Air Date: April 17, 1977 (NBC)
Production Companies: Glen A. Larson Productions, Universal Television
Running Time: 71 min.
Available on: Freevee
Written by: Glen A. Larson
Series created by: Herman Miller
Directed by: Bruce Kessler
Cast: Dennis Weaver, J.D,. Cannon, Terry Carter, John Carriadine, Diana Muldaur
Rating: 6 vintage televisions (out of 10)
McCloud Meets Dracula (1977) is technically the final episode of the television series, McCloud, which originally aired on NBC for seven years beginning with its pilot, Portrait of a Dead Girl, on February 17, 1970. However, since all but the first six episodes ranged from 90-minutess to two-hours on rotation with McMillan & Wife and Columbo, it’s also technically a 1970s TV movie.
It's also practically review-proof. I vaguely remember watching McCloud now and then during its first run when I was a pre-teen. Before recently watching this episode/movie, though, I couldn’t have told you much about it. Nevertheless, from the moment it began, watching McCloud felt as comfortable as wearing a favorite sweatshirt. Because the concept of the series is so simple, and the nature of the series so episodic, I didn’t feel like I had't forgotten a thing in the last (gulp) 45 years.
What makes this outing special, especially for monster kids, is the appearance of John Carradine as Loren Belasco, a former actor who has grown to take his historic portrayal of Dracula a little too seriously. When bodies start appearing on the streets of New York with two puncture wounds and drained of blood, police chief Peter B. Clifford (J.D. Cannon) puts Sam McCloud (Dennis Weaver) on the case.
McCloud would rather be on the task force for apprehending a sniper that has also been leaving bodies around town. At first, he thinks the cases might be connected, but when the overeager medical examiner, Harvey Pollick (Michael Sacks), insists a bullet could not be responsible for the “human vampire” murders, he relents. Coincidentally, but cleverly and humorously, the two cases intersect again during the finale.
The concept of a good ol’ boy deputy marshal from Taos, New Mexico, who becomes a special investigator for the New York Police Department, came from the 1968 film, Coogan’s Bluff. Creation of the television series is credited to Herman Miller, the man who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay and is credited for the movie’s story. It was one of only a couple theatrical credits; Miller worked mostly in TV, most notably as “developer” of Kung Fu from 1972-1975.
In McCloud Meets Dracula, we’re also treated to the recurring character of Chris Coughlin (Diana Muldaur), a romantic interest that lightheartedly spars with McCloud over the case. She’s not a “reporter,” but a “newspaper writer,” who’s coincidentally writing a book about Dracula. We first see her glued to the television set watching Belasco/Carradine playing him in an odd mishmash of clips from House of Frankenstein and House of Dracula.
Universal must have had license to use the character as they wanted since, of course, those movies came from them and Carradine played the character. This makes it a fun meta-meeting of modern “reality” and Hollywood history, and they do have fun with it, especially in Belasco’s big castle of a home, which includes a hidden room with stone walls, a bunch of burning candles, and a coffin.
The ending is purposely, I’m sure, left vague. It never suggests that vampires don’t really exist. However, neither does it provide an adequate alternative explanation for events. Spoiler alert! As part of a throwaway comment from Clifford, he quickly credits the murders to Belasco’s mental state and his movie props. Then, however, only Belasco’s cape is found and a bat menacingly flies around it.
Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch McCloud Meets Dracula as well as all the great movies from this series. (It's also available on Freevee with limited commercial interruptions.)