessity that does not inform his reality, much in the way an artist understands himself as an artist while acknowledging he must pick up a brush to make art. He might be consciously adopting a persona, a means to an end, and the fangs are a fatiguing prelude to scaring the daylights out of his victims; this becomes, then, a kind of minorly embarrassing accouterments and Nasdasy feels similarly as the Queen does, hefting that six-pound crown to her head. The third and most frightening possibility of all is he is not aware of his own behavior, slipping into a kind of fugue state as the urge to kill overcomes him.

Dobey calls the guys at The Playpen, a disco with gorgeous women and good music. Starsky and Hutch have found this goldmine of a place through Huggy, who is working there until his “cousin” comes back (just one of many mysterious relatives Huggy is tenuously connected with throughout the series).  The guys are just settling in, Hutch in full humiliation-mode with Starsky (“watch the master at work” and “tough break, Foxy”) which means he is in a particularly good mood. But how on earth did Dobey know to call them there? Do they give him an itinerary of their off-duty plans as unusual as that seems? 

It’s Starsky and Hutch’s first night off in awhile, which presumably means they have been working side-by-side for eight, nine or even ten days and nights without a break, cracking a tough case. But instead of needing some private time alone they spend it together. 

It’s funny that Hutch, with all his debonair coat-over-the-shoulder moves, seems more preoccupied with showing off to his partner than showing off to the girls.

When the two detectives enter Slade’s Cave they do so with extreme caution, as if this place is the most debauched environment they have ever seen, but it doesn’t seem that far off from The Playpen – same cheesy saxophone, same lighting, same general clientele. The only difference is the presence of drugged-looking dancers wearing caveman outfits and beanbag chairs. Beanbags must be a metaphor for lewd permissiveness, a holdover from the 60s when slouching had sinful properties.

The clue about Nadasy’s dance studio comes pretty early into the case. Linda mumbles she took a dance lesson with Honey and Hutch asks “where?” with peculiar intensity. Any other cop, any other time, and Linda’s comment wouldn’t have meant anything, but Hutch’s instict for the telling detail has always been extraordinary.

Hutch chooses the moment of confronting what may be the prime suspect in the murder of Honey Williams to razz Starsky about his memory of the girls they met the night before. That might seem to an outsider as an irritating lack of focus, but a close watching of the series reveals this to be instead a necessary expending of energy before a potentially difficult encounter. In an episode soaked in superstition it may also have a magical element to it as well.

Nobody does oily villainy like John Saxon. With his skin-tight turtlenecks and sculpted, sweaty, vaguely European looks, he’s a star here. He’s perfectly cast and utterly memorable. Nadasy is an interesting character, so certain he will outsmart the police he doesn’t even bother to act cooperatively or pretend to be anything other than what he is: controlling, suspicious, and menacing. In other episodes featuring a highly manipulative, mentally unstable foe (I’m thinking of Commander Jim, Janet Mayer, Simon Marcus, Dr. Matwick, Annie Oates and others) there is always a faux-friendliness, the cold calculation of a psychopath. Nadasy is off-putting from the start, which furthers the impression he has no conscious control over what he is doing.

Hutch plays the shoulder trick on Starsky to “wake” him from his thoughtful reverie at Dobey’s desk. For no reason, he taps Starsky’s left shoulder and then, aggravatingly, snaps his fingers in Starsky’s right ear. Starsky gets up obediently. He is also similarly good-natured at The Playpen during Hutch’s coin trick and irritating smugness. Somebody give this man a medal.

Hutch is derisive when Starsky introduces the vampire element (as you or I would be, frankly). But Starsky is pretty much right on.

Asking for assistance on the telephone, Hutch gets the runaround by Roger. Both Roger and Bigalow (the unctuous prop-man in “Survival”) are co-workers who hassle Hutch over petty details, and both men think of themselves as funny guys. Envision the two of them eating in the cafeteria. Imagine what they’re saying about the handsome, successful detectives they work for.

As is usual with the series as a whole, the true premise of this episode is disguised. Ostensibly about the supernatural, or maybe the tragic consequences of grief, this episode is actually about feminism. (Overtly “feminist” episodes, like “Jo-Jo”, are not about feminism at all, but rather about institutional corruption. And episodes about institutional corruption, like “Iron Mike”, are actually about personal ethics. In Starsky and Hutch Land, what you see is never what you get.) This scene, case in point: Hutch hands his coffee cup to a uniformed police officer, saying imperiously, “Sarah, would you give me another cup of coffee, please?” and she does, without hesitation or comment. Starsky then illustrates the bewildering pace of modern times by exclaiming “girls are trying out for football teams!” From there, we think about Nadasy’s suffocatingly machismo personality, his whip-cracking at the dance studio (and the cruel eugenics of ballet, come to think of it), his ownership of his wife, whether she could be truly happy or free under his tutelage, how he justifies torturing and murdering women for his own ends. From there we go to the victimized dancers at the scummy Slade’s Cave (including the semi-comatose girl in Slade’s bed), Slade himself with his porn-and-satanist “racket”, and to a lesser extent, the pretty “twins” on the make at The Playpen. All women here are victimized in some way.

Starsky has bought a clove of garlic from the commissary and is wearing it around his neck. Hutch, pouncing on this with manic glee, laughs his head off. Starsky says, “I got one for you too,” and an iconic moment is born when he pops it into Hutch’s laughing mouth. And yet, when this scene is divorced from its considerable charm, there is a glaring problem. Starsky knows Hutch is not going to go for any sort of talisman. So how, exactly, was he ever going to give it to him? Slip it into his pocket and hope he never discovers it?

Nadasy has mentally disintegrated after the death of his wife. And yet, examined from a practical standpoint, it doesn’t make sense to murder innocent girls as a way of resurrecting a loved one. Just how does he think he’s going to bring his wife back by drinking the blood of dance students? Surely Nadasy would commit suicide – a quick path to the afterlife – rather than actively pursue eternal life through vampirism.

At Hutch says nastily, looking into the crystal ball (and to Starsky), “I see a dark-haired moron pretending to be Sherlock Homes”. This is a particularly cruel slight; if this line was delivered by anyone but David Soul it would be unforgivable, a giant turn-off. But for some reason he is able to say these things in a way that seems not only laughable, but strangely innocent, even poignant. The only one he hurts, in the long run, is himself. (And when you realize Holmes was an avowed pragmatist, sneering at everything that smacked of supernaturalism, Hutch’s insult falls apart).

The guys have made the connection between Nadasy and the murders. But unlike in “Death Notice”, where they gather the girls together to explain the danger around them, Starsky and Hutch say nothing to the dance class at all, which leaves poor Suzette Clark to walk down a dark lonely hallway into a dark lonely parking garage with no advance warning.

And as she walks down the dim corporate halls, we see in another room the same paintings as are featured in the “Las Vegas Stranger” episode – two geometric shapes.

The moment of Nadasy’s lunge at his victim – cape flying, fangs showing, the shrill music blaring – is truly scary, and beautifully shot in slow-motion by director Bob Kelljan. This scene gave me nightmares for years, and even now it is powerfully affecting.

Even though the “prowler” is only reported to be in “the vicinity”, Starsky and Hutch roar down into the underground lot, sirens flashing, at the moment of the attack. It’s possible a witness reported a scream coming from the garage.

“He flew!” Hutch exclaims to Starsky after following the attacker up to the roof. He points to the 25-foot space between the buildings. Hutch is ashamed of his own conclusion and tries to obscure it through sullenness; Starsky gives him an I-told-you-so look and walks off, and here again is the moment of sameness between them, the fact that they are not opposites or compliments, but will always end up as equals, two versions of the same person.

On a practical note, did Nadasy really jump that distance between one building and another? Having the strength and coordination of a dancer and as well as adrenaline pumping madly through his system might explain this superhuman act.

Starsky does the shoulder-tap game on Dobey as they walk out, Dobey falls for it.

Interesting that Nadasy tries to bite Starsky on the neck when they get into a tussle. Before this, biting on the neck was a quasi-sexual move. Is it now?

The climbing and rope swinging Glaser and Soul do themselves, and you can see how high it is when Nadasy (or the stuntman for Saxon) falls.

It’s a shame Nadasy had to die. This series tends to take a kind of sadistic glee in plunging the bad guys to their deaths (“Lady Blue”, “Kill Huggy Bear”, or very nearly to death in “Class in Crime” and “Las Vegas Strangler”). When Nadasy dies, his ideas and explanations die with him, we are robbed of understanding his motives or seeing him able to comprehend what he has done. I would like to imagine an alternative ending in which he is given psychiatric help and comes to accept and grieve the loss of his wife (hopefully not at Cabrillo Mental Hospital).

Tag: “Where do you want to go, my place or yours?” Starsky says nervously, when it seems as if they’re going to hook up with the two babes from the other night. Hutch corrects him, but Starsky’s error is rather endearing.

The guys, once again, have their names reversed, this time by Jane and Bobette. And not only the last names but their given names too: a first. Also, Huggy seems to know that Starsky was bitten by Nadasy, and the only one who knew that was Hutch. Starsky is okay with this personal bit of information being leaked by his so-called friend, but I wouldn’t be.

When Starsky wears the fake fangs, startling the girls, is it Hutch he wants to bite?

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13 Responses to “Episode 27: The Vampire”

  1. June Says:

    Hi Merle,
    This is the annual Halloween episode that “most” US tv shows bring around that time of year.

  2. Dianna Says:

    Hi Merle. Me again!

    The title of this episode made me have very low expectations for it, but I found I enjoyed it quite a bit. There are a lot of funny moments between the guys, but they don’t devolve into slapstick. My favorite is when Hutch tells Starsky he sent in the request for information on Nadasy in Starsky’s name. Hutch’s huge grin at Starsky’s response is an absolute delight, and IMHO makes this scene even better than the coin toss or the garlic scene.

    I don’t doubt that Capt. Dobey could track them down at the Play Pen. He’s a detective himself, after all. Starsky & Hutch may have mentioned Huggy’s latest hangout, and it wouldn’t be a big stretch to call that place and ask if Starsky & Hutch were there. The real question is why he didn’t use on-duty detectives for the case.

    As far as I can tell, this episode contains the first mention that Hutch has a sister. (“At times like this, you glad your sister didn’t go into show business?”)

    I really can’t see a feminist element here. The women are pretty much taken for granted, as props, victims, tools, or objects of desire, as in so many of the other episodes.

    The thing that bothers me is Nadasy’s physical abilities. If the leg injury and the limp are real, why is his well-displayed musculature so symmetrical, and how does he manage to run and jump and climb when he’s dressed as a vampire? If the leg injury and the limp are fake, how long has he been faking them, and why? He wouldn’t have given up his promising dancing career 15 years ago in anticipation of needing camoflage for future murders. Did he start faking it since his wife’s death a month or so ago? And if that’s the case, wouldn’t a little snooping reveal the fact?

    From what I know of the ballet world (admittedly not much) Nadasy does not seem to be cracking the whip particularly hard.

    There are a lot of issues with doors in this episode. The short “superman” runs into a door; Hutch gets squashed by a door when Capt. Dobey comes in; Linda Offenbecker can’t find an unlocked door. It seems like there are enough door issues that it’s supposed to be either a gag or a metaphor, but it’s not played up humorously enough to be a gag, and I sure can’t find the metaphor.

    BTW, I would not have recognized Suzanne Sommers, if not for her name in the credits.

  3. Anna Says:

    I must say that Hutch’s unusual meanness in this episode was really jarring and distracting to me, as well as rather out of character. Yes, I know Hutch can be sort of mean sometimes, and I don’t think any of his mean moments all by themselves would be out of character, but the persistent meanness and lack of a reason for it was.

    Hutch is usually only mean in little short bursts as far as I remember, to, I dunno, decompress or because he feels obligated to be snippy about certain things, but he’s never usually consistently mean, especially when there’s nothing in particular driving him to be mean, and he never seems to consciously want to hurt Starsky with it. I always got the opposite impression in fact — that he does it to Starsky because he knows Starsky won’t really mind.

    But here he’s just mean to him throughout for no reason, and in front of other people, while Starsky keeps getting quieter and quieter throughout. No reveal about what all that was about. Did Starsky do something to him? Does he have some kind of personal issue with this kind of superstition? Did he have a really bad week? It’s just kinda there. Like the writers thought up a bunch of “Hutch dumps on Starsky for this and that” jokes and lumped them all into one episode so as not to waste them without bothering to have it actually make sense for his character.

  4. Louie Says:

    I didn’t like this episode much. I liked the fake-vampire-cult subplot of Slade better than the pretty feeble vampire connection of Nadasy’s insanity. It did lead to some pretty striking moments, but it seemed kind of pointless by the end of the episode. Also, Hutch was so constantly belittling to Starsky in this episode, and not in an endearing way like he usually is. Starsky looked genuinely humiliated at some points, like the “moron who thinks he’s Sherlock Holmes” put-down (which he said right in front of an informant, not in private), which in my book is really pushing it — all Hutch’s superiorism is cute and harmless only as long as Starsky isn’t bothered by it. Maybe I’m just being too sensitive, but it bugged me.

  5. stybz Says:

    This episode is not one of my favorites. I have to agree that Hutch was a bit too mean at times. I totally understand they needed to play out the difference of opinion between his sense of reason and Starsky’s belief in vampires in order to have it turned around when Nadasy “flies” from one roof to the other, but he is quite harsh in this episode.

    I thought it was interesting that when Starsky loses the fake coin toss at the Playpen and heads for the phone, Hutch is watching him, distracted. He loses interest in the girls for a moment. Is he distracted because he realizes he’s been too hard on Starsky? Or is he distracted by the concern that they may have to go back to work?

    Linda mentions Nadasy’s dance studio twice at Slade’s, but when they pull up, there’s no sign indicating that it’s Nadasy’s studio.

    The Playhouse was used in Gillian.

    I liked the “Pas de toute”. Starsky is pronouncing things wrong as usual (“toose” instead of “toute”), but his translation is correct. 🙂

    Merl wrote:
    “Hutch chooses the moment of confronting what may be the prime suspect in the murder of Honey Williams to razz Starsky about his memory of the girls they met the night before. That might seem to an outsider as an irritating lack of focus, but a close watching of the series reveals this to be instead a necessary expending of energy before a potentially difficult encounter. In an episode soaked in superstition it may also have a magical element to it as well.”

    Interesting observation. I never thought of it that way. It makes sense given that Starsky practically hides behind the curtain when they enter. Is he self-conscious about seeing all these women in their leotards and tights? Perhaps this relates to his blushing moment meeting Vicky in Las Vegas Strangler? So Hutch teases Starsky to loosen him up. Interesting. 🙂

    As for whether this episode is about women who are victimized, it could be, but then again they seem to have some power over the men as well. Starsky seems particularly affected by women in this episode. He fumbles at the Playpen, which he might have done anyway had he taken the lead instead of Hutch. The dancer at Slade’s mesmerized him, and the ballerinas at Nadasy’s studio intimidated him. And maybe this episode is about the power women hold over men and how men respond to it. With the exception of the two women under Slade’s influence, the two victims we do see Nadasy go after were quite tall and strong-looking, despite falling victim to Nadasy the way they did. There’s something here about power and people’s comprehension and reaction to any supposed implied power another might exert or is perceived to wield.

    I like the theme of Starsky always being willing to learn and read about things. And I saw no problem with him mentioning the occult sects. Hutch should have jumped on that, but he didn’t.

    I thought the scene with Huggy’s psychic friend was funny, but I wish Starsky hadn’t fallen so quickly for the fake premonition. And then Hutch calling him a moron. Yeah, I didn’t like that either.

    Good casting of that Woody Allen lookalike. 🙂 I thought that was funny.

    I also liked it when Hutch told Starsky that he put the request for Nadasy’s file in his name, although the additional confirmation in the car was unnecessary. It’s as if we’re being shown just how mean Hutch can be, rather than just play the joke for what it was.

    This is why I don’t like it when Hutch gets nasty or they do things to irk each other. It just doesn’t work. I love comedy in cop shows, but – as I’ve said in other comments – it’s either played too much for laughs or falls flat. It’s a shame. Sometimes it does work in this series, but it’s about 50-50.

    Did anyone feel the joking after Nadasy falls is in poor taste? They normally have a moment of remorse, but here they make a quip by quoting “Super Gnat”. I didn’t care for that either.

  6. Kevin SOuth Says:

    Not one of my favorite episodes either. Anyone know who played Honey WIlliams?

  7. Beth Says:

    I checked this review for the sole purpose of seeing if anyone had come up with a theory about why Hutch is such a dick to Starsky in this episode. Too bad no one has, I was kind of hoping someone more ambitious had come up with an idea like in many other episodes where one of the characters acts strangely. I’m lazy!

    But I really like this:

    “Hutch says nastily, looking into the crystal ball (and to Starsky), “I see a dark-haired moron pretending to be Sherlock Homes”. This is a particularly cruel slight; if this line was delivered by anyone but David Soul it would be unforgivable, a giant turn-off. But for some reason he is able to say these things in a way that seems not only laughable, but strangely innocent, even poignant. The only one he hurts, in the long run, is himself.”

    What a great observation. It’s really true. Hutch does a lot of things that, if they were done by someone else, would make me wonder why Starsky even hangs around with him. But I almost never feel this way with Hutch. I think an important point is that Starsky doesn’t simply forgive him for his slights. I wouldn’t say “wow, Starsky is so patient and so forgiving for putting up with him” because he almost never seems to even BE upset or annoyed by them in the first place, so there is nothing really to forgive or “put up” with, like this:

    “For no reason, he taps Starsky’s left shoulder and then, aggravatingly, snaps his fingers in Starsky’s right ear. Starsky gets up obediently. He is also similarly good-natured at The Playpen during Hutch’s coin trick and irritating smugness. Somebody give this man a medal.”

    I think it’s like Starsky deeply understands some hidden part of Hutch that explains why he does these things and why Starsky isn’t hurt by these things, and knows that “The only one he hurts, in the long run, is himself.”

  8. Jason Says:

    this is my favourite episode and i watch it every Halloween

  9. kimchi7177 Says:

    I watched the episode and became fixated on the painting of Nadasy’s wife…I was sure I recognized her as an actress but search though I might I could not find any information on the painting. Last night I watched an episode of Baretta and there she was. Anitra Ford must have been the model for that painting. I love when an obsession gets fed.

  10. Laurie Says:

    Just a few comments–
    I agree that Hutch’s Starsky insults went over the line here. Especially the Moron/Sherlock Holmes one.

    I don’t follow the credits closely enough to know whether there were any different writers or editors working on this one, but it seemed “off” and ham-handed, like a writer trying to imitate a byplay dynamic he’s seen others write by mimicking its surface qualities, without really getting the vibe correct.

    I just assumed that Nadasy and his wife were into Slade’s supernatural club, and he was driven cuckoo enough by her death to look up “raising the dead” and maybe frantically searched out an “answer” in some random old weird supernatural books Slade had lying around and perhaps finally came across a “recipe” that a vampire could pull off, involving something like x pints of blood from the necks of young women, 18 red candles, a lock of her hair, etc., etc. A lot of motivation to consider himself “really a vampire”.

    Did he believe that eventually he would then make a potion and carry it to her…painting? grave? crypt? Did the book say she’d come back as…a ghost? zombie? rise as a fellow vampire? take over the body of one of his victims? Whatever. Who knows. He’d probably have gone for any of the above. And as props for his racket, Slade probably had old books lying around with sections like that in them somewhere. If not, Nadasy could have dug up some creepy old books on the supernatural on his own.

    So I didn’t find it too hard to believe, within the frame of the story. Like Starsky said outside the interrogation room, some nut got turned on to Slade’s shtick and flipped out. Yup.

    As to Starsky, I don’t think he was too happy to have been proven “right” when Hutch told him the guy flew. He looked pretty UNhappy, actually.

    I was surprised to see someone say above that they did not recognize Suzanne Somers at first. She’s pretty unmistakable. Also when I saw Slade, I couldn’t help thinking, “So that’s what Rizzo got into after the Korean War…”

    Really surprised that I have not heard anybody comment on the fact that the music playing at the club at the beginning and end of the show was what I think they call musically, “a variation on the theme,” but is very clearly a riff on David Soul’s hit, “Don’t Give Up On Us, Baby.”

    Oh, and as to the leg, I figured he probably did have an injury that ended his career and turned him into an instructor. But that it had gotten much better over the years. But by then he wasn’t really young enough to be a dancer again. So he probably thought he could pass off his roof-jumping injury as something similar to an “old football injury” that comes and goes.

    • Laurie Says:

      I guess that was more than a few comments…

      • Laurie Says:

        Oh, and I didn’t see what he was doing as hugely sexual, per se. Well, beyond the fact that involves, well, “necking”, of a sort, and he considered these women a sort of bridge or conduit to regaining his wife, and the “spell” he was trying to accomplish probably would have stipulated women’s blood being needed to return a woman.

        I’m not the biggest into vampire lore, but it sems I’ve heard of vampires biting in intimate situations, yes, but also to attack enemies, harm them, ruin them by turning them into vampires against their will.

        So biting Starsky was basically just supposed to be an unplanned attack on an enemy, not anything sexualized, I don’t think. Probably more than anything, it was to be able to bring up the epilogue joke angle that Starsky might, yikes, now turn into a vampire. And what else would Huggy thus try to sell him next?

  11. Laurie Says:

    I remember reading comments on another episode where people brought up a mirror and reflection theme. Survival, I think?

    But there’s a bit of a mirror theme here as well. In the opening, the “twins” are seen reflected in a mirror. One guy sees them in actuality, the other in the reflection. They both try to draw each other’s attention to the girls, assuming the other is looking at something entirely different, then they reverse their views.

    A vampire can’t be seen in a mirror. In neither dance studio scene do we see Rene’s reflection in the mirrors at the barre, omnipresent in dance studios. Sometimes he’s at an odd angle to the mirror. In the one where we see the dancers reflected in the mirror, the camera stops moving just short of the point where we would see his reflection. They clearly did not want us to see his reflection in the mirror.

    When Huggy offers mirrors as part of his vampire kits, the guys play around with them and we can see bits of them reflected, and from their reactions they clearly see themselves and each other. This may point up how different they are from their prey.

    The crystal ball scene is somewhat about reflection as well.

    There is a mirror above the dresser where Hutch is searching in Slade’s room, but interestingly, it is angled so that we only see the reflection of the closet door. We see the reflection of Hutch’s shadow as he turns to leave, though.

    I understand that mirrors can be a pain when shooting scenes, so there is that. But it just struck me as interesting.

    (Note that both of Hutch’s insults, the Sherlock Holmes bit and the line about using his head as a hammer are both used as exit lines when talking to a source. It’s almost as if the writer can’t think of a better way to end the scene and get them out of there.)

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